The popular wineries clustered along U.S. Route 290 and near Fredericksburg regularly draw big crowds to their tasting rooms. While these wineries are great, there are several hidden gems just a short drive from Austin. On January 17 and 18, the Top of the Hill Country Wine Trail held a barrel tasting event from the 2014 harvest to highlight a handful of off the beaten path local wineries.
Located along the northern edge of the Texas Hill Country appellation, these wineries are worth the exploring for their picturesque scenery and laid-back experience. You won’t find much traffic on the way to visit or long lines at the tasting room bars, but you will find gracious people pouring tasty wines. The Top of the Hill Country Wine Trail includes Perissos Vineyards, Fall Creek Vineyards, Wedding Oak Winery, Alamosa Wine Cellars, Fiesta Vineyard and Winery, Texas Legato Winery, Pillar Bluff Vineyards and Pilot Knob Vineyard.
Take a tour and try these wines.
Located in Burnet, Perissos Vineyards is situated in a gorgeous valley adjacent to Inks Lake about an hour drive from Austin. Its vineyards (and picturesque pastures populated with lazy horses) are nestled in beautiful hills. Designed and built by former custom homebuilder turned winemaker Seth Martin, the lovely winery and tasting room would be right at home in California wine country. Perissos makes its award winning red, white and rosé wines with 100 percent Texas grown fruit, 80 percent of which is grown on its 16-acre vineyard.
Try the 2013 Italian Stallion, a red blend of Aglianico, Dolcetto and Montepulciano. It won gold medal at the 2015 Houston Rodeo International Wine Competition for its bright, juicy, red berry flavors. It sells for $45 per bottle in the tasting room.
Fall Creek Vineyards
Fall Creek Vineyards calls the shores of Lake Buchanan home. The elegant winery is about an hour and a half drive from Austin and a great place to relax for an afternoon sipping wine and enjoying the scenic waterfalls. Founded in 1973 by Ed and Susan Auler, Fall Creek is one of the oldest wineries in Texas and has developed a statesman like status over the years. New winemaker Sergio Cuadra brings a scientist’s approach to growing grapes and an artist’s touch to making wine.
Try the 2012 Fall Creek Vineyards GSM, a French Rhone style blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre grapes, with bold blackberry, raspberry and cranberry flavors and a smoky finish. It sells for $46 in the tasting room.
Wedding Oak Winery
Wedding Oak Winery located smack in the middle of the quaint town of San Saba, brings quality wine to small town Texas. A little more than an hour and a half drive from Austin, this relatively new winery has been making wines with Texas-grown grapes since 2010. The historic 1926 tasting room and adjacent winery has been restored with the charm you would expect from the era. The light, open tasting room and tranquil courtyard make a great place to sip away the hours.
Try the Albariño 2013, a crisp and vibrant white wine made with a grape typically grown in North West Spain. A fresh floral scent and lemon and peach flavors make it a perfect afternoon wine. It goes for $23 in the tasting room.
Alamosa Wine Cellar
Alamosa Wine Cellars is nestled in a valley in San Saba County near the little town of Bend, about an hour and half drive from Austin. Started in 1998 by native Texan and California wine industry veteran Jim Johnson and his wife Karen, the winery specializes in wines made with grapes that love warm climates like Tempranillo, Viognier, Syrah, Graciano and Sangiovese. The winery’s cozy tasting room sneakily sucks the stress away and blurs the time.
Try the 2011 El Guapo, a bold Tempranillo named for its handsome taste. This wine was introduced in 1999 and was the first commercially made Tempranillo in the state. The current vintage has juicy cherry and herbal tobacco flavors and sells for $24 in the tasting room.
Fiesta Vineyard and Winery
Fiesta Vineyard and Winery is tucked away on a massive ranch in Bend, Texas about an hour and a half drive from Austin. While the winery is only five years old, the Baxter Ranch has been in the family for six generations — since the 1840s. The estate vineyards produce a wide variety of grapes that do well in the Texas heat. Known for its sweet wines, this up and coming winery is using its state of the art equipment to crank out 11,000 cases of wine a year, including dry styles. The tasting room is the Baxter family’s converted game room, and you’ll feel just at home in it with the family as you would around their dinner table.
Try the Fiesta Winery Country Road, a blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and a few other red grapes, aged in neutral oak barrels. It’s an easy going red with a serious side with deep blackberry and currant flavors. It sells for $30.
Texas Legato Winery
Texas Legato Winery sits in a lovely valley outside Lampasas about an hour drive from Austin. The petite winery makes wine from grapes grown in its six acre vineyards. If you travel in a big pack, the tasting room may not hold all of you, but never fear, the deck with vineyard views will hold everyone.
Try the 2012 Petite Sirah, a dark and brooding wine with rich flavors of black plum chocolate and black pepper. It sells for $23.
Pillar Bluff Vineyards
Pillar Bluff Vineyards located next door to Texas Legato with abutting vineyards and owned and operated by Gill Bledsoe, who is the twin brother of the Texas Legato Winery owner, Bill Bledsoe. The boutique winery makes 1,200 cases of wines made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot grapes. The petite tasting room has the grace and ease to transport you through hours and the glasses of wine.
Try the 2011 Tempranillo, a spicy red wine with Bing cherry and milk chocolate flavors with a zippy acidic backbone. It sells for $23.
Pilot Knob Vineyard
Pilot Knob Vineyard is easy to find just off of US Hwy 183 in Bertram, TX less than an hour drive Northwest of Austin. The handsome, huge new stone and timber tasting room sits on a ridge giving it sweeping views of 112 acres of vineyards and the Texas Hill Country surrounding it. The winery was started in 2011 by Craig Pinkley, after he fell in love with the wine industry while on a business trip to Napa. You’re likely to run into his wife and kids working in the tasting room with smiles as big as the view.
Try the Pilot Knob Vineyard, Texas Hill Country, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012. This fragrant wine has blackberry, blue berry and green pepper flavors with rosemary undertones. It’s elegant, but not too fussy to sit outside and take in the sights. It sells for $45.
While the Top of the Hill Country Wine Trail organizes day trips to visit all eight wineries, I recommend taking them just a few at a time. Each winery offers its own version of relaxation. No need to hurry.
An abbreviated version of this story was originally published on CultureMap.
Disclosure: I was provided a tour with transportation and samples at no cost. In addition, Wedding Oak Winery is a client of my marketing firm, Pen & Tell US. I was not involved in the planning or execution of the event.