I seem to speak to someone every week or so who doesn’t know about our Texas Hill Country wineries. They drink wine, but don’t know about the wonderful world of fermentation between San Antonio and Austin. They drink “the other stuff.” French wine? Well, certainly permissible to drink since they’ve remembered we’re allies – but what a yawn. Mexican wine? No es bueno. Napa and Sonoma Valleys? Many good ones, but so….expected. Chilean, Italian, Australian, Greek – oh, who doesn’t have a favorite in there? I sure do. But when it comes consistent quality, astounding variety and personal investment by owners – I’ll take a bottle from just up Highway 281 any evening of the week (and often do).
My brilliant niece Sarah and hubs Joe came visited this weekend from Houston so we could visit a few favorites. We all agreed: The key to a good wine tasting is to do exactly that – taste. You pay for the tasting (usually $10 for 5 – 6 wines, and we always shared w/our spouses.) So don’t feel pressure to buy just because you’re there. The point is to learn what you like without having to buy entire bottles.
And don’t get crazy thinking wine tastings are some big drunken, slobbering affairs. A wine tasting is tiny – like maybe 1 oz. And most couples split a tasting. You could, I suppose, get hammered, but you’d really have to work at it.
First stop – Sister Creek Vineyards
The outside of the winery is very “Texan-y” – like that! Joining us periodically from Sisterdale to Luckenbach were several dozen middle/upper-aged motorcyclists. Nice people just out to enjoy the beautiful (unusual cool) weather – no drama.
Inside the winery – intimate. Private dining room to the left.
Keith and Joe on the self-guided tour. Sister Creek is one of the few wineries that have this type of storage area open to visitors. Really interesting.
We think Sister Creek’s whites (Muscat Canelli, Muscat Chardonnay) are better than their reds. Though we’ve liked their winery for many years, we’ve miffed that they’ve gotten proud on pricing. Their prices have gone up very steadily, and their wine sold at Costco, Sam’s or HEB is actually cheaper than buying it at the winery. Though many Texas wineries sell retail to the chains, most of our preferred Hill Country wineries don’t. Buy them there, order online and have them shipped to you or don’t enjoy them.
#2 – Rancho Ponte
Pets in a tasting room?! Please, no Kitty Cabernet near me.
Huge, tastefully-decorated tasting room. We were the first guests Saturday. Keith and I remembered it as a good winery, but our memories didn’t do justice to their products, especially their port. I am not a “port person.” Keith’s likes it, though, so we always get s taste of it. Their port was totally delicious – fruity, not all cover-your-tongue-like-a-lead-blanket. And the Muscat Canelli? Bliss.
Very nice selection at Rancho Ponte and – like all the wineries – a push at their club. Wine clubs can be a really good deal once you find what you like, but don’t be in a hurry. Take your time on the tastings.
When Sarah was little, I used to pop her into my ’62 VW bug and we’d head for Payless (she loved shoes as a toddler), or “Raskin-Bobbins,” or the grocery store to get her something her mean mother wouldn’t let her have. Enjoying the vineyards on a beautifully cool, sunny day was just as much fun.
#3 – Four Point O
We had no idea what to expect. Keith had spotted references to Four Point O online, and knew it was open “occasionally.” Beautiful patio area and stunning outdoor party area that just screamed “wedding reception.” Immaculate grounds. We took our time walking in just to enjoy the scenery.
Large, modern tasting area. Clean, crisp and yet inviting. Large, beautifully-appointed meeting room off to the side. For those of you that know my friend Konen – if she had a tasting room, this is what it would look like.
Four Point O was by far the most unusual of the wineries we visited, at least in terms of product development. The wall featured their wines from three different wineries. From their website: “4.0 Cellars began as a collaboration between three Texas wineries – Brennan Vineyards, Lost Oak Winery, and McPherson Cellars, which are located respectively in Comanche, Burleson, and Lubbock, Texas. While we started out as a small-concept tasting room, our vision rapidly evolved into something much grander – something beautiful, memorable, and undeniably unique.” Joe’s favorite – definitely the Lost Oak offerings. “I liked everything of theirs.” Our server really pushed the dry reds. “I like to spit out a little dust after the last sip.” Keith is going to circle back with them on perhaps buying a large container of “juice” to use to make his own wine. He has currently produced “Skeeter Pee” and “Dragon’s Blood” in our kitchen but would like to expand his vintage offerings.
Every winery offered snacks for sale – tired little prepackaged, overpriced chunks of “blah.” Four Point O sold this $14 freshly-prepared snack tray – awesome! At this point, the cheeses, fresh fruits, crackers and candied pecans were 3/4 eaten. Delicious. And as Sarah said – kept us from getting “peckish” before lunch.
