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

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

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

Inwood Estates Vineyards: Bottle-for-bottle, these are some of the best wines on the 290 wine trail. All are from Texas and the sign at the door makes Inwood’s commitment clear. Inwood Estates has been making wine in Texas for 30 years.

Tasting sheet: Origin of the wine marked.

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

Special Amenities: One of the few wineries with a restaurant on site. Good stop for lunch as the barbecue is excellent.

100 percent Texas wine.

Mendelbaum Cellars: An odd bird. A mixture of mediocre kosher wines that have no connection with the Hill Country (they are just sold here) and unmemorable Texas wines that are not made by Mendelbaum.  

Alexander Vineyards: Since my 2014 visit, this winery has moved from a trailer to an adjacent house. Inside, they taste and sell wines from France and Germany. They have no connection with the Hill Country or Texas wine.

Messina Hof: The Fredericksburg outpost of a long-established Bryan-based winery. Slick new visitor center, knowledgeable staff. Messina Hof can make good Texas wine, but has been historically afflicted with selling too many non-Texas wines. The 2015 vintage marks a landmark as it is their first that is from 100 percent Texas fruit — a noteworthy achievement for one of the four largest wineries in the state.

Tasting sheet: Origin of the wine marked.

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

Special amenities: Event space.

100 percent Texas wine.

Fiesta Winery : Now 100 percent Texas wine (according to the tasting room staff), but in urgent need of a new winemaker.

Tasting sheet: Origin of the wine not marked.

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

Special Amenities: None apparent.

Barons Creek Vineyards: Officially opened in January 2016. It is hard to miss this faux-Italianate mansion on the south side of U.S. 290 just east of Fredericksburg. Turn in via the circular driveway and check out the luxury overnight villas at the back of the property. Inside, cast your eye on the planked wood floors, glossy serving counter, and level of decor befitting the lobby of a luxury hotel. Baron’s Creek Vineyards was founded by brothers Mike, Chris, and Marc Chase, who were successful in the construction industry. As a young winery, it is currently selling other people’s wine pending release of its own, made by winemaker Russell Smith (formerly of Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Flora Springs Winery, and Becker Vineyards). All of this gives one the distinct feeling that we should expect great things from this venture. Unfortunately, when it comes to the vision, it all collapses. The current intention is make about 50 percent Texas wines and the other 50 percent from around the world. In other words, Barons Court will be partly a retail outlet. Why pursue something so inauthentic? The care that went into the architectural detail, the landscaping, and the choice of winemaker seems to have gone out the window in the development of the wine business plan. It is as though somebody oblivious to what is happening in the Texas wine industry had put it all together. It may be hoped that more informed souls will prevail. Barons Creek is in danger of being described as having wine as faux as the architecture. The overnight villas should do well. The plan for weddings less so. Fredericksburg is too far from Austin and San Antonio for wedding guests to make a day trip and has too little accommodation for overnight stays.

Tasting sheet: Origin of the wine not marked.

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

Special Amenities: Weddings.