The saying goes that everything’s bigger in Texas, and this proves true even for its wine industry. There are more than 500 wineries registered with the Department of the Treasury, ranking Texas at No. 4 on the list of most wine-making facilities per state.
There are eight American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) to explore, but the Hill Country is one of the most popular, attracting roughly 5 million visitors per year. Easily accessible from both San Antonio and Austin, this vino-focused region makes for an easy (and flavorful) tasting adventure. Follow our guide to experience the best of Texas wine country.
No Texas wine trip is complete without a visit to this picturesque town in the heart of Hill Country. Kick off your tour with a visit to Lost Draw Cellars’ tasting room, where you can sip wines made from grapes grown by fourth-generation farmer Andy Timmons.
If you’re planning a wine country picnic, La Bergerie Market is where to pick up house-cured charcuterie, fresh-baked bread and cheese. And for dinner, it doesn’t get better than Cabernet Grill, which boasts a local wine list and hearty, well-executed entrées like oak-smoked pork tenderloin and lobster-topped chicken-fried rib-eye.
Begin your journey at the oldest winery in Texas Hill Country. In 1973, ranchers Ed and Susan Auler took a trip to France to investigate a local breed of cattle they considered crossing with their angus herd in the Hill Country. After spending most of the trip studying wine, the couple returned to plant the area’s first vines.
Taste the fruits of their labor in highly rated ExTerra single-vineyard labels, like the elegant 2016 mourvèdre grown on Salt Lick Vineyards. Be on the lookout for the winery’s namesake twin waterfalls on the north end of the property, too.
Founded 15 years ago by doctors Stan and Lisa Duchman, this bucolic vineyard feels closer to Tuscany than central Texas, thanks to Italian-inspired gardens, a central villa and food-friendly grapes like the deep-purple sangiovese and tart dolcetto sourced mainly from the Texas High Plains AVA.
Sample the award-winning 2017 vermentino white while you stroll the gorgeous grounds. Afterward, stop in for lunch next door at Trattoria Lisina, where chef-owner Damian Mandola serves up housemade pastas and wood-fired pizzas.
About 40 minutes west of Duchman’s Driftwood vineyard is this small mom-and-pop operation based in downtown Johnson City. Book an appointment for a tasting with the animated Henry Crowson to experience his unique natural fermentations made without sulfites or filtration. Don’t miss the 2017 malvasia bianca, which is like liquid sunshine captured in a bottle.
Just outside of downtown, winemaker Doug Lewis is also making 100 percent Texas vino using Portuguese grapes like touriga nacional and tinto cao handled with minimal intervention. Tastings are offered seven days a week, but we recommend booking the Winemaker Reserve Tastings on Fridays that feature limited-release and single-vineyard selections. Or opt for a peek behind the scenes with a 30-minute Production Tour.
Just a few miles west of Johnson City on U.S. Route 290 is Hye, Texas, a hot spot for high-quality regional bottles like those found at this boutique winery. Dug into a hillside, Calais’ wine-cave-inspired tasting room is a cozy place to savor classically inspired sips. Reserve a tasting or book a seat at the winemaker’s table and let Benjamin Calais himself explain how he brought traditional French methods to Texas Hill Country.
Nearby is another necessary stop on your tour. Owners and winemakers Bill Blackmon and Chris Brundrett have been major players in the push for Texas-grown wine, using grapes sourced from all over the state. After a tasting inside the restored 1905 farmhouse, swirl a glass of sparkling pétillant naturel rosé while looking out across the vines.
Be sure to make an appointment for a tasting at this Hill Country hideaway just a stone’s throw from William Chris. Regan and Carey Meador began making wine in the North Fork of Long Island before returning home to Regan’s native Texas to showcase their newfound skills. Using locally grown grapes, minimal intervention and native yeasts, the duo produces unique, limited-production bottles that are usually only available at the winery. After an intimate tasting, hang out with a glass on the swings overlooking the property.
Where to Stay
Should you choose to make Fredericksburg your home base for Texas wine exploration, note that bed and breakfasts are the main offering here — Hoffman Haus is a cozy choice. While you’re in town, let the experts behind Cellar Rat Wine Tours make your stay worthwhile. Not only can you cross as many wineries as you like off your list, but you also can leave the driving to them.
But for a unforgettable experience, make Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Mokara Hotel & Spa your home away for a couple of days. Perched right along San Antonio’s famed River Walk, the luxurious lodging is conveniently near the city’s other main attractions and nightlife.
Though Hill Country is about an hour’s drive from the Alamo City, Cottonwood Wine Tours can arrange a customized, private excursion for you starting from the posh hotel.
After a long day of tasting, settle back at the property’s Four-Star spa with a thermal mud wrap or soak up the view from the rooftop swimming pool with a few sips of sauvignon blanc.