The Texas Hill Country is famous for vast open spaces accented by huge old oak trees and delightful small towns, many of them with a strong German history. Most people visit the Hill Country to enjoy the nature trails, state parks, and cool spring-fed rivers, art and culture scene, and a general feeling of peace that wraps you like a warm blanket on a chilly night.
However, there's a burgeoning wine scene in the Hill Country that is gaining the attention of wine enthusiasts and serious oenophiles. There are over 100 wineries and vineyards in the Hill Country with about half located along Texas Highway 290, also known as Wine Road 290, as well as many other scenic back roads.
I’ve chosen six wineries to share with you for their gorgeous views, ambiance, and excellent wine made with 100 percent Texas-grown fruit. All wines mentioned are available for purchase online.
Insider Info: You will definitely need a car to visit these wineries. There is the option of a driver for the wineries along Highway 290, but I’ve included some that are not. Fredericksburg is a good place to base yourself, just be sure to book accommodations well in advance. Probably the best tip I can give you is don’t try to visit more than two wineries per day, especially if you are driving. In fact, the places I’ve chosen are the kind of places you’ll want to relax into, not rush off to the next place. Relax. You’re in Texas now.
1. Bending Branch In Comfort
Located on a winding country road, in the hills around Comfort, Texas, Bending Branch Winery welcomes you to their estate tasting room with panoramic views for miles. It’s the kind of view that will soon have you pondering if you should get a little spot in Texas to call your own.
Bending Branch utilizes a number of cutting-edge methods of production such as flash detente and cryo- maceration. Owner Dr. Bob Young likes to say, “ Bending Branch aims to produce “the best possible wine no matter what grapes are grown.” If anyone knows how to coax the best possible showing from wine grapes, Dr. Bob does.
Bending Branch has received national recognition for their wines and their tasting room experience: Best Texas Winery for four years in a row by San Antonio Express-News; Number 3 Best Tasting Room by USA Today Readers Choice Awards. The wines have also won Double Gold at the 2020 Lonestar Wine Awards for the Cabernet Sauvignon and Silver for the Tannat and Double Barrel Tannat.
And speaking of tannat, a highly tannic red wine that thrives in Texas, in the hands of Dr. Bob Young, a graduate of U.C. Davis Winemaker Certification program with a degree in chemistry, tannat becomes approachable, dare I say even soft?
But be sure to try all of the options on the tasting menu. Tannat isn't the only stellar wine being produced by Bending Branch. Although, I admit I am partial to the sparkling rose of tannat, which tasted like a strawberry Jolly Rancher.
Bending Branch is open for tastings by appointment, or you can pick up a bottle at the estate tasting room. At this time, all tastings are being held outdoors.
2. Pedernales Cellars In Stonewall
Pedernales Cellars is an estate winery with 154 acres of rolling hills punctuated by live oak trees and stunning views of the Pedernales River Valley.
By focusing from the beginning on grape varieties that do well in Texas, Pedernales Cellars consistently wins national awards and recognition. Their 2017 Texas Malbec got Double Gold at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, and their 2017 Texas High Plains Graciano won Gold at San Francisco International Wine Competition.
They have recently completed updates to the tasting room and are expanding their food offerings to include a full-time food truck on site.
Dogs are welcome as long as they are on a leash; however, they are not allowed inside the tasting room.
Sustainability is an important part of the business and is carried through from the vineyards to the construction of the tasting room to the packaging. Pedernales Cellars was named a Top 10 Winery by National Geographic in 2014.
Pedernales Cellars is located off of Highway 290, and is only about 10 minutes from downtown Fredericksburg,
Pro Tip: For white wine lovers, the Viognier is dynamite.
3. William Chris In Hye
William Chris was founded by Chris Brundrett and Bill (William) Blackmon, who were recently recognized by Wine Enthusiast as “producers redefining American wine.” William Chris focuses on low-intervention wine production meaning they let the fruit speak for itself. They specialize in Rhone varieties like mourvedre and grenache, as well as varieties from Spain, France, and Italy.
