A nationally-acclaimed wine destination centered on a small German-style town just an hour outside Austin? Sure, why not!
While we enjoy walking around new cities, taking pictures of street art, hiking local trails, and generally exploring as much as we can, there’s
one two things that we shamelessly like to do above all else.
Eat and drink.
It’s our absolute favorite way to immerse ourselves in the unique cultures of the areas we visit. Bartenders always know the best under-the-radar things to do and it’s easy to chat to a stranger sitting next to you after a few drinks.
Every new region or city has its own signature foods, beers, and in our case this week, wines.
Since we adopted Olive on January 4 (oh yeah, we got a dog!), we’ve been spending the last few weeks hanging in and around Austin getting acclimated to our dramatically changed lifestyle. It’s been slower than we’re used to–and slower than we prefer–but it’s worth it to help Olive adjust to her new life.
I mean, c’mon. Look at that face!
Though it’s taken a lot of work to help Olive settle in and get her trained up for the Nomadlyweds’ lifestyle, we’ve still had a few chances to explore what Austin and the surrounding areas have to offer:
- Devouring amazing Texas-style BBQ at La Barbecue in Austin
- Camping on Travis Lake at Sandy Creek Park in Leander
- Sampling craft beers from Bear King and Save The World in Marble Falls
- Exploring Texas’ subterranean side at Longhorn Cavern in Burnet
- Playing Chicken Shit Bingo at Little Longhorn Saloon in Austin
(Yes, that last one is a real thing.)
On a few of these excursions, we talked to people–both locals and tourists alike–about the can’t-miss stuff we should check out. Several people asked if we’d heard of the 290 wine trail in Texas Hill Country.
We hadn’t, so I did some research.
Texas Hill Country & The 290 Wine Trail
I always thought Texas was a flat, sprawling state with a few major metropolitan centers to the east. That’s partly right, but like any area that spans over a quarter-million square miles–larger than all of France–there are a lot of different landscapes.
West of Interstate 35, which connects Dallas, Waco, Austin, and San Antonio, is Texas Hill Country.
In the top-middle section colored light blue (#2) is Fredericksburg along Highway 290, which runs east-west through Austin and a few other fun small towns like Johnson City (where President Lyndon B. Johnson was born).
This highway is the 290 Wine Trail. Spanning 45 miles are 21 award-winning wineries centered around historic Fredericksburg, Texas. The entire Texas Hill Country wine region covers 9 million acres, making it the second-largest wine region in the United States.
I don’t know enough about wine to speak intelligently about it, so I’ll let these guys do the talking:
The dry, sunny Texas Hill Country climate is well suited for growing grapes like Tempranillo, Syrah, Albarino, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel.
We spoke to an employee at one of the wineries we visited and she told us that the Texas Hill Country climate is a lot like the climate in Spain, which makes it especially great for Tempranillo. Though I don’t know much about wine, I do know that Tempranillo is my favorite.
Arriving in Fredericksburg, Texas
We only had two days in the Fredericksburg area before heading back to Austin for our typical Friday-through-Monday work week. We pulled into town around 2:00 pm on a Tuesday, checked into the Hill Country RV Park, gave Olive a walk and some love, and then headed into town.
Background aside, let’s start tasting wines.
First up: Lost Draw Winery
First on our list was Lost Draw Winery. Why did we choose this place? Two reasons:
- They were closing soon.
- Dawn liked the photo on their website.
It was a good choice. Not only were their wines delicious, but we also learned they’re one of the few (two I think?) wineries that actually grow their own grapes. They even sell grapes to most of the other wineries in the area.
Lost Draw offered a fixed flight with six wines for $20:
- 2018 Grenache Rosé
- 2018 Gemütlichkeit
- 2018 Albariño
- 2017 Noel
- 2017 Grady (65% Mourvedre, 20% Tannat, 12% Malbec)
- 2017 Tempranillo
If you can’t pronounce that second one, don’t worry. Neither could we. Fredericksburg has a strong German tradition–did the name give that away?–so you’ll see German words everywhere.
