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Story by Kristi Willis Photos by Patty Roberston and various wineries
A decade ago a Texas wine enthusiast traveling from Johnson City to Fredericksburg only had a handful of wineries they could visit along the way. Today, this same route along Highway 290 hosts countless wineries, and Texas is the fifth-largest wine producing state in the country. Here are just a few of the numerous Central Texas wineries bringing innovation to this winemaking industry.
Bill Blackmon and Chris Brundrett, co-founders of William Chris Vineyards, have been at the heart of Texas winemaking, opening their tasting room in the tiny community of Hye in 2010. Through their work to create world-class Texas wines, Blackmon and Brundrett have become ambassadors for Texas wine.
“When I started in the late ‘70s, we were just experimenting with grapes and trying to make a good wine,” says Blackmon. “Now we are serious about having a sense of place, so that Texas wine can compete on the same playing field as France, Italy, the Europeans and everyone else in the U.S. Texas is becoming a global player.”
Brundrett, Blackmon and the winemaking team have adapted their style over the years with a lighter hand in the winery to let the unique characteristics of each varietal shine through. “We have that mentality that we haven't made our best bottle of wine yet, and we are constantly pushing the envelope with the goal of coaxing out the soulfulness of a vineyard,” says Brundrett.
And while they’ve been refining their own style, the William Chris team has also been helping new winemakers in creating their best wine — identifying quality vineyards and learning how to blend the wines. “With these Texas vintages you can't do the same thing year over year and expect the same result,” says Brundrett. “A good Texas winemaker has to adapt with the vintage to bring out the best in the grape while being as soft-handed in the winery as possible. It's exactly the opposite of recipe winemaking.”
Supporting new and small winemakers is also the mission of one of the newest wineries in the Hill Country, Slate Mill Wine Collective. When the owners of 1851 Vineyards wanted to retire, their partners Randy and Carroll Jones took over the label and expanded the mission with new partners to create a full-service incubator for startup wineries.
“We wanted to create a place that offered more support to others in the wine industry,” says Jennifer Beckmann, director of operations. “It was about creating a better infrastructure to not just have custom crush services, but in the long-term, help new winemakers grow their business and their brand. We've discussed adding things like shipping fulfillment, consultation and eventually small tasting room spaces that winemakers could rent. We want to create a full-scale incubator that allows them to come in relatively empty-handed and produce, brand and sell a great product.”
The Collective currently supports about a dozen producers with capacity for other new winemakers, too. Texas wine fans will recognize several of the labels including local favorites Dandy Ros. From Wine for the People’s Rae Wilson, the award-winning Tempranillo and Pa Pa Frenchy from Randy Hester and C.L. Butaud, and the popular Tatum Cellars labels from Josh Fritsche, former winemaker at William Chris Vineyards.
“This year has taught us that wineries need to be multifaceted,” says Beckmann. “We are lucky because of the breadth of services we offer. In addition to being a tasting room, we're also growers and producers for other small wineries.”
Not every winery that is new to the trail is a new winery. After ten years on Hamilton Pool Road, Westcave Cellars relocated just off of 290 near Johnson City. “We had been on Hamilton Pool Road since 2011, but even after all of that time, we had people who lived in Dripping Springs come by and say they didn't know the winery was there,” says co-owner Margaret Fetty.
The move to the more popular wine route has brought in a larger audience for their elegant estate reds and given them room to innovate. With the new space, the Westcave team has added a private tasting room for wine pairing and education sessions as well as a brewery with 100 percent Texas beer. “There is always one member of the party who prefers beer to wine, and now we have something for everyone,” says Fetty. “Our goal is to become an estate brewery, with all ingredients grown on or coming from the property. For now, all of the components are from Texas including the barley and hops.”
In 2021, the Fettys will open the third facet to the new property, a guest house available for rent. “We want to be the best hosts that we can be to our guests,” says Fetty. “I see every visitor like a guest in my house, and I want to treat them that way.” With so much hospitality and fine winemaking, it’s no wonder the 290 wine trail is booming. To help get you started, we visited wineries and tasting rooms along the route. Here we've highlighted just a few of the numerous amazing options. There are so many to love and explore when embarking on a Central Texas wine journey. Cheers!
