Hill Coun­try Wine Trail is as di­verse as the Drip­ping Springs cul­ture

Bella Vista Ranch

Guide to Dripping Springs - - Hill Country Wine Trail is as diverse as the Dripp -

If you’ve been look­ing for a place to pick your own black­ber­ries, sip Mediter­ranean wine and driz­zle olive oil on homemade bread, then Bella Vista Ranch is the place for you.

Nes­tled in the peaks and hol­lows of the Wim­ber­ley Val­ley, the peo­ple at Bella Vista Ranch grow their own grapes and olives and pro­vide vis­i­tors with an in­ti­mate view of wine and olive oil mak­ing process.

Dur­ing guided tours of the ranch, vis­i­tors can wan­der the olive or­chard, the vine­yard or the pick-your-own berry patch dur­ing the har­vest sea­son. Tours end up back in the Tus­can-in­spired tast­ing room where guests are en­cour­aged to have a glass of wine and con­sider which of the many fine prod­ucts they might be tak­ing home from Bella Vista Ranch.

Work­ers at Bella Vista Ranch har­vest the olives and press them on­site. Vis­i­tors are able to sam­ple the fin­ished prod­uct in the tast­ing room and can take home a bot­tle home for a rea­son­able price.

Bella Vista’s wines are all cre­ated from the hot weather grapes of south­ern Italy and Spain. The Texas Hill County cli­mate is sim­i­lar to those Mediter­ranean ar­eas and grapes na­tive to that area seem to thrive in this re­gion’s soil. The re­sults of their hard work are great coun­try wines that can make you yearn for a life with a slower pace.

Bella Vista Ranch of­fers some­thing for ev­ery­one and vis­i­tors will leave the ranch al­ready plan­ning their next trip back. The ranch is at 3101 Mt. Sharp Road and is open Thurs­day through Satur­day and Mon­day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sun­day from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Drift­wood Vine­yards

It could be said that wine is in Gary El­liott’s blood. His fam­ily has a long his­tory of grow­ing grapes in Cal­i­for­nia and when the Drift­wood Vine­yards owner de­cided to sell off the cat­tle on his ranch and start a new mon­ey­mak­ing en­ter­prise, a win­ery seemed like the log­i­cal an­swer.

“My sis­ter still grows grapes in Cal­i­for­nia,” El­liott said. “My fam­ily has done it for years. It’s just part of who I am.”

El­liott planted his first crop in 1998 and har­vested his first round of grapes the next year—an im­pres­sive feat con­sid­er­ing most wine­mak­ers have to wait three years be­fore they can pro­duce a wine from newly planted ber­ries.

His tast­ing room blends of the el­e­gant tastes of oenophiles

vines that cre­ate a canopy of lush green­ery when they are in full bloom. It is rem­i­nis­cent of the en­chanted feel of Napa Val­ley with a de­cid­edly Texas Hill Coun­try twist.

El­liott even­tu­ally hopes to ex­pand the vine­yard to its full 20-acre ca­pac­ity.

“At that point, we would be pro­duc­ing about 80 tons of grapes and 2,000 to 2,500 cases of wine per year,” El­liott said. “ We’re sell­ing what we have right now so fast, we can hardly keep it on the shelves.”

Drift­wood Vine­yards pro­duces seven dif­fer­ent wines from eight dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of grapes. Most of the grapes are Mediter­ranean ber­ries that flour­ish in hot weather cli­mates.

El­liott’s flag­ship red wine is cre­ated from the syrah grape. Most peo­ple will rec­og­nize the syrah by its more com­mon Aus­tralian name, the shi­raz. A fruity and in­tel­li­gent wine, pa­trons are sure to en­joy the syrah.

The most pop­u­lar white wine El­liott crafts comes from the so­phis­ti­cated and flirty viog­nier grape. It is gen­er­ally ac­cepted among wine­mak­ers to be one of the best in the na­tion, El­liott said.

El­liott’s wines have won so many awards that he can hardly even keep track of them. He at­tributes his suc­cess to the fac­tors con­tribut­ing to the unique cli­mate of the Wim­ber­ley Val­ley.

The French call it the ter­riore.

“It’s the cli­mate, the soil, the way the sun hits the grapes, the wa­ter in the ground—all those things af­fect the ter­riore,” El­liott said. “ The ter­riore in this area has been proven to pro­duce award-win­ning wines.”

Drift­wood Vine­yards is lo­cated six miles south of HWY 290 on Ranch Road 12 be­tween Drip­ping Springs and Wim­ber­ley. Open Mon-Thu 10-5; Fri-Sat 10-6; Sun 12-6.

Now that Hous­to­nian Damian Man­dola has con­quered the culi­nary world, he’s set­ting his sights on the world of wine.

The ebul­lient chef, restau­ra­teur and PBS cook­ing show host re­cently re­lo­cated to Austin and part­nered up with Stan Duch­man to open the Man­dola Es­tate Win­ery at his vine­yard in Drift­wood.

Mark Penna is the wine­maker at the vine­yard and said he is ex­cited about be­ing a part of a start-up win­ery with Duch­man and Man­dola.