Dawn texted a German expert we keep on retainer–a friend from Hawaii who was born in Germany–who told us gemütlichkeit is a word used to convey a sense of warmth, happiness, and comfort.
Pretty good name for a wine, huh?
Like most other wineries, there are other goodies in the gift shop.
With our flight finished, it was off to winery number two.
Next stop: Fiesta Winery
Many of the wineries in downtown Fredericksburg are more like tasting rooms, and some are tackier than others. Fiesta Winery was pretty tacky, but our options were limited. A lot of places are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, our only two days in town.
But that doesn’t mean we didn’t have fun!
Unlike Lost Draw’s fixed flight menu, Fiesta lets you pick six wines for $15…and you get to keep the glass! I went with the following:
- Texas Well Water (a sweet Pinot Gris)
- Chicky Baby (a semi-sweet blush)
- Tempranillo (of course)
- Country Road (a Tempranillo, Cabernet, Sangiovese, Merlot blend)
- Back Porch Sittin’ (a sweet Cabernet)
- Smokin’ Gun (an almond dessert wine)
Though I forgot to snap a picture of it, there’s also a women’s boutique store in the back room, which came in handy.
You see, on this day it was a balmy 70°F in Fredericksburg but Dawn forgot it was still winter in Texas. When the sun goes down, it gets cold. Did I forget? Of course not, but like the good husband I am, I gave Dawn my sweatshirt. Unfortunately, those cool evening temperatures arrived and I was more than a little cold. The boutique’s clearance rack had a pull-over that was perfect for Dawn.
Complementary colors, don’t you think?
That photo actually comes from our third and final stop on the day…
Elk Store Winery & Distillery
Two wineries and two flights down (from two heavy-handed pourers) we walked into winery number three: the Elk Store Winery & Distillery.
This place isn’t really a winery. They don’t ferment anything themselves, instead curating a list of wines from around the world. They did, however, have a big list to choose from–and they were just about the only place open past 6:00 pm.
In the photo above of Dawn in her gorgeous new pull-over, she’s posing with a local we met at The Elk Store. He owns and manages the town’s Christmas shop, which he informed us is a booming business in a tourist town like Fredericksburg.
Sadly, that’s just about our only picture here as we were too caught up in conversation with several patrons and the uber-informative bartender, who gave us a cool fact about one of our planned stops for the next day.
(No spoilers, keep reading to find out.)
After a couple of glasses and some hilarious conversation–oh, and Back to the Future 3 on the TV behind the bar–it was time to head home, say hey to Olive, and rest up for Wednesday.
Rise and Shine at Nury’s Restaurant
The RV life is incredibly freeing until you need to do laundry. Then it’s a major pain in the butt.
We found the local laundromat, shoved our stuff into a washer and headed down the street to the top-rated breakfast joint in town, Nury’s Restaurant.
Nury’s is a scratch kitchen serving Mexican-inspired meals. That’s basically my favorite type of food. We sat down at a table near their back counter and were the only people there.
We’ve spent the last three months exploring Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, which means we’ve dined at our share of Mexican or Mexican-inspired restaurants. In that time I’ve learned something new about myself:
I can’t resist the temptation of homemade chilaquiles.
Homemade tortilla chips covered with pulled chicken, smothered in hatch green chile sauce, topped with a fried egg, and garnished with queso fresco, it’s as savory a dish as I can imagine. I ate everything except the potatoes (there were many carbs ahead on this day).
Dawn ordered a pork sandwich with red adobo sauce, melted cheese, greens, red onion, avocado, and a dollop of mayo. It tasted better than it looked, and it looked pretty great.
With a good base in our bellies and our clothes (finally) smelling clean, it was time to head back to Hill Country RV Park and pack up our things. We weren’t going to stay there a second night. We were heading about 10 miles back towards Austin to stay overnight at a winery thanks to Harvest Hosts!
Day 2, Round 1 at Messina Hof Winery
Messina Hof opened up at 12:00 pm. We showed up–RV and all–at 12:10. After detaching the rig so we could venture out later, we headed into the winery (but not before stopping to grab a photo by the front door).