10354 E. U.S. Hwy. 290, Fredericksburg, TX 78624
(830) 997-7470, fourpointwine.com
In 2012, three winemakers located far from the Hill Country’s popular
wine route opened a tasting room to profile their award-winning wines. Brennan Vineyards, Lost Oak Winery and McPherson Cellars offer a tasting that highlights the best from their three wineries as well as the 4.0 Cellars wines that they create as a collaboration project.
Don’t miss: The Texas Cheese and Wine Experience tasting pairs cheeses from four Texas cheesemakers (CKC Farms, Eagle Mountain Farmhouse, River Whey Creamery and Veldhuizen Cheese) with wines from a 4.0 Cellars winery. It’s a wine and cheese lover's dream.
464 Becker Farms Road, Fredericksburg, TX 78624
(830) 644-2681, beckervineyards.com
With an estate that includes lavender fields, wildflowers and vineyards across more than 300 acres, Becker Vineyards is a picturesque place to enjoy exquisite wine and spectacular views of
the Texas Hill Country. Their Petite Sirah and Sangiovese are just two of their many highly esteemed varietals, and the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Wilmeth Vineyards won Double Gold at the San Francisco International Wine Competition.
Don’t miss: In addition to their magnificent estate, Becker Vineyards also has a Main Street Tasting Room in downtown Fredericksburg that offers walk-in tastings of their award-winning wines seven days a week.
Calais Winery and French Connection Wines
8115 U.S. Hwy. 290 West, Hye, TX 78635
(830) 213-2124, calaiswinery.com
French Connection Wines: 1197 Hye-Albert Rd., Hye, TX 78635
(830) 850-4091, frenchconnectionhye.com
Winemaker Benjamin Calais started his namesake winery in the Dallas area and moved his operation to the Hill Country in 2015. Now he has two wineries, Calais Winery and French Connection Wines, where he creates French style wines from Texas grapes. Each winery focuses on a different French region — Calais on Bordeaux and French Connection on Rhone. French Connection Wines also has three tiny houses on the property available for rent on Airbnb.
Don’t miss: The Winemaker’s Table in the cave at Calais Winery is a truly special experience as you taste through the Calais portfolio. At French Connection Wines, take a few minutes to soak in the beautiful view from the terrace while sipping their Vin Gris or La Connection Rosé.
18421 E. U.S. Hwy. 290, Stonewall, TX 78671
(512) 920-2675, kuhlmancellars.com
With the help of winemaker Bénédicte Rhyne, owners Chris and Jennifer Cobb have created a portfolio of Texas wines with French flair, and the world is taking notice. In June 2020, Kuhlman’s 2018 Estate Kuhlmanation White won Gold at the Concours International de Lyon wine competition.
Don’t miss: The Herbed Almonds. The Marcona almonds mixed with herbs from Bénédicte’s home town in Provence are completely addictive and even have their own subscription club.
Lost Draw Cellars
113 E Park, Fredericksburg, TX 78624
(830) 992-3251, lostdrawcellars.com
If there is a rock star of Texas grape growing, it’s Andy Timmons. It is no surprise that when he and his partners, Andrew Sides and Troy Ottmers, chose to launch their own label the goal was to make the vineyard the star. Grab a seat in their courtyard a few blocks from downtown Fredericksburg and taste your way across some of the best vineyards in Texas.
Don’t miss: The Grower Project wines that Andrew Sides makes in collaboration with Rae Wilson of Wine for the People. The project highlights single site wines made from the grapes of six different grape growers.
9996 U.S. Hwy. 290 East, Fredericksburg, TX 78624
(830) 990-4653, messinahof.com/hillcountry
Founded over 40 years ago, Messina Hof is one of the oldest wineries in Texas with its original location in Bryan. Their Fredericksburg tasting room opened in 2011, bringing their award-winning wines to the Hill Country. With over 50 wines in their portfolio, Messina Hof has a wine to please every palate. Their Manor Haus Bed and Breakfast features four cottages for rent, so you can stay the night and taste through more wines the next day.
Don’t miss: The estate vineyard is planted with the Lenoir grape Messina Hof uses in their port-style wines. Try one to taste from the local vines.
2916 Upper Albert Road, Stonewall, TX 78671
(830) 644-2037, pedernalescellars.com
The Kuhlken family started growing grapes on their family estate in 1999 and opened their winery in 2006. Winemaker David Kuhlken has a long history of winning national and international acclaim for his wines, particularly the Tempranillos and Viognier. The tasting room terrace is the perfect place to wile away an afternoon while gazing at the Pedernales River Valley.