“I know this has been a dream of Stan’s and Damian’s for years,” Penna said. “I was very lucky to have hit the tim­ing just right and con­nected up with them.”

The Man­dola Es­tate Win­ery is cur­rently un­der con­struc­tion and will be open to the pub­lic around the be­gin­ning of June. Work­ers are com­plet­ing a Mediter­ranean- style build­ing that cap­tures the eyes of oenophiles as they approach the vine­yard from FM 150.

It is the sort of struc­ture that would look right at home nes­tled among the hills of Tus­cany. Though the sup­port beams are still ex­posed and no dry­wall has been in­stalled, it is easy to imag­ine sip­ping a glass wine un­der the twenty-foot vaulted ceil­ing in the win­ery’s el­e­gant tast­ing room.

Man­dola and Duch­man set­tled on the Mediter­ranean ar­chi­tec­tural theme af­ter agree­ing to pro­duce wines ex­clu­sively crafted from the hot-weather grapes of south­ern Italy.

“Th­ese grapes do well in hot cli­mates,” Penna said. “Per­fect for our area. And they make nice wines.”

Penna planted their first crop of grapes around June or July of last year and ex­pects their first har­vest in 2008. Un­til then, Penna is buy­ing grapes from grow­ers in the area and close to Lubbock.

Penna has plans to ex­pand the vine­yard’s eight-and-a-half acres of vines to their full 20acre ca­pac­ity. Man­dola also hopes to be­gin con­struc­tion on a restau­rant next to the tast­ing room and win­ery in the fall of next year.

Pa­trons can ex­pect to taste some of Man­dola’s ex­quis­ite Ital­ian cui­sine, care­fully crafted to com­pli­ment the list of wines the vine­yard of­fers.

Penna ex­pects to pro­duce red and white wines from eight dif­fer­ent grapes. The types of grapes Penna is grow­ing are as var­ied as Italy it­self, rang­ing from a white wine crafted from

Man­dola Es­tate Win­ery

to blend with their es­tate grown grapes. Also, a new French drain was in­stalled in the vine­yard and has mit­i­gated the risk from heavy rain. In 2005 the vine­yard had a suc­cess­ful har­vest which took place in July, where BRIX read­ings were a spec­tac­u­lar 23-24. BRIX is a sys­tem of mea­sur­ing plant juice den­sity for grape juices. A low read­ing, like 8 on the BRIX chart, come from sour tast­ing grapes pro­duced in bad soil. Higher read­ings, like Fawncrest’s, are in­dica­tive of sweet full- fla­vored grapes grown in good soil.

Be­cause of Pa­tri­cia’s 15 years of win­ery ex­pe­ri­ence in the Cal­i­for­nia Bay Area, the win­ery tends to spe­cial­ize in Bordeaux- style wines, also known as Mer­itage here in the U.S., but in ad­di­tion to the Mer­itage, Fawncrest pro­duces three other wines— Mer­lot, Caber­net Sauvi­gnon and Chardon­nay—the lat­ter be­ing a work in progress ac­cord­ing to Wayne.

Texas weather is dif­fer­ent ev­ery year, he said, which is why it is so dif­fi­cult to pro­duce Chardon­nay. But Wayne is de­ter­mined and mat­ter- of-factly said, “It is our quest to make first class Chardon­nay.”

Fawncrest’s other wines, how­ever, are up to Wayne and Pa­tri­cia’s stan­dards. The Mer­itage is a full-bod­ied wine that has been aged in oak and is a blend of Caber­net Sauvi­gnon, Mer­lot, and Caber­net grapes. The Mer­lot is 25 per­cent Caber­net Sauvi­gnon and Caber­net Franc and 75 per­cent Mer­lot. Aged in French oak, it has re­tained a nice fruity fla­vor and is a lit­tle lighter than the Mer­itage. The Caber­net Franc is light, dry, and has re­tained nice fruit fla­vors from the ag­ing process as well.

The win­ery sits in a res­i­den­tial area of Canyon Lake and has a nice scenic view of the lake over­look­ing the vine­yard. The vine­yard it­self is bro­ken into two plots— north and south—and vis­i­tors can en­joy sam­ples of the wines as they sit in a cov­ered breeze­way en­joy­ing the vista, which makes for a cool ex­pe­ri­ence even in the heat of the sum­mer. Wayne said they hold no se­crets and the whole fa­cil­ity is open to vis­i­tors. The win­ery only pro­duces about a cou­ple of thou­sand cases per year, but Wayne said that is how they like it be­cause they are lit­er­ally able to keep their hands (al­though not their feet) in the process.

