Andy Bilger is the proud owner of Adega Vinho in the Texas Hill Country, about an hour west of Austin. “We’re mavericks, Young Turks,” he says of his fellow Texan winemakers as he pours me a peppery 2017 mourvèdre outside his tasting room overlooking the vines. “One day you’re going to see sections in grocery stores around the world that say ‘Texas wine.’”
His fantasy is certainly plausible: The Hill Country’s wine tourism numbers are second in the U.S. only to Napa Valley.
Henry Crowson runs Crowson winery in Johnson City, 48 miles west of Austin, with a noninterventionist approach, doing his best to “get out of the grape’s way.” “When I started working out here seven years ago, there might have been 20 places to drink wine between Johnson City and Fredericksburg,” he says. “Now there are 60.”
Though vineyards dot the whole state, the wineries in the Hill Country have been picking up notable awards, and the trail snakes through limestone bluffs, knolls and plateaus with scrub and live oak. Many vintners in the area credit the mineral-rich limestone with enhancing the grape quality and the sloped terrain with improving soil drainage and sun contact.
Cabernet sauvignon is the most widely planted grape in Texas, but vintners use grapes from Tuscany, Argentina, South Africa, Oregon …anything is game. “The question is never, ‘Can I plant this varietal in the Hill Country?” says Paul Mitchell Bonarrigo, owner of Messina Hof Winery in Bryan. “It’s ‘Where in the Hill Country should I plant it?” Visitors can experience wines aged in American or French oak barrels, innovative blends, and Texan twists on champagne and cava.
And everything is new: The majority of the state’s 500 or so wineries opened no more than a couple of decades ago. “Mourvèdre is from Spain, 500 years before Christ,” explains Michelle Burdett, director of events at William Chris Vineyards, one of the region’s most established wineries. “But we’ve been making it for ten years here in Texas.”
If you’ve never heard of Texas wine, that’s probably because it’s mostly consumed in Hill Country. A small percentage of the wineries distribute in grocery stores and the rest sell through their tasting rooms. It’s a delicious statewide secret.
“Texas winemakers are winning everything,” Bilger says. “Ron Yates down the way? At the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, he beat out everyone with his Tempranillo.” One of the newest vintners on the scene, Bilger is winning, too. This year, that same competition awarded his Cuveé Carmesim a gold medal for a merlot blend over $30.
But arguably the best thing about Texas wine is the people. Ask any vintner about their peers and you’ll hear nothing but love—for the community, for the wines, for the pioneer spirit of the endeavor.