The tasting cost $14 for five tokens, and most wines cost one token. There are a few premium wines in the bottom-right corner of the menu shown below.
The tasting started with a complimentary glass of Chenin Blanc, so we’re off on the right foot. Dawn’s tasting menu is shown above. She tried the following wines:
- 2018 Sophia Marie (rose)
- 2018 Malbec
- 2017 Petit Sirah
- 2018 Orange Muscat Mistella (sweet dessert wine)
- 2016 HC Black Label Port
Dawn loves Malbec and really enjoyed that one, but her two favorites were the Orange Muscat Mistella and HC Black Label Port.
Messina Hof was great and the serving staff here were incredible. And best of all, they’re one of just two wineries near Fredericksburg that let you stay overnight for free (or the cost of a tasting, but we were going to do that anyway).
Time for a beer at Alstadt Brewing
I didn’t expect to find a brewery in the middle of wine country, but I certainly did.
Ready for that cool fact the bartender at the Elk Store Winery & Distillery told us? Here it is:
Cool Fact: Alstadt Brewing is owned by one of the sons from the Scripps family. You know, the spelling bee guys? I’m fuzzy on the details, but the bartender told us there was some kind of trust set up for the kids that they could have access to if they started their own business. This particular kid started a brewery. Smart kid, huh?
Alstadt Brewing is a German-style brewery in a German town, so that makes sense. They seemingly spare no expense to adhere as closely to Reinheitsgebot as possible.
By the way, it’s pronounced “Rine Heights Ge-Boat” and has an interesting history.
What’s Reinheitsgebot? It’s the German Beer Purity Law in place since 1516 that states all beer must be made of just four ingredients: barley (or malt), hops, water, and yeast.
Now, I’m not usually a fan of German beers. While I try to sample every type of beer, it just isn’t my go-to. But when in
Rome Fredericksburg, do as the Fredericksburgians do.
Most German beers taste a little funky to me, but Alstadt’s were fresh and flavorful. I had the chance to speak to one of the brewers and he told me the less-funky flavor is because they ferment their beers at a slightly lower temperature, meaning the yeast doesn’t produce as much signature funk as many German-style beers. That suits my palate just fine.
As we were finishing off our flights, our bartender informed us the tour was about to start. Apparently they run these tours daily at 12:15 pm, 2:00 pm, and 4:00 pm, which is more often than I’ve ever seen a brewery do.
It’s a short tour but still fun and informative. (And it’s always cool to see behind-the-scenes stuff.)
One fun thing I learned about Alstadt is their strict adherence to Reinheitsgebot; they take purity to a whole other level. Every single item in the brewery was manufactured and/or shipped from Germany. That includes the tile on the floors, which was even installed by German contractors.
But the coolest thing I learned is in the picture below.
That copper-topped vessel above is a mash tun, which is where brewers combine the barley and hot water as the first step in brewing beer. That particular mash tun was last used before World War II, which means it hasn’t been operational in over 70 years. The brewer who led our tour said it’s expected to be up and running in just a few months.
Here are a few other pictures from our Alstadt Brewing tour.
We had such a good time at Alstadt Brewing that we ended up staying for dinner before heading back to our RV at Messina Hof Winery around 6:00 pm.
Temperatures were forecasted to drop to 25°F, which was unfortunate because we were low on propane…so low, in fact, that we ran out for the first time in over eight months on the road! I called a few propane suppliers in the area and was told that no one in Fredericksburg refilled propane tanks.
(I later learned that’s incorrect. You can get them filled at Tractor Supply on 290 in Fredericksburg.)
We ended our two fun days in wine country huddled for warmth with our heated blanket on high and our generator quietly cranking away as we prepared to brave the cold night in our poorly-insulated tin can.
Fredericksburg was a fun town with a lot of culture and a ton of nice, informative people who embrace its increasing touristy-ness. Only an hour outside both Austin and San Antonio, it’s a worthwhile stop for a long weekend if you’re ever in the area.