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TEXAS HILL COUNTRY - BURSTING WITH WINERIES AND WILDFLOWERS
 
(2014 - Spring/Summer Issue)

Writer: CHRIS RYALL



Wineries in Texas? Is this one of those Texas tall tales? Or perhaps a Texas Hold ’em poker player playing me for an out-of-country fool?

Surely they jest. This is a state known more for its rugged terrain, enormous cattle ranches and oil-rich fields. The Texas Hill Country, as this central part of Texas is known, features two culturally significant Texas cities, Austin and San Antonio. But my travels focus along Route 290, a region rich in wildflowers, sturdy oak and cypress trees and, yes, wineries and the town of Fredericksburg.

Apache and Comanche tribes, Spanish missionaries, German immigrants, cattle ranchers and the military have all laid claim to this land of limestone bedrock and massive aquifers over the centuries. No weapons required now. Instead residents and tourists are armed with wine glasses and cameras along Route 290 where Texas wineries and wildflowers are on display for tastings and viewings. 

Roadside Wineries

Texans like their wine—and winemaking here has seen an explosive growth in the past decades with more than 270 wineries sprouting up across the state. Though not as well known internationally since Texas doesn’t export to other countries, Texan winemaking actually traces back to the 1600s when Spanish missionaries started cultivating grapes in what’s now El Paso. European settlers continued to plant grapevine cuttings from their homeland. Illinois-native Thomas Munson moved to Denison, Texas, in 1876 and was instrumental in kick-starting the Texas wine industry. In 1888 he helped save the wine industry in France with his Texas-grown phylloxera-resistant rootstock and was given the French Legion of Honor Chevalier du Mérite Agricole award.

It’s easy to find the 24 wineries in Texas Hill Country, the second-largest viticultural area in the United States, as most are located right off Route 290. One of the region’s best is Grape Creek Vineyards, which bills itself as a “Tuscany in Texas” winery on the outskirts of Fredericksburg. No Italian spoken here but the rustic, stucco tasting room, patio and winery’s decor might fool you. Besides their fine wine they sell numerous types of grape seed oil. Another winery, Beckers in Stonewall, is the third largest winery in Texas and offers tours and tastings throughout the year. Want to fully enjoy the wine but not worry about driving? Many operators in the area offer wine tours and do all the driving.

German Roots

The Willkommen sign entering Fredericksburg’s Main Street is the first clue to this German-immigrant town settled back in 1846. Germans were encouraged to settle here with the promise of free lots in the late 1840s and settle they did bringing German cuisine, architecture and heritage with them.

Walk along the pedestrian-friendly main thoroughfare, and Biergartens such as Auslander, housed in a building that dates back to the 1890s, will draw you in to feast upon traditional German fare from pepperwurst and bratwurst sausages to schnitzel. Discard any notion of small food serving size. This is Texas where only big portions are served. Leave the diet at home.

Quaff that German fare down with a range of craft beers made right in town at the Fredericksburg Brewing Company. Try their beer sampler, which features a range of German-style lagers and ales including their award-winning Red Ale. In Fredericksburg you are even allowed to stroll along Main Street with your brew in hand. How civilized! 

Main Street is both a visual and culinary delight with its mix of one-of-a-kind boutiques selling both German- and Texas-influenced crafts, souvenirs and decor. This small town boasts 13 art galleries featuring everything from cowboy and native art to Texas landscape watercolours and ornate glassware.

Those with a sweet tooth are rewarded with ice cream and candy shops. Treat your taste buds to scoops of pecan pie ice cream or try something truly decadent such as chocolate-coated bacon and dill pickles. Those with iron-clad stomachs can test their heat resistance at Rustlin’ Rob’s, which sells a variety of hot sauces and rubs.

During Fredericksburg’s formative years until the early 20th century, “Sunday Houses” were common among farmers and ranchers who spent their weekends in town. The simple sparsely furnished houses usually had two rooms, one above the other with an exterior stairway and a porch. People would spend the weekend in town shopping, going to church or attending the theatre.

Many Sunday Houses now have been remodelled into small homes or, in the case of the Fredericksburg Herb Farm, recreated into quaint cottages where guests can stay. The porches to these pastel-coloured cottages feature a rocking chair, an old-style mailbox and a swing, while inside, a comfortable room with modern amenities awaits your arrival. Enjoy a sense of tranquility strolling through the herb garden or completely relax at the Nature Spa and surrender to a full range of herb-infused body treatments.

Wild West Flowers

Texas Hill Country provides the perfect scenic setting for sipping your Texan merlot or Chenin Blanc while admiring Mother Nature’s wildflower display. Visit in March and April to see the wildflowers at their peak and in full bloom. Bluebonnets, black-eyed Susans and fields of brilliant red poppies engulf you in a blanket of colour. 

If you feel active, hike Enchanted Rock, take a cycling tour through small towns or kayak the area’s many lakes and streams.

Whether you’re active or a cultural or culinary buff, Texas Hill Country is like a wine consisting of the finest varietals you can sip and savour.

Travel Planner

For more information, visit:

Fredericksburg Convention and Visitor Bureau: VisitFredericksburgTX.com

Hill Country  Economic Development Council: lakesandhills.com

Texas Tourism: TravelTex.com

The Fredericksburg Herb Farm: fredericksburgherbfarm.com

 
 
 
 
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