Austin, the capital of Texas, is a worthy tourist destination for its quirky South Congress Avenue shops, agreeable weather and vibrant dining scene. Once you've eaten and drunk your way through its many restaurants, consider a day trip to nearby Hill Country, which stretches west from Austin and is anchored by the charming town of Fredericksburg. Amid beautiful country landscapes and rolling hills, a handful of vintners making serious wines are pushing the burgeoning wine industry forward.
WHERE TO STAY
The Carpenter Hotel (carpenterhotel.com) is an old carpenters' union built in 1948 that reopened as a hotel in November 2018. Much of the main building was preserved, such as the check-in window where workers once paid their union dues. The renovation added Texas touches throughout the property, including D'Hanis brick (a historic brand of terra-cotta from the San Antonio area) and the piping details, repurposed from oil rigs. The 93 rooms are minimalist and utilitarian, each with the signature brick walls and a blue color scheme, as well as a small terrace, some overlooking the pool.
The adjoining Carpenters Hall feels more like a neighborhood restaurant than that of a hotel, offering breakfast, lunch and dinner and a concise wine list. Room rates start at $165 a night.
WHERE TO EAT
Barley Swine (barleyswine.com) serves cuisine that is as creative and delicious as it is aesthetically attractive. Take the shiitake dumplings, which are fashioned into a candy-wrapper shape and sit on a bed of scrambled eggs. Owner and executive chef Bryce Gilmore emphasizes farm-fresh ingredients and plays around with flavors and textures. The well-curated wine list is in tune with the food menu, highlighting expressive styles from France, Spain and Italy, as well as some domestic picks, including Texas.
Jeffrey's (jeffreysofaustin.com) is what you want a modern-day steak house to be. It delivers expertly grilled steaks, racks and chops, but the rest of the menu doesn't skimp on creativity or flavor. With its dimmed lights and white tablecoths, the dining room is elegant but not stuffy. The wine list has depth in classics like California, Burgundy and Bordeaux but provides adventurous drinkers with discoveries such as cuvées from the producer Envínate in the Canary Islands.
*Best Award of Excellence
June's All Day (junesallday.com) is a great spot for a quick lunch, a serious dinner, or just a Bloody Mary at the bar. The always-animated space looks like a French bistro with a touch of Austin cool, with black-and-white tiled floors and a jukebox in the back. Ask for the wine list and you'll be handed a zine created by part-owner June Rodil, complete with humorous illustrations and educational information about the wines and regions on the page. It's the most fun you'll have looking through a wine list.
*Award of Excellence
Olamaie (olamaieaustin.com) is chef-owner Michael Fojtasek's ode to Southern cuisine. It serves classics like buttery biscuits and Carolina Gold Rice hush puppies, with a nod to Texas as well, through Wagyu beef from local ranches. The restaurant sources its produce from no farther than 200 miles away. The wine list is mostly domestic, focusing on California and Oregon, with rotating Texas picks.
HILL COUNTRY & FREDERICKSBURG
WHERE TO TASTE
Calais Winery (calaiswinery.com) was founded in 2008 in Dallas and moved to its current facility in Hill Country in 2015. Behind it is Frenchman Benjamin Calais, who is from ... Calais. He has five vineyard partners in the High Plains and Davis Mountains AVAs who custom-farm for the winery; he plans to plant his own 2.5-acre vineyard of Tannat in 2020. Today, Calais makes 2,500 cases a year and focuses on Bordeaux varieties, among others. The majority are single-vineyard bottlings that are labeled as such. Tastings for small groups happen Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Southold Farm & Cellar (southoldfarmandcellar.com) owners Regan and Carey Meador moved from New York's Long Island to Texas Hill Country in 2017, along with their winery operations. The hilltop tasting room offers stunning views, but they are quick to say it's not just about that. Tastings host about 15 people at a time and are focused on education. The team is in the process of planting 16 acres of vines on the hillside, but right now they source from two vineyards in Hill Country and the High Plains, with almost 90 percent of their production from the former. They're tinkering with about 10 different varieties, making elegant and expressive wines that defy convention, like their recent Roussanne-Albariño and Cabernet Franc-Sangiovese blends.
William Chris Vineyards (williamchriswines.com) started in 2008 when pioneer vintners Chris Brundrett and Bill Blackmon grew frustrated with the Texas wine industry's lack of substance. They set out to change that, and have achieved a lot in a decade. Today, they make about 30,000 cases of wine, and have become leaders in pushing quality forward. They have a 6.5-acre vineyard on the property planted to Malbec, Petit Verdot, Tannat and Mourvèdre, and work with dozens of vineyards throughout the state that they either farm themselves or buy grapes from. About 60 percent of their production is Rhône varieties, with 25 percent Mourvèdre, their signature grape, which they mostly bottle as a stand-alone. The tasting room is open seven days a week, and reservations are required.
WHERE TO EAT
Otto's (ottosfbg.com) celebrates Fredericksburg's German roots with dishes like duck schnitzel with spaetzle, as well as flammkuchen, a thin-crust pie with crème fraîche, cheese, caramelized onions and other toppings. The buzzy dining room and merry guests make for a relaxed experience, but the food and beverage are elevated. The carefully calibrated wine list opens with a spotlight on Texas and offers impressive depth in Austria, Germany and Alsace.
WHERE TO STAY
Hoffman Haus (hoffmanhaus.com) is located just off Fredericksburg's main drag, an ideal place to rest in between tastings and meals. The nine rooms and eight suites combine elegance with country chic, balancing white linens and walls, heavy wood and subtle pastel colors. The property also has four guesthouses that accommodate two to seven people. An on-site cooking school offers classes, and the hotel also regularly hosts other events, such as wine dinners. Rooms start at $150 a night.