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

Fredericksburg

Hilmy Cellars: A new winery (since December 2013) with an interesting labeling policy. All Hilmy Cellars wines are Texas wines. A separate label, Erik Hilmy aka, indulges winemaker Eric Hilmy’s passion for making wines from fruit sourced elsewhere (Washington State and Napa and Lake County, California, are some of the current locations). Plaudits for their transparency.

Tasting sheet: Origin of the wine marked.

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

Special Amenities: Winery dogs snooze on the floor of the tasting room, unconcerned by the large number of small children patting them.

100 percent Texas wine (Hilmy Cellars label).

wine

Andrew Chalk

Hilmy Cellars Vineyard

Fat Ass Ranch and Winery: Young winery still setting up. In 2014, they were having their wines made by Texas Custom Wine Works. The website is virtually free of information about the wines. A request for details produced the reply “Can I ask why you are requesting this information?”

Becker Vineyards: Old line established Texas winery that wraps its California jug wine in Hill Country symbology. Look for “Texas” on the front label before buying. Their Texas wines can be good. The visitor center is very established with lavender and grounds surrounding the building.

Tasting sheet: Origin of the wine not marked.

Winemaker/viticulturist/expert around to talk details: No.

Special Amenities: Live music on patio, plus a food truck at weekends.

Torre di Pietra: Designed to resemble a Tuscan villa. On its website, this winery describes itself as offering “Romance of Tuscany, Wines of Texas!” I have visited dozens of Texas wineries. Each is unique, but this one was the only one I've ever encountered where the tasting room staff was actually rude. On a busy Saturday afternoon, there was a backup at the station I was at, so I moved to the end of the line at an adjacent one. Out of the blue, the girl pouring at the original station screamed at full pitch to her colleague at the new one, “Oy, Melinda, he’s moving around,” as though I were a jailed felon cutting through the iron bars of his cell. Never again. I did not see any Texas wine, despite their slogan.

Tasting sheet: Origin of the wine not marked.

Winemaker/viticulturist/expert around to talk details: No.

Special Amenities: Patio.

Grape Creek Vineyards: A massive tasting facility. It certainly looks the part as you drive up the curling road past vines on either side. Immediately inside the front door is a sign listing an impressive array of medals won in prestigious out-of-state competitions. Unfortunately, not all of the wine for tasting is from Texas (although the pouring staff told us that they were). The bottles are buried in slots below the counter so that you can’t see the label without pulling them out, and the staff appears to be under orders to discourage that. Pouring staff were less than cheerful about our discovery that one wine was corked. They changed it, but without saying a word, and without a smile.

Check their web site. Can you tell where any of the wines there actually come from?

Tasting sheet: Origin of the wine not marked.

Winemaker/viticulturist/expert around to talk details: No.

Special Amenities: Live music on patio at weekends. Pizza restaurant.

4.0 Cellars: 4.0 Cellars is a visitor center for three of the best wineries in the state. Brennan Vineyards (Comanche), Lost Oak Winery (Burleson), and McPherson Cellars (Lubbock). This kind of collaboration represents a model for the future: Grow your grapes in the best growing area (soil and climate); make your wine in the best wine production area (low costs and established wine making infrastructure); sell it through your visitor center (where your customers are). I expect more of these co-marketing ventures to appear. There is some very good wine here, but the delivery is poorly conceived. You must purchase one of two tasting “lists.” If you want specific wines that are on different lists you must purchase both lists. It is an accountant’s dream. At the end of the month, 4.0 has used exactly the same number of bottles of every wine! But it is a wine-taster’s disaster. I threw out half the wines poured for me (to the astonishment of the pourer) because I wanted to taste a specific selection. The crowd that wants to get sloshed doesn’t care. If you care about the taste of your wine, do their excellent Texas wine and cheese tasting — an interactive educational experience for small groups in a private room.

Tasting sheet: Origin of the wine marked.

Winemaker/viticulturist/expert around to talk details: Yes, in the Texas wine and cheese tasting.

Special Amenities: Live music on patio and a food truck at weekends.