Sip and Savor the Award-Winning Wines of Texas Vineyards
With more than 400 wineries, Texas now is the fifth largest wine-producing state. Earning such accolades as one of “the 10 best wine travel destinations in the world,” the Lone Star State is home to skillfully crafted wines that regularly earn gold, silver, and bronze medals in competitions around the globe. Whether you’re a wine connoisseur or an ambitious amateur, Texas wineries invite you to sit, sip, and stay awhile.
Relaxing on a covered patio, a glass of perfectly chilled and deliciously fruity rosé in hand, we looked out on the expansive green fields, the shady live oaks, and the hills beyond, and thought, “Do we really have to go home? Ever?”
Visit any of the more than 50 (at last count) Texas wineries in the Hill Country and odds are you’ll have similar thoughts. Tucked away in the forested nooks and limestone-studded crannies of the idyllic landscape, this region’s wineries have burst on the national—and international—scene, attracting accolades and awards from experts in the field.
When your inner oenophile gets thirsty, head out for a weekend in Fredericksburg, about an hour from San Antonio or 90 minutes from Austin. Besides being a historic town that oozes with rustic-chic charm, it’s a good home base for visiting several wonderful wineries.
We planned our most recent trip to coincide with the Texas Hill Country Wine & Wildflower Trail, an annual affair that allows visitors to taste several different wines while marveling at vast fields of wildflowers—red Texas paintbrush, yellow primrose, hot-pink winecup, and violet-hued bluebonnet, the state flower of Texas.
The country cabin getaway that Richard and Bunny Becker bought in 1990 has today become Becker Vineyards, an award-winning winery that produces more than 100,000 cases of wine annually.
As we arrived at the site, about 12 miles east of Fredericksburg along Highway 290, the countryside rolled out all around us. There were countless rows of vines, and the delicious scent of lavender confirmed what we already knew—that the Beckers also grow lavender at their Hill Country estate.
The beautiful winery building, a reproduction of a 19th-century German stone barn, was impressive on the outside and warm and welcoming when we stepped inside. In the tasting room, there were samples of the 2012 Raven, an award-winning Malbec blend, and the 2013 Viognier, a fat-bodied white from grapes that grow particularly well under the Texas sun.
We learned from fellow tasters that Viognier wine has often been underappreciated in the wine world. The high quality of Texas Viogniers, however—many of which have soundly trounced those from California and France in noted competitions—has elevated the wine’s reputation significantly. We already liked it, but knowing it had shocked the world with its excellence was music to this Texan’s ears. We bought two bottles to take home.
Having enjoyed our time upstairs—including a spin through the Lavender Shop for some heavenly scented gifts—we joined a special tour that took us downstairs to see the winery’s 64 fermentation tanks along with rows and rows of French and American oak barrels (2,000 in all). The best feature of the tour was the Reserve Wine Library, where the “bookshelves” were overflowing with wine bottles, some of which were the exceptional vintages the Beckers have included in their own personal portfolio.
After having seen, heard about, and tasted the wines, we decided it was time to just sit and enjoy. That’s when we chose Becker’s 2013 Provençal—a dry rosé that won a Double Gold Medal in the 2014 San Francisco International Wine Competition—and took a seat on the porch, debating the merits of ever leaving such bucolic surroundings.
Wineries Elsewhere in Texas
While most people think that winemaking in Texas is a fairly recent development, there is one winery in the South Plains that’s been pouring it forth since 1883.
Val Verde Winery in Del Rio, just a few blocks from the Texas-Mexico border, was founded when an Italian immigrant named Frencesco “Frank” Qualia moved to the area and discovered Lenoir grapes flourishing there.
The current fourth-generation Qualia vintner still uses Frank’s family traditions from the Old Country to produce a highly respected variety of reds and whites, as well as a very popular Texas rosé. Val Verde’s award-winning Port blend—Don Luis Tawny Port—is a favorite of my husband’s, who orders it on a regular basis.
From Del Rio, trace a line due north for 345 miles to Lubbock, home of Llano (pronounced “yanno”) Estacado, the largest winery in Texas. The name means “staked plains,” in honor of those vines originally tested in the plains of the Panhandle. From its first release of just 1,300 cases in 1977, Llano Estacado has grown rapidly, and now produces extraordinary Texas wines that have been lauded at competitions throughout the world.
My own love of Llano Estacado wine began with its 1984 Chardonnay. When that vintage was awarded a Double Gold Medal at the 1986 San Francisco Fair’s International Wine Competition, serious wine lovers perked up their ears—and their palates—and started to pay attention to the Lone Star State’s quickly growing and fast-improving wine industry.
In the late 1860s, more than 6 million acres of vineyards in France were destroyed by phylloxera, a plant louse, and a Texan came to the rescue. Dr. Thomas Munson, a horticulturist living in Denton, had collected more than 300 varieties of rootstock, one of which was a phylloxera-resistant vine that—when grafted to different grapes—saved the French wine industry. The French government awarded him the French Legion of Honor Chevalier du Mérite Agricole.