Big state, big skies, big dreams - that's Texas. Texas is one of the oldest growing wine states in the US, with vines planted here more than 100 years before California or Virginia. The Val Verde Winery was established in 1833 and is still going strong today, although those early Texas winemakers struggled with viniculture diseases and the unpredictable Texas weather. No discussion of Texas wine history is complete without a mention of T. V. Munson from Denison. From "A Texas Grape and Wine History" by Dr. George Ray McEachern:
The greatest contribution of T. V. Munson was his cooperation with the French wine industry in developing phylloxera resistant rootstocks. Once the problem was identified as an insect and it was learned that American species were resistant, the great challenge of moving rootstock material to France was taken by Munson. For four months in south central Texas, from Bell to Bexar counties, Munson organized dozens of workers and land owners who collected 15 wagons of dormant stem cuttings for shipment to France. Most importantly, all lots were identified by species and shipped via three ships to southern France. The vines were the breeding stock for the rootstocks which saved the European wine industry. Hundreds of villages were saved and thousands of grape growers were able to grow grapes again. The rootstocks used throughout the world today originated in Europe from the Texas native grape material from Munson. For this effort, T. V. Munson was awarded the Legion of Honor, Chevalier du Merite Agricole, by the French Government.
You read that right - a TEXAN saved the European wine industry!
David and I discovered Texas wines when we were dating way back in 2007, and since then we have enjoyed many memorable visits to the Hill Country and our favorite wineries.
In mid July I left poor D at home to deal with a roof replacement - sorry honey! - and set off for Fredericksburg with my dear friends Karen, Shelba, and Leigh Anne. A few weeks before our trip I did a little bit of research and booked a private tour with Cellar Rat Wine Tours. For $140 each, Cellar Rat provides transportation in a very nice SUV, a knowledgeable guide, tasting fees at three wineries, taxes, and lunch. The booking process was seamless and easy. I contacted Cellar Rat by email and received a quick response from Cadye, the office manager. She explained all the details to me and walked me through the process of choosing the wineries we would visit. I had some previous experience with Fredericksburg wineries, but I was also willing to let Cellar Rat offer suggestions. On our tour day, we lucked out - Clint Thomas, the original Cellar Rat and owner of the company, was our guide. Clint arrived at our B&B right on time in his sparkling clean Ford Explorer.
We started our day at William Chris Wines, tasting 5 wines for $20. The tasting fee also includes a souvenir glass. I found the wines to be delicious - my favorites of the day! The greatest experience, however, was to be found "out back" as Clint says...he took us to the production area for a tour. We met Chris Brundrett - the "Chris" of William Chris - and lucked into not only a barrel tasting, but an exclusive tasting of their Texas Mourvèdre straight from the terra cotta urn, just like the Romans made it. The Mourvèdre won't be released until later in the fall, but it is already yummy. Even though Chris was super busy, he took time out of his morning to pay special attention to us. I wish I could remember his exact quote about taste - it was something along the lines of "wine is subject to our past experiences, our current mood, and our expectations". If this is true, Chris and William Chris Wines set us up to LOVE their wines. What an incredible experience we had!
(click on each pic for a description)
Next on the tour was a stop at Hye Market for lunch. Clint took our orders in advance and called them in so they were ready when we arrived. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was fun and relaxed. Karen even purchased some of Cellar Rat's homemade pickles after tasting them with her sandwich. They are only sold at Hye Market and there is a limited supply since Clint "claims" he is getting out of the pickle business...
Our next stop was Lewis Wines, which offers a 5 wine tasting for $15. The tastings are by appointment only, so Clint took care of that in advance. The tasting pavilion was very simply and elegantly designed, with plenty of comfortable seating and ceiling fans. Even on a hot summer day we chose to sit outside and were fairly comfortable. I can imagine a beautiful wedding reception or rehearsal dinner on this site! Sadly I didn't enjoy the wines that much. The 2015 HIGH PLAINS ROSÉ was probably my favorite out of the five. Perhaps I was still reliving the high from William Chris...I will give Lewis Wines another chance on my next visit to Fredericksburg.
As we made our way back into town, our final stop of the day was at 4.0 Cellars. The name is inspired by the three wineries that came together to form a fourth entity and build a beautiful tasting room. It's a great concept and beautifully executed by the folks at Brennan Vineyards, Lost Oak Winery, and McPherson Cellars. 4.0 Cellars has a wide variety of tastings available at $12 for 6 wines. I chose to taste an all-white selection. At this point I think my taste buds were worn out because not much was appealing. The other ladies, however, enjoyed the tasting and purchased wine to take home. The winery also offered an impressive array of artisan cheeses, salsas, and jams as well as local artwork. It is a beautiful, modern facility and definitely worth a visit.
Cellar Rat Wine Tours, Clint, and Cadye get my highest recommendation. These folks will make your wine tour memorable and unique. Please give them a call when planning a visit to Fredericksburg!