As long as Four Point O is open “consistently” instead of “occasionally” – they’re made our “must visit” list. Eight thumbs up from us.
Lunch – Fredericksburg Brewery. Always crowded – always good.
After lunch, Sarah and I spotted the Circle E Candles store. We are women. Of course we had to stop. Keith and Joe just let us out as they went to explore another winery which was actually closed, I think in divine retribution to their snide remarks about taking our purses and handing us each a $20 bill. A lovely apple candle is burning in the kitchen right now (35% off), and I’m sure Keith is enjoying its delightful fragrance.
#4 – Mendelbaum Cellars
We stopped on a whim. Why not? Mendelbaum is where Kinky Freidman should do his wine shopping as they advertise “proudly serving Texas wine and Holy Land wine.” I’d never tasted Israeli wine before. Good stuff! Keith bought their last bottle of port which, again, was an unusual offering. Very light and almost evaporative, not that heavy “punch you in the nose” stuff. Owner is a native of Israel.
Small tasting room with a decidedly Middle East flair in terms of cabinetry.
Their Israeli wines are named after Bible heroes and sites – love it!!! “Samson Cabernet Franc Dry Red Wine 2010,” “2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Masada” (we bought one bottle), etc.
They also featured varieties of Israeli olive oil, which really interested Sarah-the-Gourmet-Cook. Alas, I’ve tasted many olive oils, and have never detected enough of a difference to convince me to quit buying the gynormous bottle at Costco.
#5 – Torro de Pietra
Torre de Pietra seems to be really popular with the tour bus crowd. The wine didn’t do much for any of us. Keith and Joe stayed inside to complete a tasting flight and totally enjoyed their server, who showed a wicked sense of humor. It was too crowded for Sarah and me, so we excused ourselves outside….
….so we could heed the siren call of the wild Peach Bellini. Torra de Pietra does have a wonderful covered outdoor dance floor and dining area. But that’s about it.
#6 – Pedernales Cellars
I will confess to a prejudice right up front – I love Pedernes Cellars. If you like a spicy Tempranillo – theirs is terrific. And their Viognier – well, from their site: “The Pedernales Cellars Viognier was named ‘Texas Top Wine’ at the 2013 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Wine Competition, and the Reserve Viognier won Gold at the San Francisco International Wine Competition.”
Their main room was wall-to-wall guests. Couldn’t move. And the size of their tasting room has quadrupled in size the last few years. When we originally visited – just the size you’re seeing here, which is now a “members only” counter. I hope they don’t get so big they get overly proud (and jack up their prices) like Sister Creek, because I love these really tasty, reasonably-priced wines.
#7 – Driftwood Estate Winery
What prompted our weekend trip – We recently joined Driftwood’s wine club and they hosted a “pick up party” on Saturday. In a wine club, you can either pick up your shipments in person (never done before), or have them delivered (always done this.) We decided to go, and invited Sarah and Joe to accompany us. The 4 – 8 p.m. party was our last winery stop. Love this place! And it’s not easy to find. You would never “stumble on it.” And be warned – drive slowly up their gravel road. There are twists and turns, and spraying gravel is not good for auto paint jobs.
The view from the Driftwood ledge. Driftwood has dozens of chairs and tables scattered about. When we’ve been here before, goats were frolicking in the field. Always a breeze this high and quiet. Just plain quiet…..
….except, of course, when there’s a pick-up party for you and hundreds of your most intimate friends. They had a pretty good band, snack boxes for each couple and one glass of complimentary wine (Me – Muscat Canelli; Keith – Armadillo Red) per guest. Big crowd, but tame – no bad behavior other than one idiot father using conversational profanity in front of his children. Actually lots of babies and kiddos, and a real mix of adult ages.
Driftwood’s tasting room was completely packed. I think it’s too small anyway – even without a pick-up party.
Special thanks to Keith for driving all day. If I’d had to drive – we wouldn’t have gone. A few things I especially appreciate about my hubs: He’s always “up” for something new. He looks for fun things for us to do – as a couple, and as a family. He makes the best out of difficult situations – I tend to brood, he tends to look for something interesting in all of it. He’ll try a new food or whatever simply because “we’re here.” He has an inborn sense of distance and direction, so we’re never lost on any adventure.
Last stop: Salt Lick Barbecue, just a few convenient miles from Driftwood Estate Winery. Many consider Salt Lick the best barbecue in Texas, and darn, it is good – but the very best comes off Keith’s egg.
There are dozens of Hill Country wineries, of course, and we deliberately skipped a few like Becker (just too big and impersonal now, plus, you can buy it anywhere), Woodrose (mediocre wine) and William Chris (hysterically pretentious.) We would have hit Duchman if we’d had more time.
Guess we’ll just have to plan another trip……come back, Sarah and Joe, I’m feeling parched…..