The Definitive Guide to America's Most Unexpected Great Wine Destination

Contributor
The 290 wine trail, through the Texas Hill Country, offers many good things to drink (along with occasional deception)
wine

Andrew Chalk

This article is about wineries on, or near, U.S. 290

Hye

Driving west a few minutes we hit the small town of Hye — a formerly depopulated cross in the road that is steadily transforming into a lively cluster of Texas beverage businesses. As well as four wineries, it is now home to Garrison Bros. Whiskey (one of the few whiskey companies in Texas that actually distills its own product).

wine

Andrew Chalk

Calais Winery

Calais Winery: A new winery currently open by appointment only, owned by Frenchman Ben Calais, who is an emigrée from the dotcom crash of 2001 and transplanted, in 2015, from Dallas where the city council gave his winery problems with permits. The experience seems to have been profound, transforming his persona from that of a short-back-and-sides corporate IT-type to that of the lead singer in a heavy metal band. He is astonishingly self-sufficient. Drive in and bear right on the long driveway to find the winery, half-buried underground to create cellar conditions for aging and lined with wood reclaimed from a horse barn that Calais bought on Craigslist from a seller in Sam Houston National Forest, disassembled, and self-transported to its current location. Just for the record, Calais built the driveway as well — twice — first in early 2015 and then later the same year when floods washed the first one away. At this writing, the winery sign consists of Calais’ white Ford F-350 truck parked just outside the main gate. The wines are very good and made from 100 percent Texas grapes from the Hill Country and High Plains.

Tasting sheet: All wines grape origin clearly marked.

Winemaker/viticulturist/expert around to talk details: Ben Calais currently works the tasting room himself.

Special amenities: Best bread on U.S. 290. Calais is something of a breadmaking fanatic and serves it in the tasting room.

100 percent Texas wine.

Hye Meadow Winery: A relatively new winery plans to become 100 percent Texas fruit and labels non-Texas wines clearly as such. They are committed to quality and have started winning medals. Recommend annual visits to observe the evolution.

Tasting sheet: All wines grape origin clearly marked.

Winemaker/viticulturist/expert around to talk details: Yes.

Special amenities: Special events seemingly every Saturday. Pig roast with Texas tempranillo anyone?

100 percent Texas wine.

wine

Andrew Chalk

Tasting room at Hye Meadow Winery

William Chris Vineyards: The grapes here are 100 percent Texas and the vineyards you see as you drive in are producing acreage, not just “show vineyards.” This is one of the young but most promising wineries in the state. Notice the wind machine — tangible indication of their determination to protect their crop against frost. They have really hit their stride in the last few vintages with the discovery of monastrell (aka mourvèdre) and how to vinify it in an abundant Rhône style. California wine academic Clark Smith considers it “exemplifies rose aromas and feminine delicacy unique to Texas mourvèdre.” (On July 10, the winery will host Texas Wine Revolution, a celebration of Texas-grown wines featuring a number of the wineries in this guide, as well as good producers from other parts of the state. Texas rosé will be the focus of the event.)

Tasting sheet: All wines grape origin clearly marked.

Winemaker/viticulturist/expert around to talk details: Yes.

Special Amenities: Great grassy slopes to play on. Live music on Saturdays on the patio.

100 percent Texas wine.

wine

Andrew Chalk

William Chris Vineyards

Compass Rose Cellars: This is a new winery (since 2011) producing a mixture of Texas and non-Texas wines. I had a very good pinot grigio from them, from Mason County fruit, at a Texas Hill Country Wineries Field Day. A winery to watch.

Tasting sheet: All grape origins clearly marked.

Winemaker/viticulturist/expert around to talk details: Yes.

Special Amenities: Restaurant on site. It is getting some good reports and the Sunday buffet brunch is popular.