Located just off of Highway 290, the property has 6.5 acres of vineyards, tables spread out under shade trees, and a state-of-the-art facility for wine club members. Picnic lunches are available as well as a variety of tasting experiences by appointment. However, you don’t need an appointment to enjoy the vineyard views at an outdoor table with a bottle of wine.
Pro Tips: Pets are allowed on leashes. Live music every weekend.
4. Duchman Winery In Driftwood
Named one of the 20 most picturesque wineries in the United States by HGTV, Duchman Family Winery is a pretty property with an Italian villa-style tasting facility complemented by a grove of oak trees providing plenty of shady picnic spots.
Duchman focuses primarily on Italian varieties like Vermentino, Sangiovese, and Dolcetto.
I was curious to try the wines because of my keen interest in all things Italian, even before I learned of their many awards.
However, the moment I arrived and saw the impressive Tuscan-style building that serves as the tasting room, barrel room, and fermentation facility and the extensive lawn scattered with picnic tables and folks with blankets spread out under the trees, I was hooked.
Duchman Family Winery has won numerous awards and even beat the Italians by winning a Gold medal for their 2018 Vermentino, an Italian white wine grape that grows well in Texas, at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. The aglianico is a red Italian wine with dark red fruit flavors and bold tannins that pairs well with food. In fact, Duchman is unique in offering a number of food options -- many are made fresh on site.
You can order handmade pizzas, cheese, and charcuterie along with picnic boxes that include things like Pimento cheese, pasta salad, or mozzarella sandwiches.
Normally you can tour the barrel room and other facilities at the winery but for now, that’s off-limits. Never mind -- the best part of Duchman, aside from the wines, is the location.
Duchman is open seven days a week and until 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, making it a great place for date night. Once a month there is a movie on the lawn.
5. Sandy Road Vineyards In Johnson City
One of the most unique tasting experiences I’ve had recently was with winemaker Regan Sivadon in a treehouse overlooking the vineyards at Sandy Road. Not only is Regan making great wine -- that treehouse experience is a winner!
Sandy Road began with a vision of sharing great Texas wines and the serenity the owners experienced while growing up on their grandparents’ 100-year-old property.
Regan has been in the wine business for decades and is associate winemaker at Ron Yates and Spicewood. And while he loves his work there, Regan wanted to make a product that he has complete control over, a wine he could put his heart and soul into without limitations.
At Sandy Road, the goal is 100 percent Texas wine from Texas fruit, sustainably and responsibly grown. Be sure to try the 2020 Estate Pet Nat wine made from the very first vintage of Prieto Picudo grapes in the U.S.A. It’s refreshing and loaded with ripe fruit flavors and pairs perfectly with the treehouse. Read more about Pet Nat wines here.
Almost all of the wines at Sandy Road are already winning accolades and awards around the country, so you’ll want to try everything that is available. The focus is on Southern Italian, French, and Spanish varietals and producing wine that reflects the sense of place, hard work, and passion of the owners.
Pro Tip: If you don’t fancy climbing the steps to the treehouse, you can book a tasting at one of the outdoor tables. Tastings are subject to weather, so be warned.
6. Ron Yates In Hye
Ron Yates loves wine, and at his sister property to the original Spicewood winery, Yates makes an astonishing number of wines. Ron was inspired to jump full time into the family wine business after spending time in Spain and embracing the culture of a glass of wine with every meal. Upon his return to Texas to finish school, he recognized that the terrain and climate in Texas are very similar to the Rioja region of Spain and believed he could grow Spanish varieties successfully. He was right. Yates has become known for his award-winning Tempranillo and Rhone-style blends.
A tasting at Ron Yates encompasses good wine served by a friendly staff either in the modern 6,000-square-foot tasting room, where you will notice an entire wall dedicated to bottles with ribbons and medals, or outside under the pavilion adjacent to the vineyards.
Try the 2017 Tempranillo which won Double Gold at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. If you’re a white wine lover, Yates makes a delicious Albarino (another Spanish grape) and a refreshing Rose of Grenache that smelled like oranges, honey, and roses to me. Yates is open seven days a week.
More On Texas Hill Country: