Hill Country, Texas: Vistas and Vineyards

by Country Inns & Suites
Wednesday, April 28, 2010

 North of San Antonio, the Lone Star State’s ripening wine industry is centered in the Hill Country, a landscape shaped by an ancient earthquake that buckled limestone and granite into rugged hills and valleys. Today a favorite vacation getaway, the region is textured by majestic live oaks, tinted by wildflowers, and is home to parks, antiques shops and an increasing number of quality wineries. By Paris Permenter and John Bigley

Many consider the heart of Hill Country to be Fredericksburg, founded by German settlers who planted the Vitis vinifera grapes. It would be a century before production would begin on a serious scale, but the roots of the industry had taken hold.

Today Fredericksburg remembers its Old World beginnings with German-style fachwerk buildings with exposed beams and masonry fill. Those roots are also evident at the downtown Fredericksburg Winery, where signature labels feature artwork and local history—such as the light Texas Chardonnay “Adelsverein” ($15), named for the society formed by German princes to help emigrants to the new Republic of Texas. Or try the oak-barrel-aged Port Carlshafen ($40), a full-bodied port.

Like many local wineries, this is a family-run operation, headed by no-nonsense Cord Switzer, along with his wife Sandy, brothers Jene and Bert, and mother “Oma,” charged with labeling each bottle by hand. The Switzers are happy to give travelers a taste of the fruits of their labor; prices start at $13, or $40 for port.

For visitors who have more time, the winery lies within walking distance of many of Fredericksburg’s more than 150 boutiques. Homestead offers antiques, while Zertz tempts with items such as cheese trays made from flattened wine bottles. Nearby, the casual Fredericksburg Brewing Company, lined with copper and stainless brewing tanks, features Schinken Schnitzel, a veal cutlet crowned with Black Forest ham and Swiss cheese.

Next, go east, where “bouquet” describes not only wine but wildflowers. Stop and smell the bluebonnets at Wildseed Farms, the nation’s largest wildflower seed farm. Then head over for a tour and a tasting at Grape Creek Vineyards, on the banks of namesake South Grape Creek. Here acres of climbing vines yielded the prize-winning 2002 Fumé Blanc, made from 100 percent sauvignon blanc grapes. The wine is aged in oak barrels for eight months, which brings out a mélange of vanilla, black currant, bell pepper and berry flavors.

Becker Vineyards, with 46 acres of French Vinifera vines, boasts Texas’ largest underground wine cellar. It’s filled with specialties such as the 2002 Viognier, an elegant wine with a hint of violets, peach and apricot, served at a dinner for Australia’s prime minister at President Bush’s Prairie Chapel Ranch, and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($24.95).

Dine at Austin’s restaurant, in Rose Hill Manor near Fredericksburg, open Wednesday through Sunday nights. Specialties such as New Zealand venison medallions are accompanied by an extensive wine list showcasing Hill Country vintages—the perfect end to a day of wine touring.

Hill Country residents Paris Permenter and John Bigley like to pair barbecue and bordeaux.