Perfect Hill Country Wine Days

From Houston, San Antonio or Austin, the perfect wine day begins at 11 am at the Fall Creek Tasting Room in Driftwood, about 25 minutes south of Austin. Fall Creek owners Susan and Ed Auler are the co-pioneers of the modern Texas wine industry. Ed, an Austin attorney, was instrumental in working with the Texas Legislature in forming the laws of the nascent Texas wine industry in the 1970s. Susan was named one of the top 50 wine persons in the world by Wines and Vines magazine. Their early efforts in winemaking and wine marketing put the industry years ahead of where it would be today without them.

David and Julie Kuhlken.

A major boost began when the Aulers hired Sergio Cuadra as Director of Winemaking. Sergio has a degree in agronomy engineering and the Chilean title of enólogo. He worked for 10 years in viticulture, winemaking and international wine marketing for Concha y Toro and worked for a year each with iconic winemakers Jacques Lurton from France and Paul Hobbs from Napa Valley.

Evidence of Sergio’s impact include Fall Creek’s 2015 Chardonnay Certenberg Vineyard being named “Best White Wine” of the massive number of white wines entered in the Houston Rodeo International Wine Competition, and The Dallas Morning News named Fall Creek “Best Winery in Texas 2018!”

My favorite Fall Creek wines are: Vintners Select Sauvignon Blanc 2019 at $21; Vintners Select Chardonnay (unoaked) 2018 at $24; Chardonnay Certenberg Vineyard 2017 at $40; Tempranillo Salt Lick Vineyard 2016 at $35; GSM (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre) 2016 at $40 and the exciting new label ExTERRA Tempranillo 2017 at $100.

Will, Richard and Joe Becker.

Next, pick up a barbeque sandwich to go at The Salt Lick, right across the street from the Fall Creek Tasting Room Tip: Get on the road by 12:45 pm to get two more tastings in. First stop at 2 pm is Pedernales Cellars in Stonewall, which is owned by Julie and David Kuhlken. Julie is very understated and very well wine-educated, so try and arrange a tasting with her. I’ve only met David once and very briefly, but he knows his wines also. My favorites from a recent tasting are: Roussanne 2016 at $20; Tempranillo Reserve 2016 at $50 and Kuhlken Vineyards Reserve Tempranillo (Tempranillo, Merlot, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon and Touriga) 2016 at $70.

Onward westward to Becker Vineyards, about 12 minutes from Pedernales Cellars, between Stonewall and Fredericksburg. Owner, Dr. Richard Becker, has done a phenomenal job over the years, and like the Aulers, hired an experienced and talented winemaker, John Leahy, about six years ago.  Evidence of his impact can be seen by four Becker wines achieving double gold medals at an international wine competition – the only winery to do so at that event.  Sadly, Bunny Becker, one of the first ladies of Texas wines, recently passed away.

Becker must be the most economically successful winery in Texas.  Richard told me that he had over 100,000 visitors last year.  When I was there on a Sunday in October, there must have been 400 visitors – and because of the spacious grounds and buildings, it wasn’t crowded! My favorite wines from my October visit are: Viognier Reserve 2017 at $24.95; Jolie Rosé 2017 at $24.95; Carignan Reddy Vineyard 2017 at $32; Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Canada Family Vineyard 2017 at $40 and Malmsey (Madeira-Style, Texas High Plains Viognier) 2015 at $34.95.

Dr. Robert Young.

There are two other wineries to fit in the next morning/afternoon. The first is Inwood Estates Vineyards, owned by the most interesting character on the Texas wine scene, Dan Gatlin. Dan “marches to the beat of a different drummer” in a good sense, and some of his wines are extremely expensive, but you should be able to arrange a private, or at least a group tasting with him. Visitors will be mesmerized with his presentation. Inwood Estates was named one of the top wineries in America 2017 by The Daily Meal in New York! I liked all the wines he served the day I was there recently.

Finally, Bending Branch Winery in Comfort, owned by Dr. Robert Young, who hails from Kentucky, is about 25 miles south of Fredericksburg and close to Interstate 10. This winery won “Best Texas Winery 2018” at the Houston Rodeo International Wine Competition. My favorite wines recently tasted there are: Estate Picpoul Blanc Lost Pirogue Vineyard 2018 at $32; Ursa Mencia (a Spanish varietal) Alta Mesa Silvaspoons Vineyards 2017 at $25; Texas Tannat (a French varietal) 2017 at $30; Double Barrel Tannat (finished in Kentucky bourbon barrels) 2017 at $38 and Tannat Texas Hill Country Tallent Vineyards 2016 at $50.

Bending Branch Tannats have been huge winners at the Houston Rodeo International Wine Competition. As an aside, Bending Branch hosts a super-fun Kentucky Derby Day with a leviathan screen for several hundred wine club members every year.

Fredericksburg is the final destination for shopping, good food and sleeping arrangements – easy to find on the internet.  While there, try to include The Nimitz Museum, but only if you have at least two hours. I spent three. It is absolutely fascinating and a superb learning experience.

Regarding shopping, one could spend most of a day traversing in and out of the quaint, little shops along the main thoroughfare. The stores are usually open from 10 am to 6 pm, and many other wonderful wineries abound.  Just check out Fredericksburg wineries on the internet. I guarantee you will find at least five more wineries that you will want to visit if you google Texas Hill Country wines. Plan for a third full day if possible. The wineries are generally open daily from 10 or 11 to 5 or 6. With regard to all wineries, call ahead, especially with a group of four or more, to check hours, availability and reservations for private tastings.