Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s First Wine Country Tour Visits the Texas Hill Country
By now, most of you know October is Texas Wine Month. Well, it could have been no better time than this month for The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s (HLSR) Wine Sales and Events Committee (click here) to organize their first ever wine tour. On the three-day weekend of October 3-5, they welcomed committee members and fellow wine aficionados for a fun and event-filled weekend tour of Texas hill country wineries October 3-5, 2014.
This tour provided “wine-trail riders” special tastings, gourmet food and wine events including bus transportation, meals, hotels and special meetings with winery personnel. It was a first-hand opportunity to personally experience the Texas Hill Country that was recently named as one of Wine Enthusiast’s Top Ten Wine Destinations of 2014 (click here). A special feature of the tour, none other than Doc Russ Texas Wineslinger (me) rode the trail with the tour participants and was available to answer Texas wine questions and provide interesting insights and stories of the birth, re-birth and evolution of the Texas hill country wineries.
The tour started on Friday afternoon and after checking into their hotel rooms in Kerrville, the party caravanned to 4.0 Cellars on the Route 290 Wine Road east of Fredericksburg. There we tasted a selection of wines from HLSR award-winning wineries McPherson Cellars, Brennan Vineyards and Lost Oak Winery. The wines were enjoyed with hors d’oeuvres while they explored and relaxed on well-appointed grounds. This first evening was made even more enjoyable courtesy of the previous day’s cool front that overnight changed the seasons from Summer to Fall.
After this tasting, the group assembled at 814 Bistro in the heart of historic downtown Comfort, TX, where Chef/Owner Millard Kuykendall and his friendly staff will served dinner selections featuring “Bistro” cuisine (Scottish Salmon, Hanger Steak and more) with a Texas Flair accompanied by a selection of award-winning wines from Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition.
On Saturday morning after a complimentary breakfast, everyone boarded the tour bus with the first stop coming quickly at a boutique winery with a South American Argentine flair: Santamaria Cellars. There, Martin Santamaria and his wife Angela seated the group on their newly poured backyard patio. The Santamarias served a broad selection of their wines from Sauvignon Blanc to Martin’s home country’s namesake wine, Malbec (and all his wines were Texas appellation).
Our bus moved up Route 16 from Kerrville to Fredericksburg and rounded a point in the road the locals call “Deadman’s Curve”. At this point, I told the busload of wine tourists the Texas hill country winery ghost story of the old Pedernales Valley Winery’s mysterious demise (for more click here). The story was complete with what people still say about the property: “visitors walking the once-flourishing vineyard are warned by anyone familiar with the grounds to burn their boots when they leave”.
The bus then journeyed onto Route 290 for a catered lunch and wine tasting at the new Messina Hof Hill Country Winery. This is where I discovered that Messina Hof had just release a whopper of a new wine – their Mourvedre. Several of us ended up purchasing this one with bold rustic wine with essences of smoke, earth, pepper and dark berries to share on the bus or take home.
The next stop was a mid-afternoon, private wine tasting in the new barrel room at Becker Vineyards in Stonewall, TX. Our last stop of the day was in Hye, TX, at Hye Meadow Winery. There, the winery offered a private tasting of Hye Meadow wines lead by winery principal, Mike Batek. What followed was sheer delight…an evening reception under the oak trees that included a beautiful sunset, music, gourmet food trucks, and a wine tasting where tour goers chose from more than 20 wines from surrounding Texas hill country wineries during the Hill Country Wineries kick-off event for Texas Wine Month. We returned to our hotel by bus as night fell.
Sunday morning we all slept a tad later and then linked up in Comfort, TX to enjoy breakfast / brunch at Highs Café known for their “High-made” gourmet coffee, soup, salads, sandwiches and fresh baked items. From there, we will made our final stop at nearby Bending Branch Winery for a private tasting of their award-winning wines and tour their winery and estate vineyard before we say our good-byes.
In this case, the best was definitely saved for last as co-owners Bob Young and John Rivenburgh gave a tour of a lifetime at their Bending Branch Winery. They spent nearly an hour tasting wine from their bottled collection (including this year’s HLSR award-winning best Texas wine – Tannat), samples from barrel, wines made with their cryo-maceration (CM) technique, and more. In this case, the “more” was a sample of wine still in fermentation that was made with their new flash détente unit. It uses heat and vacuum to macerate the grape skins to extract more of what both Bob and John called “the good stuff” – color, tannin and aromatics that are usually tightly locked up in the grape skins. This unit is only one a four in the United States and the first one not in California. Tour participants got a firsthand view and taste revealing that Bending Branch Winery has truly placed Texas on the forefront of fermentation science in the United States.
Knowing that a good time was had by all, we said our goodbyes and thank yous to Shanelle Ecrette and Karin Violante from the The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s Wine Sales and Events Committee for organizing this event. Then, we headed back eastward on I-10 to Houston bringing back good reports on the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s first-ever wine country tour that appropriately featured Texas’s leading wine region – The Texas Hill Country – and it’s local wineries.