Don’t miss: The 2017 Malbec that earned a Double Gold Medal at the 2020 Fingerlakes Wine Competition.
Ron Yates Wines
6676 U.S. Hwy. 290 West, Hye, TX 78635
(512) 585-3972, ronyateswines.com
Ron Yates Wines is the sister vineyard to much-lauded Spicewood Vineyards. Owner Ron Yates and winemaker Todd Crowell specialize in Tempranillo and complete their portfolio with a focus on Spanish, Italian and Rhone-style wines.
Don’t miss: The Friesen Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2016 vintage won a Double Gold at 2019 San Francisco International Wine Competition.
Slate Mill Wine Collective
4222 Hwy. 16 South, Fredericksburg, TX 78624
(830) 391-8510, slatemillwinecollective.com
The Slate Mill winery is located on the site of a historic flour mill founded in 1851. Enjoy the view of the water mill against the Hill Country landscape while you sample wines from 1851 Vineyards and their partners in the wine collective — Wine for the People, Tatum Cellars, C.L. Butaud and Majek Winery and Vineyards.
Don’t miss: Slate Mill offers two tastings, one for the 1851 Vineyards label and one for the Collective partners. Go with a friend and try both!
Southold Farm + Cellar
10474 R.R. 2721, Fredericksburg, TX 78624
(512) 829-1650, southoldfarmandcellar.com
Regan and Carey Meador moved Southold Farm + Cellar from the North Fork of Long Island to the Hill Country and brought their high-quality wine with them. Meador’s philosophy of nonintervention winemaking means he uses natural yeast and manipulates the wine as little as possible. The result is a lighter, fruit-driven wine that is ever so easy to sip while sitting on a porch swing gazing out at the best views of the Hill Country.
Don’t miss: The 2019 Forgotten Dreams. The Cerasulo style wine made from Sangiovese has more heft than a rosé but is lighter than a red—a unique combination that is not commonly found in Texas.
Westcave Cellars Winery
683 R.R. 1320, Johnson City, TX 78636
(512) 431-1403, westcavecellars.com
With their move to the 290 Trail, Westcave Cellars expands its offerings beyond high-quality wines, adding a brewery with 100 percent Texas beer and soon, a guest house. Their wine portfolio highlights mainly French varietals, but also includes a highly regarded Sangiovese. The 2015 Sangiovese won the Judges’ selection Award for Texas Red at the TexSom International Wine Awards in 2019.
Don’t miss: The Estate Tannat. This deep, inky red wine releases in the fall and is the perfect pairing for a juicy steak and cooler temperatures.
William Chris Vineyards
10352 U.S. Hwy. 290, Hye, TX 78635
(830) 998-7654, williamchriswines.com
A must-stop for any visit on the 290 trail, William Chris’ tasting rooms are surrounded by their lush Hye vineyard. Mourvedre is king in their portfolio, available as a dry red, rosé. or in the blend of their Petillant Naturel. Buy a few different bottles of the single vineyard Mourvedres and compare how the different sites impact the wine. It's Texas terroir at its finest!
Don’t miss: Lovers of a red blend will delight in the Enchant., an elegant, structured wine with just the right touch of complexity.
Recipe and photo by Heather Barnes
This Bundt cake is flavorful, bursting with fall flavors and a hint of tangy citrus in the glaze. The sweet potatoes and applesauce make the texture moist, soft and fluffy!
Makes: 12 slices
Total Time: 75 minutes
1 ½ c. mashed sweet potatoes (from about 2 medium-sized potatoes; a puree from a can is also fine)
2 c. sugar
½ c. olive oil
½ c. butter (1 stick)
1 t. vanilla
½ c. unsweetened cinnamon applesauce
3 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
1 ½ t. ground cinnamon
1/3 t. baking soda
½ t. salt
1 t. nutmeg
1 ½ t. pumpkin spice
¾ c. oat milk
Orange Maple Glaze
1 ½ c. powdered sugar
1 t. orange zest (and save the orange for making orange curls!)
2 T. orange juice
1 t. maple syrup
Pinch of cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray. Canola or olive oil spray works best. Make sure the eggs and butter are at room temperature.
