Hill Country Wine Trail is as diverse as the Dripping Springs culture
Bella Vista Ranch
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.
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