Monday, November 16, 2009

Wine Tasting Tour of the Hill Country

Well, I'm behind on my posts again. A number of things have happened lately, but I'll start with what happened yesterday. My husband, Foxfire and I are members of Becker Vineyards' wine club (a winery that's about an hour and a half drive away), so once every three months, we drive to Stonewall, TX to pick up our member wines for that quarter. Well, this time, we decided that we were going to make a day of it and visit several of the other wineries in the area and we invited our friend DA to come with us, since it seemed the sort of thing that she would enjoy.

Our first stop was Texas Hills Vineyard in Johnson City, TX. This unique little winery is very green oriented and their winery was actually built using the rammed earth method. I'd never seen a building built that way before, it was fun to check it out. The hostess was very friendly and attentive, asking questions about what we liked and giving recommendations on what we might like and the proper order in which to taste them. She also gave us each a Texas Winery Passport, a neat little booklet that you get stamped in each winery you visit. There is also space to take notes on the winery and the wines you taste. When you've filled all the spaces in your passport, you can go online at and fill out a form to get a reward. They don't tell you what the reward is, you just have to wait till it arrives.

Anyway, unlike most wineries, there was no tasting fee for most of the wines. They did have a special wine list that you had to pay a small fee to taste, but since they were all reds and I don't generally like reds, and since the selection of wines free to taste was fairly large, I didn't feel the need to pay the fee to taste the special wines. I liked their Orange Moscato so much that I bought a bottle even though our wine rack is already overflowing and I knew that we'd be picking up three new bottles at Becker Vineyards. DA also bought a couple of bottles for herself. In addition to the free tastings, there was also a very nice selection of interesting and unique gifts, much better than the usual t-shirts and wine toppers that you see in most tasting room gift shops.

Our next stop was Pedernales Cellars. Driving up their driveway, we noticed some cute fuzzy black and white cattle in a pasture on the right and a very skinny horse in a pasture on the left. We were all very concerned about the horse since we all ride and/or own horses. During our visit we mentioned to the hostess that we owned horses and asked about the horse in the pasture, being very careful not to imply anything negative. We were relieved to find out that the horse was a rescue that the owner's wife had taken in and was trying to nurse back to health. Since my husband's horse was a rescue and it had taken us about nine months to get him healthy looking, we understood about the horse still looking skinny and neglected and were impressed that the owner's wife was trying to help her.

The second thing we noticed about Pedernales Cellars was the view. Standing outside the tasting room and looking in almost any direction, you have a beautiful view of the Texas hill country. Inside the tasting room, there was a nice, but somewhat expensive selection of gourmet cheeses and chocolates along with the usual t-shirts and wine accessories. Pedernales Cellars does charge a tasting fee, but they wait till after you've had your tasting to charge it, and if you buy a bottle of wine, they waive it. Also, if you ask, they will give you a tour of their facilities. We asked.

In a hill behind the tasting room, they have built a large geothermically cooled cave where they make their wines. There were several large metal machines for de-stemming, juicing and fermenting, then a large area filled with wooden casks for aging the wine. The casks were made of different woods (French oak and American oak with traditional charring and laser charring) which impart different tastes to the wine. They are particularly proud of their machine for juicing the grapes. Apparently, there is a fairly big difference between first juice (the juice that comes out easiest) and last juice (the stuff you really have to force out). Their machine allows them to control the pressure so that all they get is first juice, which theoretically makes their wines better. I'm not a true oenophile, but I did like their wines, especially their Vino Blanco and their Muscat Canelli. I even liked one of their red wines(Pedernales Cellars Family Reserve) which is extremely unusual for me. Unfortunately, it was $49 a bottle which is rather more than I'm willing to spend for wine, but it was very good. Keeping in mind our overflowing wine rack, I limited my purchase to a bottle of the Muscat Canelli. However, DA (who is more of an oenophile and actually needed to stock up on wines) bought several bottles, so all of our tasting fees were waived.

Next we went to Becker Vineyards. The first time we went to Becker Vineyards was when Foxfire took me there as part of our third anniversary celebration. They have since finished re-modeling and enlarging their tasting room. It's absolutely huge and with the wood paneling and arched ceiling sort of gives the feeling of being inside a giant wine cask. (DA made that observation.) Foxfire and I had already been there twice so I waived my free tasting(as a member of the wine club) in favor of a souvenir wine glass, And Foxfire generously shared his tastings with me. The last time we had been to Becker, we had come home with over a full case of wine and still had a fair amount left of our favorites which for me are the Fleur Sauvage, Gewurztraminer and Muscat Canelli Amabile. Foxfire's favorites are the Clementine, Malbec and Raven. So we didn't buy anything, however DA bought several bottles of wine as well as several jars of fancy bath salts to give as Christmas gifts.

We finished our tour of wineries at Grape Creek Vineyards. Their tasting room is located inside a beautiful Tuscan style villa surrounded by oak trees. It is certainly one of the most beautiful settings for a winery that I have ever seen. Of course, I happen to be partial to that style of building. They had several different tasting options, but DA opted for the $10 artisan tasting(which includes 9 tastings and a souvenir glass) and since the host kindly agreed that Foxfire and I could split a tasting that's what we did, too. After tasting their white label wines, several of which I liked very much (Pinot Grigio, Muscat Canelli and Cabernet Blanc), we made our way over to their black label wine tasting area. Now I don't usually like red wines, but over the course of the tasting tour, I had at least begun to appreciate them in a certain way, so even though I wouldn't necessarily buy any of their red wines, I could at least appreciate the experience of tasting them. The fact that the host was very attentive and gave good descriptions and explanations of the various wines also helped. The final black label tasting was a port, and I actually do like ports, so it was a nice reward for making my way through the previous red wines.

DA apparently really liked Grape Creek's wines because when it came time to buy, she bought 10 bottles (apparently some were to be Christmas gifts). I bought two bottles, a Pinot Grigio and a Cabernet Blanc so that we had a complete case. We got a 10% discount on the wines and our tasting fees were waived. As I'm writing this, I'm actually wishing that I'd also bought a bottle of their Muscat Canelli, but at the time, I was thinking that I'd already bought two muscats and we had some at home so I passed on it. Well, I am positive that we'll be going back so I'll just get it next time. We'll also be sure to plan our timing so that we can take their Barrel Tasting Tour. It costs $20, but it seems like it would be well worth it.

Anyway, when we finished our tastings, it was almost 5pm which is when all the wineries close and Foxfire wanted a chance to sober up a bit before driving home, so DA kindly bought me a glass of port and herself a glass of her favorite(which was the Bellisimo, I think), and we sat on Grape Creek's beautiful patio listening to the talented country western singer who was performing there. Aside from the unwanted advances from an overly friendly yellow jacket, it was a beautiful way to end the tour.

After we left Grape Creek Vineyards, we were all a bit hungry, so we headed over to the Salt Lick for some fantastic Texas BBQ. Foxfire and I both had chopped beef sandwiches and split a peach cobbler for dessert. DA had a mixed platter with sausage, brisket and turkey and a slice of pecan pie for desert. None of us managed to finish all our food, so we took the rest of it home to eat later. We were all exhausted, but it had been a fantastically fun day.