If using raw sweet potatoes, peel and chop the potatoes and either roast them for 1 hour in a 350-degree oven or steam them for 15 minutes, so they are easily mashed. Once cool, mash them, being sure to eliminate all the lumps. You can easily use a can of pureed sweet potatoes as well.
With a standing mixer or handheld electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar at high speed until fluffy. Reduce speed a little, and add in oil, room-temperature butter and vanilla. Mix to combine, then add in the applesauce.
In a separate bowl, sift together all dry ingredients. Alternate mixing the oat milk into the flour mixture until smooth. The batter will be pretty thick — this is normal.
Pour batter into the prepared Bundt pan. Bake for 55 minutes to an hour, until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes, then invert Bundt onto a pan to cool completely.
While the cake is baking, make the glaze. Whisk together all ingredients. If it’s too runny, add a tablespoon of powdered sugar at a time until desired consistency.
To make orange curls, slice an orange and then slice in half, so you have a half moon shape. Eat the orange and take the peel and curl up like a coil. Squeeze together for 30 seconds, and garnish the cake with it!
This winter, we invite you to dig a firepit and cook a seasonal dish of grassfed ground lamb, fresh mint, onion and parsnips over an open fire (see Homegrown Gourmet). Celebrate Edible Austin Eat Local Week with us at local markets and restaurants.
And if, like us, you plan to experiment more with chocolate, try this recipe, which was handed to me surreptitiously at a recent farmers market by chocolatier Tom Pedersen. According to chef Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due supper club who created it, this Italian-style frozen custard is great for three reasons: it's easy, it doesn't require an ice cream machine and it's perfect for improvisation.
It's also the perfect finish to a celebratory meal.
Locally, we are happy to announce the recent creation of the Sustainable Food Policy Board. This board will serve as an advisory body to the Austin City Council and Travis County Commissioner’s Court concerning the need to improve the availability of safe, nutritious, locally and sustainably grown food at reasonable prices for all residents, particularly those in need.
Tasked with coordinating the relevant activities of city government, as well as non-profit organizations and food and farming businesses, the board is currently accepting online applications for membership through the City Clerk’s office. We will have updates on the board’s activities posted regularly on our website. And Edible Austin will host a public workshop on effective food policy council strategies with Mark Winne on Sunday, December 7, as part of our second annual Eat Local Week. Join us in celebrating local food and raising money for Urban Roots, December 6–13. Happy holiday season!
The Fresh Issue
This year's Fresh issue marks the 50th magazine Edible Austin has released since our founding in 2007 -- what a time to celebrate! In this issue, you can read up on local school lunches, food trends for the year to come, and the art of washoku. You can also find articles on winter gardening, and Cuba's farm-to-table movement.
We hope you'll love this anniversary issue as much as we do!
Spring is the season for preparing food gardens and for hatching chickens. I apologize in advance to our readers who are not fans of the feathered fowl, as there is an abundance of chicken-related material within this issue. If you've made it past our cover, that’s a promising sign. And you don't have to raise chickens to love the egg-rich recipes shared by Elizabeth Winslow (Cooking Fresh), Lucinda Hutson and Tipsy Texan David Alan (his recipes for flip cocktails below). But for those who want to venture beyond the gastronomic rewards, we encourage you to explore the benefits and pleasures of chicken husbandry, if just vicariously.
Now’s the time to order your bees, especially if you have fruit trees that will be blooming soon. Hives can be hosted in school gardens, church gardens, community gardens and, of course, in your own backyard (or your neighbor’s). Local urban farmers are already hip to this. In fact, I'll go as far as saying that it’s the new food trend in Austin. Honey with your home-grown vegetables and eggs?
Be sure to read Marla's publishers note below to read more about her new entry into the world of beekeeping.
The Outdoor Issue
In this issue, you'll find stories on an innovative seed company, iconic local trees and an exceptional garden; we embrace all things natural in the Outdoor Issue! Beyond respect for the Earth’s ability to grow the food we need and provide the environment that sustains us, there is a deeper, more soulful connection between us and the great outdoors: one that gives us solace and balance. Let’s come together to celebrate and protect the abundance of life-sustaining energy that our planet offers in every way we can, with all our heart and soul.
Tooting your own horn is sometimes frowned upon...
best left to the provinces of PR firms—but as we measure the success of our business in ways other than purely bottom-line economics, this is the time and place for it!
