Day 2 – On the Texas Hill Country Holiday Wine Trail: Back in the Saddle Again
The air was cool, but the morning sun was warm on my face. I saddled up my farm truck to leave Fredericksburg and head up to Lampasas at the very top of the Texas Hill Country. Like yesterday, it was time to turn on the time machine again going to and from Lampasas. Yesterday’s travels from Houston brought me to the uplifted Cretaceous Hill Country limestone and backward in time about 60 to 100 million years. Today I crossed river cuts in this formation by the Pedernales and Colorado Rivers that expose rocks that are 400 to 500 million years old or older. This geological action all makes for a complex mix of soils that helps to support grape growing in this area. We have a range of terroir possible here depending where the grapes are grown and we are going step-by-step learning what this all means for Texas wines. Someday….won’t it be glorious to have sorted it all out.
Texas Legato Winery
I started my tastings at the two Bledsoe family wineries – Texas Legato and Pillar Bluff, just outside Lampasas. These wineries are owned by two brothers (Gill and Bill) that are just around the corner from one another. At Texas Legato Winery we had a tasting of their wines, some that were estate grown. The wines were still in their youth, but were all well made. The hits were their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and Port wine. You can find either dry or sweet wines that will please your palate.
At Texas Legato, I met a couple of ladies in the tasting room that were up from Kerrville doing the wine trail. When I asked if they had done wineries tours before, they indicate that, in fact, they were from California. Need I say more? But, it was interesting they mentioned that they actually enjoy touring wineries in Texas more. They felt that Texas is more like it was in California in the 1970’s before Napa became what they referred to as “wall-to-wall wineries”. They agreed that the intimate nature of Texas’ smaller boutique and estate wineries makes for a more relaxed tasting room atmosphere and a better tasting experience. They were obviously thoroughly enjoying it.
Pillar Bluff Winery
When I opened the door at Pillar Bluff, Bill Bledsoe was behind the bar pouring. So, I joined a group in the tasting room doing the Holiday Wine Trail. We went through a tasting of his five presently available wines, including the Pillar Bluff 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Texas High Plains. It gave dark fruit flavors and a hint of cedar that was alive on the palate. It had received a silver medal in this year’s Lone Star Wine Competition. I also gave it my “Best of the Bunch” acknowledgement.
Bill also asked me to taste a wine made in New York’s Finger Lakes Region from Rkatsiteli (pronounced “Ra-Cats-a-Telly”), a grape originally from the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia (formerly in the Soviet Union not in the USA). The wine presented very much like a Riesling but with an added grapefruit note, but not too much. He is hoping to do some vineyard experimentation with this grape in the near future. We will have to help Bill (and Les Constable at Brushy Creek who is also interested in this grape) come up with a better name – maybe “RatCats” or something easier to pronounce and remember).
GPS – My Unworthy Companion
I was ready to leave Pillar Bluff for Alamosa Wine Cellars in Bend, Texas. But, after stepping outside, panic set in! My GPS couldn’t find the location for Alamosa – I was in a GPS black hole! This would turn into a bigger problem for my Garman since all three wineries on the western side of Lake Buchanan (Alamosa, Fall Creek and Lost Creek) were invisible on my GPS. But, luckily Gill came to the rescue with the directions to my next stop. Hopefully, this GPS issue did not cause a problem for other trail participants. Words of wisdom – You still have to carry a map in some parts of the world!
Alamosa Wine Cellars
It was an interesting ride to visit Jim and Karen Johnson at Alamosa Wine Cellars. First, I noticed the varying soil types along the way. Secondly, I spied a grouping of signs on Rt. 580 near Bend, Texas. The grouping included signs for two churches, the Bend General Store and Bait Shop, and Alamosa Wine Cellars. it appears that Texas wines have made the top three elements of rural Texas life. When I finally reached Alamosa Wine Cellars, Jim Johnson told me that he had a problem with his sign getting stolen on a regular basis. He remedied this by writing on the back of the sign in bold letters….”Thou shall not steal”. Luckily, it appears that he has God-fearing neighbors.
Alamosa had a grand display of “TexMed” (Mediterranean grape varietals grown in Texas). He is such a supporter of TexMeds that his white selection is made without even including a Chardonnay. It does, however, does range from Viognier, blends of Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne (all from southern France), and the reds wines and blends including Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Tempranillo (common in Southern France and Spain). These are sun loving grapes and he believes that they will be the future of the Texas wine industry. After tasting these wines, his Viognier, Scissortail (white blend), Syrah and Palette (red blend) are all highly recommended. It is almost hard to down-select to this small of a list. A barrel tasting showed that Alamosa has wines in the barrel that will delight wine drinker for years to come.
I asked Jim if he had tried to find any of the silver left from the Lost Mines of the San Saba supposedly left in the vicinity of his winery by the Spanish in the 1600-1700’s. He said no, but a fellow grower in Jim’s tasting room said that he did comb his own property with a metal detector a few time. But, alas….the mine is still lost! Come by and see if you can locate it. But, you may have to share your take with Jim and Karen Johnson at Alamosa.