Fawncrest is lo­cated on the north­side of Canyon Lake at 1370 West­side Cir­cle and if you are fol­low­ing the Hays-Co­mal County Wine Trail you are in for a lit­tle ad­ven­ture. From Ranch Road 12 go south to the Junc­tion and turn left onto Ranch Road 12 head­ing west. Af­ter about 5 miles, take a left on High­way 484. About 2 miles down High­way 484 will stop at a “T” at Farm Road 306. There turn left onto FM 306 head­ing west for about 1.5 miles where Cranes Mill Road will be on the left. Tak­ing a left onto Cranes Mill the road will wind down about a mile and on the left just past a stor­age rental fa­cil­ity is Canyon Shores Road. Tak­ing a left onto Canyon Shores Road, fol­low it about 1/10th of a mile (this is the tricky part) where it will loop back at Cat­tail Drive and turn into West­side Cir­cle. Once on West­side Cir­cle, the win­ery is down the hill on the left af­ter a cou­ple of curves and the fruity and so­phis­ti­cated viog­nier grape to a red wine pro­duced from the in­tense and mys­te­ri­ous aglianco berry.

He hopes to pro­duce about ten dif­fer­ent wines in all.

The Man­dola Es­tate Win­ery is lo­cated at 13308 FM 150 west of Drift­wood. Fawncrest Vine­yard

Fawncrest Vine­yard is a quaint bou­tique win­ery whose vi­sion is to re­main a small fam­i­ly­owned busi­ness that pro­duces qual­ity wine at rea­son­able prices.

Co- own­ers Wayne and Pa­tri­cia McNeil broke ground for the vine­yard in Novem­ber 1998, and the first vines were planted in April 1999. Pa­tri­cia is orig­i­nally from Berkley, Calif., and Wayne said she is the brains be­hind the op­er­a­tion at Fawncrest.

Af­ter the first har­vest in 2001, the Texas weather put a strain on vine­yard with heavy rains in 2002 and a late freeze in 2003. As a re­sult, the pro­pri­etors be­gan to im­port grapes

has ban­ner sign hang­ing on their fence. For other di­rec­tions or in­for­ma­tion Fawncrest Vine­yards can be reached by di­al­ing (830) 935-2407 or by visit­ing their web­site at www.fawncrest.com.

Dry Co­mal Creek Vine­yards

The south­ern- most point on the HaysCo­mal County Wine Trail is Dry Co­mal Creek Vine­yards. Founded in 1998 by Franklin Houser, a San An­to­nio lawyer by trade, the win­ery spe­cial­izes in Texas- style wines.

Ac­cord­ing to Gayle Dal­ton, busi­ness man­ager for the win­ery, there are some vine­yards that try to mimic Euro­pean, Mediter­ranean or Aus­tralian wines, and that’s great if they are suc­cess­ful. “But we’re in Texas,” she said and that is pre­cisely why Houser has taken the time to cul­ti­vate his vine­yard, which is called Bon­nie’s vine­yard af­ter his wife, to suit the Texas cli­mate. The fruit of his la­bor is a na­tive Texas grape called Black Span­ish.

Black Span­ish came to Texas by way of Spain through Mex­ico. Mis­sion­ar­ies brought cut­tings from Spain in the 1500s and grew the grapes to make com­mu­nion wine. Two for­ays in 1581 and 1598 brought the grapes to what is presently known as Ci­u­dad Juarez, Mex­ico and crossed over into El Paso. Over the years the grape has ma­tured and adapted it­self to the area and grows along the Rio Grande River. Dry Co­mal Creek Vine­yards has turned this well-cul­tured grape into a rich, dark, fruity, mel­low, award-win­ning wine with “a great mouth feel” that goes down smoothly.

Dry Co­mal Creek Vine­yards boasts a num­ber of award-win­ning wines. At the 2004 Lone Star In­ter­na­tional Wine Com­pe­ti­tion, their Caber­net Sauvi­gnon, Caber­net Franc, Sauvi­gnon Blanc and Mer­lot all took bronze medals, and their Black Span­ish was awarded a sil­ver medal. Aside from the awards, their bone-dry French Colom­bard was fea­tured in the San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle.

In De­cem­ber 2005 the vine­yard broad­ened its palate and pro­duced their first port wine—1096 Port. Al­ready an award-win­ning port, this wine is much sweeter in taste with a higher al­co­hol rat­ing and is for­ti­fied. The “1096” refers to the num­ber of days it was aged.

The vine­yard is lo­cated ijust west of New Braun­fels at 1741 Her­be­lin Road off of State High­way 46. The win­ery hosts sev­eral events through out the year, like the Grape Stomp in Au­gust and the Red, White and New event in July where they in­tro­duce their new wines. All of the events are by reser­va­tion only, but the win­ery is open and of­fers tast­ings and tours seven days a week from noon to 5 p.m.

If you are fol­low­ing the HaysCo­mal County Wine Trail, get on U.S. High­way 281 and head south, exit on State High­way 46 and go east, about 7 miles down Hwy. 46, Her­be­lin Road will be on the left. Once on Her­be­lin Road, the win­ery will come into view. For other di­rec­tions or more in­for­ma­tion about events and tours, the win­ery can be reached by di­al­ing (830) 885-4121 or by go­ing to www.dryco­ma­l­creek.com on the In­ter­net.

Dry Co­mall Creek Vi­ine­yards

Fawn­crestt

Vi­ine­yard

Dri­iffttwood

Vi­ine­yards

Man­dolla

Est­tatte

Wi­in­ery

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