Why Fredericksburg, Texas, is the ‘Wild West of Winemaking’

This story appeared first on THE STAR TRIBUNE

Taste “Texas in a glass” and take in the Hill Country at Fredericksburg, near Austin. 

Fredericksburg, Texas, would be worth the trip just to take in the natural beauty of the Texas Hill Country in the spring and soak up its German heritage. But the main draw of the town, about 70 miles from either Austin or San Antonio, is its reputation as the epicenter of the Texas wine scene.

Kalasi Cellars

At this 16-acre boutique winery, guests are greeted by Dalai the llama. It’s the first clue this isn’t your run-of-the-mill winery. At almost 6 feet tall and 300 pounds, he may seem a little intimidating, but as long as you don’t mess with the adorable Babydoll Southdown sheep, you should get along fine.

Another conversation starter is the yellow and red auto-rickshaw parked outside the tasting room, a nod to Nikhila Narra Davis’ Indian heritage. She owns the winery with husband Greg Davis, who is often spotted driving around the property in the three-wheeled vehicle emblazoned with Kalasi’s elephant logo.

Inside the tasting room, wine enthusiasts sip signature dry reds while nibbling Indian snacks. Some play it safe, selecting Malbec and Merlot, while adventurous imbibers choose from the Reincarnation Collection that features less familiar varietals and uncommon winemaking techniques.

The 2017 Re d’Italia Reserve is a showstopper. A triumvirate of Italian grapes, including the obscure teroldego, blend together like the Three Tenors in an Italian opera. Bright notes of blackberry and plum mingle with hints of clove and anise.

The Davises are happy to answer any questions you have about wines, but don’t ask about terroir, a term that refers to how a region’s climate gives grapes their character. The winegrowers are far too polite to roll their eyes, but they don’t put a lot of stock in what they say is a romanticized concept.

“It’s a fancy word often used in marketing, but at the end of the day, it’s adhering to the right practices in the vineyard that make great wine,” Nikhila said.

That’s why Kalasi wines are 100% estate-grown, meaning all grapes are grown on their own vineyard in the Texas High Plains. That gives the winegrowers more control over practices, such as pruning and harvesting, that affect the quality of the final product. (1-830-992-3037, kalasicellars.com.)

Augusta Vin’s Grand Tour kicks off with an open-air ride through sprawling, verdant vineyards, where 10 varietals of mostly French, sun-kissed grapes dangle gracefully from leafy vines under a clear blue sky.

Guests eventually arrive at the production facility, where tour guide and sommelier Molly Galbraith explains the winemaking process. She breaks down the science behind fermentation, and visitors learn how aging in oak barrels imparts layered, complex flavors.

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Galbraith says the region is undergoing an exciting wine renaissance. “It’s the Wild West of wine. We have a lot of real maverick winemakers out here that are trying some really cool, funky, avant-garde things, and they are getting recognized on an international level.”

Speaking of recognition, Augusta Vin’s 2017 Petite Sirah and 2017 Tannat both won gold medals in the prestigious San Francisco International Wine Competition.

Tannat is Texas in a glass. The punchy, tannin-rich varietal historically grown in southwest France is unfamiliar to many Americans, but in Texas, it’s in almost every tasting room because it thrives in the hot climate. When you’re digging into a big plate of Texas barbecue, tannat is your friend.

The best part of the tour is the tasting on the mezzanine overlooking the production area. Start with a glass of pink sparkling rosé with nuances of white peach, and work your way through some superb dry reds. You can keep that lovely etched tasting glass as a souvenir. (1-830-307-1007, augustavindev.wpengine.com.)

From the tasting-room patio at Wildseed, a couple sampled the popular Albarino, a crisp white with notes of honeydew and lemongrass, while admiring a vast carpet of fragrant bluebonnets that extends nearly to the horizon.

The 200-acre working wildflower farm, said to be the largest in the country, now grows grapes alongside the flowers. The wine portfolio is modest but expanding. This year the farm will plant 12 acres of Malbec, Grenache and two clones of Cabernet.

In the meantime, red wine lovers can savor the 2019 High Plains Tempranillo, the bestselling red. Because of its leathery notes, some call it a “cowboy in a bottle,” but the full-bodied wine is balanced by dark fruit.

Here, you can drink in the ephemeral glory of spring in the Hill Country. A milelong trail immerses hikers in fields of brilliant wildflowers. Butterfly gardens and ponds teeming with koi the color of a Texas sunset entice visitors to linger in this enchanting garden, where the wonders of nature and the allure of wine intersect. (1-830-990-6684, wildseedfarms.com.)

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Wine Walk: Augusta Vin Winery sets the standard for opulence

Texas has a winery with trend setting facilities that has a “WOW” factor when you drive up to the winery.

As you enter the gates to Augusta Vin Winery from Texas 16, south of Fredericksburg, you travel down a two-lane asphalt road toward what appears to be a well-kept metal building. In reality, this building is the winery where the wines are vinified. The signs continue to direct you down a half mile of asphalt road to the north through well-manicured vineyard blocks of Tannat, Mouvedere, Albarino, Sagrantino, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and other grape varietals to a large, two-story building with a parking lot that is large enough to please any Buc-ee’s fan.

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