Fall Creek, Flat Creek and Grape Creek Vineyards
After my GPS incident, I had to unfortunately bypass Fall Creek Vineyards, Flat Creek Estate and Spicewood Vineyards on this trek. I also missed Grape Creek Vineyards yesterday. But, I have recently had blog postings on my experiences at Grape Creek, Fall Creek and Flat Creek that you can view (See below), please check them out:
My sincere regrets. I plan to make special stops in the future to update my tastings and discussions at these wineries.
Lost Creek Vineyard
I was able to finally locate Lost Creek Vineyards on the shores of Lake Buchanan and it was good to see that Dave Brinkman and his winery survived the flood of 2007. David’s OK and still making exceptional wines, but the winery had to rise from the destruction of the flood waters like a waterborne Phoenix. This time it was built a little higher up on the creek bank – hopefully high enough. The new winery tasting room and adjoining restaurant are masterpieces and just opened earlier this year.
One of Lost Creek’s first awards came from our Texas’ Best Competition for their White Swan Blanc du Bois. Sadly, the medals from most of his competitions were lost in the flood, only the Houston Rodeo Wine Competition Belt Buckle remains. Luckily, the quality of his wines lives on in tribute.
I tasted his complete selection and still find the 2005 White Swan Blanc du Bois to be a tasty wine on my palate. It is testament to what can be done in the glass with hybrid grapes in Texas. Also, the 2005 Buddy’s Blend, Buddy’s Select Blend and the 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon were well-worthy wines, too.
I jumped back in the car to try to get a refill of gas and complete my journey within my 5 pm deadline and drove on to McReynolds Winery. The McReynolds are simply great people that have had challenges. But, they have a new winery tasting room has an “Old Thyme Christmasy” flare located in a log cabin on their property in Round Mountain, Texas. And by-the-way, yes they were on my GPS!
I had a good discussion with the McReynold’s and two couples in their winery while we tasted. Both couples were making first trip to the Texas wine country during the Hill Country Wine Trail and having a great time of it. My Best of the Bunch pick at McReynolds included their 2006 Merlot made with Rising Star Vineyard and Texas Hill Country grapes. It has a deep purple color with the presence of blackberry and cassis and a touch of tobacco on the nose.
If you stop by this winery, ask Mac McReynolds to tell you the story of nearby “Dead Man’s Hole”. It is part of what I call “The Complete Texas Wine Country Experience” – It includes the visit, the tasting, the geological history lesson, great Texas folklore and the possibility of some good huntin’ and fishin’ all thrown into the pot for good measure. In fact, if you work it correctly, you can hunt or fish in the early morning and then go to a range of Texas wines to track a wine to accompany your freshly caught main course.
Trusting Souls on the Wine Trail
Once leaving the winery, I was on my way to my final stop on today’s Texas Hill Country Holiday Wine Trail segment. I found myself following a car across a narrow meandering country road without as much as a sign on it. When we reached Rt. 71, the car stopped to ask me directions and it turned out to be a couple from my stop at McReynolds Winery. They were lost and needed some assistance. So, I told them to follow me for my last stop of the day. They were trusting souls as I lead them further across Texas’ highways and byways to Stone House Vineyard in Spicewood, Texas. Actually, I didn’t know if my darn GPS was going to get me there after my previous experiences. But you know, if you end up being lost, it is better to lost with someone than lost all by yourself!
Stone House Vineyard
Stone House Vineyard comes exactly as “advertised”. It is a winery and tasting room located on a small vineyard property and it is made completely out of large stone blocks. It has a great look and I imaging a good insulation “R” value, as well, to help keep the winery and its contents cool under the hot Texas sun. Once we arrived we met the proprietor and winemaker, Angela Moench, an Australian with ties to Houston. It is a classy yet cozy place inside and Angela has included a great selection of high quality wines for tasting and purchase with a true international flare that is a match with her personal background. The wine card brings flavors from the Texas, the USA and Australia. Her wine selections are represented by well known regions like Eden Valley, Barossa and Wrattonbully along with the Texas Hill Country.
My new friends and I tasted through a selection of Stone House Vineyard’s wines and blends. I am very pleased to report that they were all well made wines – bright, clear, crisp and full of fresh fruit and berry qualities. Especially noteworthy are the Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend and the red wines made with Shiraz (an Aussie-style Syrah) and Grenache. But, I have a special place for Angela’s Claros. Try it and then try to guess the grape varietal. Try it first….then, once it knocks you out of your socks, ask for the name of the grape and where it was grown. Congrats to Angela for making this wine. I first came across this wine in 2005 and ended up giving it a medal in the Texas’ Best Competition. I was glad to make its acquaintance again.
Conclusion of the Day
Well, it’s just after 5 pm and the end has come to another day. I could have used another hour until 6 pm to make at least one more stop on the wine trial. I hope that the wineries all start to stay open until at least 6 pm because of the distances that need to be traveled to encompass the Texas Hill Country experience. While driving back through Johnson City and on to Fredericksburg for the evening, I had two memorable experiences – The Christmas light display in Johnson City and my long awaited treat, a Texas chicken-fried-steak sandwich, onion rings and a lime aid.
Cheers and enjoy. I will see you again on Sunday as I travel on the southern trail from Fredericksburg to Comfort, then through Sisterdale and on to New Braunfels.
Day 3 – On the Texas Hill Country Wine Trail
Look for my trail progress on Day 3 of the Texas Hill Country Wine Trail in the comments section given below.