The Future of Texas Wine Is in Hye
Fresh off the four-hour drive from Houston, our bellies still full after a pit stop in Ellinger for Peter’s BBQ brisket and Hruska’s jalapeño-sausage kolaches, my sister and I pulled into Lewis Wines outside Johnson City.
Doug Lewis and Duncan McNabb, who founded the 10-acre winery in 2010, take a natural, localized approach to Texas winemaking, which, of course, is why we’d come: to find out what the future of Texas wine looks—well, tastes—like.
Lewis and McNabb’s philosophy—to cultivate vines for quality fruit while taking care of the earth around them—is simple, and they’ve already produced a great rosé (in 2016). Like most wineries in the Hill Country, Lewis must source juice from elsewhere to augment its supply, but in this case, elsewhere is solely Texas.
We sampled the jammy 2013 PARR Tempranillo, a crushable red that’s like Gushers candy for adults. We bought bottles of the Swim Spot, a beachy, salt-air white begging to be sampled in Houston’s humidity, though it didn’t get past our B&B in Fredericksburg, Starry’s Studio, where we spent the evening sipping it from chaise lounges on the lovely back deck, watching hummingbirds give way to stars.
The next day we headed to Hye—a tiny unincorporated town between Johnson City and Fredericksburg—to visit winemaker Bill Blackmon and Chris Brundrett’s William Chris Vineyards, housed on the lush, 20-acre historic farm known as Hye Estate. The view here is reason alone to head to the Hill Country: Near the tasting room, amid wildflowers teeming with butterflies, the back deck overlooks picturesque acres of grapes.
Inside at the bar, it was standing-room-only, and we were glad we’d made reservations. We downed a Texas cheese plate and spicy candied pecans while tasting a half-dozen wines, including the Malbec rosé, sourced completely from grapes grown on site, and the Mary Ruth, a must-buy white blend that speaks to pool time and luaus, with tropical fruit galore. We snagged bottles of that and the fizzy pét-nat—natural sparkling wine—and lucked out when our wine guide poured a special taste of their fortified wine, Jacquez II, a sweet, chocolatey dessert port perfect for the holidays.
Practically across the street, we found lunch at Hye Market, a restaurant inside a historical general store and post office, originally opened by the founder of the town, Hiram “Hye” Brown, in the 1880s. It’s said to be where Lyndon B. Johnson mailed his first letter as a child. Owner Jason Cook operates a weekend tasting room of local wines and beers—he’s also planning to reopen a vacant dance hall here in Hye—but what you really want to stop in for are the huge kimchi Reubens and smoked pork belly sandwiches, served with crisp, preserved garden veggies on ciabatta, with sides of potato salad, of course.
Our last stop was brand-new vineyard Southold Farm + Cellar, outside of Fredericksburg. Its founders, winemakers Carey and Regan Meador, moved their Long Island winery here last year, after facing zoning problems up north. But while the couple may be the new kids on the block—their vines likely won’t start producing wine for another four years—they’ve got cred. Their wines have been featured in The New York Times and sold at New York’s finest restaurants. Houstonians can order them at establishments including UB Preserv and Hugo’s.
We were greeted at the door of the shabby-chic tasting room, which overlooks a bluff, by Regan’s smiley septuagenarian dad, Rusty, who lives in Boerne. Though this is still a relatively unknown vineyard, a couple of other SUVs pulled up, packed with vacationers, including two women who learned of the Southold wines after trying them at an Austin eatery.
Regan poured vintages from the old New York vineyard—a dry Lambrusco and a red blend, as well as a couple of impressive wines sourced from Texas: a fizzy, kombucha-like pét-nat made with Sangiovese from the High Plains, and an easy-to-drink, high-acid mix of Cab Franc and Sangiovese, named Call of the Brave.
“I flew my helicopter here today,” Rusty told us, and for a minute we believed him, before laughter rang out through the room. He makes the hourlong drive from Boerne to help his son when he needs it, one of the most endearing things about this family-run vineyard.
We paid for our membership and headed out to the porch swings to watch the sun dip low across the valley. And as we swirled our natural wines, we knew this was the sweetest spot in the land.
- The kimchi Reuben and smoked pork belly sandwiches at Hye Market.
- The California chicken panini and coconut cream pie at shabby chic Woerner Warehouse, located inside an antiques mecca with a lovely front porch.
- Pancakes as big as car wheels and Opa’s spicy sausage at the Old German Bakery.
- Chef-owner Ross Burtwell’s Texas “twinkies”—bacon-wrapped, sausage-stuffed jalapeños—and one of the 1,200-plus bottles of Texas wines at Cabernet Grill.
Artist Melissa Starry’s gorgeous interior design, artwork (find her stuff at The Art Guild), and hospitality make Starry’s Studio in Fredericksburg the perfect spot for a wine weekend. Bonus: The place used to be a small salon, where none other than Lady Bird Johnson herself got her hair done. Starting at $249/night.
- This part of Texas truly enchants, and there’s no better place to take in that splendor than the large granite dome aptly named Enchanted Rock, where I enjoyed the epic view, the hawks, the cacti, the bees, and my sister, jumping on Wikipedia and informing me, “This is totally haunted by a Native American princess who threw herself off the top.”
- Pay respects to Lyndon B. and Lady Bird Johnson at the Lyndon B. Johnson National Park.
- Stop in for a $3 cider tasting at newly opened Hye Cider, a compound of coolness that makes dry, champagne-crisp cider with local apples and honey, cranks out the Tom Waits jams, and hosts a food truck.
- Dance the night away at Hondo’s on Main—a raucous ode to Luckenbach celeb Hondo Crouch—where live music, fiery jalapeño margaritas, and glorious servings of queso and chicken-fried everything abound.