We have tallied the results from our 2011 Eat Drink Local Week fundraiser for local food nonprofits Sustainable Food Center and Urban Roots, and we are properly impressed with ourselves. This event raised more money than in any of our previous four years—in a tough economic climate, with pocketbooks stretched and resources limited. Raising over $52,000 during a weeklong celebration of local food could only have happened with an outpouring of support from the community.
Welcome to our fourth—and final—annual edition of Edible Austin COOKS! We hope you enjoy reading it with as much pleasure as we had in its creation. We’d like to thank our contributors as well as our story subjects for their hard work and talents shared. You can find full bios and contact information for our contributors, plus many additional recipes and resources online at edibleaustin.com. Beginning in 2014, the COOKS issue will become one of our regular bimonthly publications.
The Beverage Issue
With so much to celebrate, it's entirely appropriate that this is our Beverage Issue and toasting is in order.
Edible Austin is published six times a year. We distribute 40,000 free copies per issue to locations in our Austin and Central Texas area. To make sure you never miss an issue or for a great gift idea, you may subscribe to Edible Austin and receive each issue by mail.
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Last year we answered the question of why a local food magazine is producing a Travel Issue with the following: Travel allows us the time and space to feel more deeply, think more broadly and taste more fully. We find our common ground as we celebrate our differences and expand our horizons. What we learn from other cultures, global cuisines and new experiences enriches our lives and our community at home.
It wasn’t out of character for Stratus Properties to have an apiary fi lled with up to one million bees placed on the rooftop of Block 21, a downtown high-rise development that’s home to the W Austin Hotel. In fact, ever since Valerie Broussard began working as the food and beverage buyer and forager for the hotel and its on-site restaurant Trace, she says she has seen a genuine commitment to environmental stewardship from both Stratus, the owner of the property, and the hotel’s management.
“Eating is an agricultural act.” —Wendell Berry, The Pleasures of Eating
Every time we lift our fork we are supporting a farm somewhere. Increasingly, thanks to urban farms, we are supporting neighborhood farms in our own community. These farms grow healthy food, create jobs, serve as community hubs and give us the opportunity to experience the inherent value of the land. Protecting our urban farms is key to creating a positive economic environment in Austin.
Earlier this year, the City began a process to update the Code Ordinance for our urban farms. The process was conducted over eight months of well-publicized and documented city-wide public hearings and input-gathering. As with any thoughtful and well-considered process, it brought multiple stakeholders to the table and compromises were made by all parties to accommodate multi-faceted concerns of both farmers and neighborhood groups.
Benefits to the community. The Urban Farm Code Ordinance is a city-wide ordinance benefitting all residents throughout Austin. Here are a few of these:
• Long-term, stable neighbors. Long-term land stewardship is essential for sustainably growing vegetables and small livestock. Austin’s urban farmers need years to build soil fertility, provide healthy pasture and invest in infrastructure. Because no farmer can survive on sales of the fruits of their labors alone, urban farms also bring vibrant and meaningful events to life such as farm dinners, canning and cooking classes and weddings to provide additional revenue to support the farm. This, in turn, allows them to give back to the community with farm tours providing educational outreach for schools and charity fundraisers.
• Support for the local economy. Urban farms hire locally and every dollar spent on a local farm stays in the community, as opposed to the 4-cents on the dollar when you buy your food from a big box store. As Austinites influence local restaurants to source more locally and sustainably grown food, this also drives money to our vibrant local—and nationally recognized—food scene.
• Access to healthy food for all. Small urban farms throughout the city can't solve all of our food access problems, but they can help. A new “market garden” code designation provides an easier entry for producers of diverse backgrounds and an additional source of income and food for families; non-code recommendations support farm stands that have the capacity to accept nutrition assistance benefits such as SNAP and WIC and point the city towards programs to help get land in the hands of more diverse producers.
The payoff. Supporting our urban farms by passing the update to the urban farm code will provide the residents of Austin access to fresh, healthful food and local jobs while cultivating good neighbors with a strong sense of place and interest in preserving not just the land but our neighborhoods.
Help us celebrate Austin's urban farms during our 2013 Eat Drink Local Week, December 7–14, by taking our Local Food Challenge: Join us in cooking meals throughout the week with all local ingredients or dining at restaurants featured in our new mapped guide to farm-to-table restaurants. And we’ll see you at the farmers markets and special events throughout the week!