in our current issue
Web Exclusives
The Triangle Theory of Fredericksburg: Wildflowers, Wine and War
Becky Sue Epstein

TEXAS WINE COUNTRY HOLDS MANY FASCINATIONS



A new study of one of the fastest growing winery regions of the U.S. reveals the top three reasons people visit this area: wildflowers, wine and war.

Any guesses where this might be? It happens to be the region around the small city of Fredericksburg, one point of a triangle: a convenient hour's drive from either Austin or San Antonio. Yes, it's in Texas.


A wildflower field in Fredericksburg, Texas.
PHOTO: STEVE RAWLS
COURTESY OF FREDERICKSBURG CONVENTION & VISITOR BUREAU

 

Under the guise of learning about Fredericksburg as a tourist destination, I recently managed a representative sampling of wines at some of the 17 tasting rooms that now dot scenic Route 290 in the 15-mile stretch east of Fredericksburg. (There are more wineries further east, in the next county.) The wines I tasted were as varied as the names and styles of the wineries: Pedernales Cellars, Grape Creek, Torre di Pietra and Becker.

Historically, wine grapes have been grown in modern Texas since the last quarter of the 20th century when a few wine-crazed pioneers began planting vitis vinifera and hybrids. Most of these plantings were in the Texas High Plains, around Lubbock.

But the winemakers have located their tasting rooms 300 miles away, in Fredericksburg. When I asked why, I was told it's because that's where the tourists are.

A tasting at Becker Vineyards.
PHOTO: TRISH MCCABE RAWLS
COURTESY OF FREDERICKSBURG CVB

Actually, there are some vineyards in the Fredericksburg area now, and more are being planted. But the distant High Plains fruit will still supply the majority of Fredericksburg's wineries for the foreseeable future.


Producers are finding which grape varieties best suit the Texas terroir.
PHOTO: BLAKE MISTICH
COURTESY OF
FREDERICKSBURG CVB
The wines produced by here are in the midst of a transition phase. They are moving out of their initial Chardonnay and Merlot emphasis and embracing grapes more appropriate to the climate. These are grapes from parts of southern Europe where there are similar warm, arid regions. For example, France's Viognier grape does well in Texas, and Spain's Tempranillo is gaining ground-and quality, too. I also saw a fair amount of Syrah now, along with some newer Grenache and Mourvèdre to round out the red GSM blend famous in the Southern Rhône.

One of the main reasons we don't see Texas wine outside of the state is that the local wineries can scarcely keep up with in-state demand, which stems mainly from tourism. In the Fredericksburg area, that demand is satisfied at the local tasting rooms, where most of every producer's wines are sold. A few are available by the glass or bottle at local restaurants. Even fewer have conventional distribution by a desirable company like Glazer's for off-premise placement. But little by little it's growing.  
Visitors at Pedernales Cellars.
PHOTO: HEATHER KULKEN, COURTESY OF PEDERNALS CELLARS

One afternoon while I was there, I met Pat and Trelisse Brennan, pioneers of the modern Texas wine movement when they established their Brennan Vineyards. The day I was there, they had just concluded another pioneering deal: Their wines will now be on Amazon.com. The Brennans are a retired doctor and his wife who began planting vineyards and producing wine in the mid-1990s, with both vineyards and a tasting room in another part of the state.

One year ago they opened a second winery called 4.0 with two partners, the well-known McPherson Cellars and Lost Oak Winery. Why Fredericksburg? Once again, because that's where Texas wine tourists go to buy wine. This area has essentially no off-season, so day-trippers, weekend vacationers and girls' getaways are popular year round, though it can be quite chilly January or meltingly hot July and August. The meltingly hot months are when the local grapes are harvested, by the way.


Texas bluebonnets.
PHOTO: STEVE RAWLS
COURTESY OF FREDERICKSBURG CVB

Fredericksburg is at its best in the spring, when bluebonnets and other wildflowers explode into color after the winter rains. Often, the new vintages of the wines are coming on the market at this time, too. People who have traditionally flocked to the area for wildflower vistas in April and May or the peach harvest in June are now also discovering more and more wineries popping up along in the same rural countryside.

As a result, Fredericksburg has become a thriving high-end tourism destination, with hundreds of temptingly decorated B&B-style rooms for rent in historic houses and modern hotels; adjacent spas are extremely popular here, too.

If you can break away from the wineries, there are also some amazing historic sites here that are guaranteed to bring out anyone's latent patriotism: President Lyndon Johnson's nearby "Western Whitehouse" and ranch has been restored to look like it did when he and his wife Lady Bird lived there. (The ranch and surrounding countryside are also part of the wildflower experience.)

And as for the war reference I made earlier, right in Fredericksburg there is a museum so intense it's best experienced over the course of a two-day visit: The National Museum of the Pacific War.

A glass of Texas wine is definitely mandated after this. And you will find something quite good to drink.

The National Museum of the Pacific War.
PHOTO: MARC BENNETT
COURTESY OF FREDERICKSBURG CVB