Driftwood Dreams

By Polly Ross Hughes
Photography by Bill Albrecht

Forever pulling from a garden that brimmed with black-eyed peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, corn, squash and more, Scott Roberts’s grandmother grew famous among Hill Country friends for her homegrown cooking prowess. Aunt Roxie, as she was called, often held culinary court over elaborate Sunday dinners where folks bragged about the coveted chance to sample her giant flattened biscuits and dewberry pies.


“She told me you could raise anything in the Hill Country,” Scott says with a grin, “except pinto beans.”

Both sides of Scott’s family—the Howards and the Roberts—arrived in Driftwood from Mississippi in 1867 as part of a massive wagon train exodus from the Deep South following the Civil War. They settled the land and began growing cotton.

Aunt Roxie was born to the Howards, but her family exiled her to Kyle for two years after she married into the whiskey-drinking, guitar-strumming Roberts clan.

“They actually wouldn’t speak to her,” says Scott. “Then they told her she could come home. She referred to those two years she wasn’t here as hell.”

Roxie passed on her deep love of the family’s land to her son Thurman, Scott’s father. When Thurman returned from WWII duty with his Japanese bride, Hisako, he supported his young family by building bridges across Texas. But he became so homesick for Driftwood that one Friday night he simply returned home and quit. The family dreamed up 54 other jobs that could keep Thurman in Driftwood. One of them became a small barbecue joint with a quirky name: Salt Lick.

On a warm Texas day, a century after his family arrived on the land, Thurman took Scott and a worker with him to a special spot. With his boot, he drew a mark in the dirt and with a barbecue fork, he made another. Scott helped his father build the Salt Lick’s original barbecue pit at that spot with limestone quarried from the family’s land.

“Salt Lick’s really kind of a love story,” Scott says. “It would not be here except for [Dad’s] love and want to be in Driftwood, Texas.”

Scott was a teenager in 1967 when the roadside barbecue stand opened, drawing hungry folks from miles around. People didn’t mind eating off the hoods of their cars in those early days, and word of the faraway barbecue place worth the trip quickly spread.

Over his lifetime, Scott, now 58, has helped grow his father’s barbecue place into a Texas legend. Now he’s turned the focus to his family’s legacy. With his latest—and some say most ambitious—endeavor, Scott is channeling both Aunt Roxie’s pinto bean wisdom and his father’s profound affection for the Driftwood homeland into a project like no other.

With an estimated budget of $50,000,000 and a time frame of five years, Scott seeks to transform the 580 acres his pioneering family settled in 1867 into a wine-lover’s paradise and antidote to urban sprawl. A limited number of eco-friendly residential sites will tap into solar power and rainwater retrieval systems while helping protect Hill Country landscapes that are quickly disappearing. His development, he insists, will respect the history and traditions of the Hill Country, along with preserving the bounty of the land, its water and its wildlife.

“There’s always been a deep tie to the land and agriculture in my family,” Scott says of the once-rural area more associated with split-rail fences and grazing livestock than the new bumper crop of Houston-style subdivisions.

“There’ve been so many new friends and neighbors move into the area that what we used to do doesn’t work,” he says, noting livestock can no longer roam freely. “So we were looking for some way to do other crops. That led us to grapes.”

His vision calls for 55 acres of new vineyards specializing in hot-weather-loving sangiovese, syrah and tempranillo grapes, and a winery at the community’s center.

“The Driftwood area will become to Austin what Napa Valley is to the Bay Area,” he says.

Yet Scott remains compelled to build his field of dreams with an intense eye on preserving the spirit of the place. Unlike nearby hillsides teeming with McMansions, his community will limit the number of home sites, and none will exceed two stories.

“You’ll be restricted in what you can build. You can’t build fences. You get about 10,000 square feet, but that has to include everything,” Scott says. “Anything else you can’t disturb. If you wanted a private area, say for a dog or a swimming pool, then it has to be a courtyard. It has to be an extension of the wall of the house.”

What residents and visitors get in return, though, are generous, shared open spaces, acres of wildscapes, nine miles of caliche hiking paths, an artists’ colony, two restaurants, a lodge and a spa overlooking Onion Creek. An organic garden will help supply the restaurants, as will olive, fig and persimmon orchards.

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Surveying the development site today reveals miles of beautiful, low-lying walls of excavated and reused dry-stack limestone—a style of fence reminiscent of 19th-century Texas. Scott loves taking visitors to his community “recycle bin,” where sediment dredged from Onion Creek waits to turn into the new roof for the wine cellar, or where caliche is turned into material for pervious roads and parking lots.

“Everything that comes out gets reprocessed and is reused back into this development,” he says, estimating that the intentionally mindful construction methods have saved about 30,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 10,000 dump truck trips to and from the site.

These choices make Scott especially proud of the development, and he hopes to inspire by setting an example of controlled, eco-wise growth.

Before his death nearly three decades ago, Thurman Roberts began building a new home, just up the hill and within eyeshot of his beloved land and successful restaurant. Today, as Scott gazes through the same windows at the sweeping view of Thurman’s oak-covered, rolling landscape he dreams of an appropriate transfer of legacy.

“We’ve been the stewards of this land for about 100 years.” Scott says. “This is a way to allow other people to come enjoy it, pass it on to them and let them become the stewards.”

There’s just one piece of wisdom he hopes inheritors of that legacy will heed. Never, ever, he says, try to grow pinto beans.