Ok y’all, its time to experience some Texas wine and lake views! It’s fine to drive down a busy road and move from tasting room to tasting room, which are all mere yards from each other. It’s certainly convenient, there’s little chance of getting lost, and it doesn’t tax the brain too much. I still sometimes experience tastings this way. But I’m also always on the lookout for a better tasting experience. As I mentioned in a recent article on Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Experiences, sometimes you just want to experience the essence of a place.
Enter Texas’ Highland Lakes. This chain of six fresh-water reservoirs is located in the Texas Hill Country northwest of Austin and were formed by damming sections of the 862-mile-long Colorado River. They were created to control flooding in the area, generate hydroelectric power, and to provide a storage place for the region’s water supply.
The lakes from north to south – Lake Buchanan, Inks Lake, Lake LBJ, Lake Marble Falls, Lake Travis, and Lake Austin – span about 85 miles and come in a variety of sizes. In addition to the beautiful scenery and loads of recreational activities (boating and fishing are quite popular) provided by the lakes, they are also dotted with wineries. What better way to experience the Texas Hill Country than by enjoying Texas wine and lake views? It’s certainly a more laid-back way to taste and the last couple of times I’ve visited I left actually feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still love the Fredericksburg area, which is the heart of Texas wine country, but I find the Highland Lakes a more serene way to enjoy the region. I like to break the area up into two sections – a northern section of the area and a southern – so you don’t spend all your timing driving. But depending on how much time you have, you can certainly cover the entire lake area.
Points North – Lake Buchanan to Lake Marble Falls
The area between the cities of Tow and Marble Falls, which encompasses Lake Buchanan, Inks Lake, Lake LBJ, and Lake Marble Falls is the more “rustic” of the two areas, but I love the wide-open spaces and the quiet. With all the time I’d spent in Texas and other parts of the Hill Country, this area has surprisingly been a recent discovery for me in the last few years. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised given how large Texas is. But I remember thinking “where the hell has this been all my life?” when I finally made my way to the area. Better late than never, I guess.
Where to Taste
Starting the farthest north, Fall Creek Vineyards in Tow is a must visit. The winery property borders Lake Buchanan and even provides access to the lake. Named for a creek and waterfall called, you guessed it, ‘Fall Creek’ that borders the north end of the ranch, Fall Creek is one of the state’s historic wineries. It was back in 1975 that Fall Creek Vineyards became the first Texas Hill Country winery and also the site of some of the first vinifera grapes planted in the state. Brought to life by former lawyer Ed Auler along with wife Susan Auler after an awe-inspiring trip to France, they have played a significant role in Texas’ evolving wine industry. In fact, it was Ed Auler that made the application to the U.S. government to have the Texas Hill Country granted appellation status.
The quaint courtyard and patio area seriously beckon you to sit back and relax. Make the most of the experience amongst the vines by ordering some of the on-site nosh and enjoying with a glass or a bottle of wine. Whether sipping on one of their entry level “Classic” wines or stepping it up a notch and tasting the Vintners Selection (site designated wines) or Terroir Reflections (single vineyard wines), you’re bound to find a favorite. A tasting of 5 wines is $20. And just so you know, I’m absolutely smitten with their lower alcohol Lescalo Chenin Blanc wine!
Heading back south, Perissos Vineyard & Winery located on the edge of Burnet near Inks Lake State Park is another place worth hanging out and soaking up the scenery. In fact, its a perfect stop after a morning hike. The biggest problem will be deciding where to enjoy your wines. Multiple outdoor spaces (porches, decks, patios spaces, and more) are set amongst a 16-acre vineyard and shaded oaks. Inside, the gleaming tasting room gives a modern, rustic vibe. With an extensive vineyard, the bulk of the wines are made with estate fruit. Varietals such as Viognier, Roussanne, Aglianico, Dolcetto, and Montepulciano are the stars of the portfolio. In fact, it was the reputation of the Viognier that made me visit in the first place. Regular tastings feature 6 wines at $18. The Winemaker’s Tour and Tasting at $40 is a more elevated experience and incorporates library and wine club only selections with small bites.
Also in Burnet, but within the town itself, is a tasting room for Wedding Oak Winery. I still remember the first time I tasted a wine from Wedding Oak during a Hill Country wine dinner and knew I wanted to try more. With a name inspired by the majestic, 400 year-old oak tree (known as the Wedding Oak Tree) that grows near the original winery and was used as a place for weddings of Native Americans and early Texas settlers, Wedding Oak Winery was founded in San Saba, TX (the Pecan Capital of the World). Their production began with white wines before eventually branching out into reds.
(c) Wedding Oak (c) Wedding Oak
Since opening the San Saba winery, they’ve also opened tasting rooms in a couple of other spots including on the courthouse square in Burnet. The Burnet tasting room is in a restored, historic 1888 budding and includes a rooftop terrace as well as a large patio. They produce a wide variety of Rhône and Italian varietals and I’ve been such a fan of their white wines. The Terre Blanc white blend of Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier is a standout for me. A flight of wine is $15 and there are a few different flights from which to choose.
Continuing south on your way back to your hotel (we’ll get to that below), head on into Marble Falls. A stroll down Main St and the surrounding streets in the quaint Marble Falls downtown is definitely a worthwhile endeavor. Shops, boutiques, galleries, cafes, and more can be found including a couple of wineries – Fiesta Winery and Flat Creek Enoteca – against the backdrop of Lake Marble Falls. And if you’re into beer, the town also has two breweries – Bear King Brewing Co. and Double Horn Brewing Company.
In addition to locations in Bend and Fredericksburg, Fiesta Winery has a cute tasting room on Old Oak Square on Main in downtown Marble Falls. Although they are more known for their sweet wines, they have a variety of wines including bone dry for folks with palates like mine. A taste of six wines is $20. After you find one you love, order a glass and enjoy the quaint courtyard with a meat and cheese board. Or if you’re ready to shop, get yourself a to-go cup of wine so that you can shop til you drop. Start with Choccolatte’s and Ooh La La Decor & More right there on the square.
Finally, be sure to make your way to Spicewood Vineyards. It actually sort of sits in the middle of the two sections and you could include it either itinerary – north or south. The winery estate, which was established in 1992 is one of the largest vineyards in the Texas Hill Country at 28 acres and was established as a winery that only produced wines made with estate-grown grapes. An experience studying abroad in Spain sealed the deal for Ron Yates when it came to wine, particularly Tempranillo. After returning to Texas, going to law school and even starting up a wine label, he just couldn’t get the thought of the wine country lifestyle out if his mind. And so it was that he purchased Spicewood Vineyards in 2007.
The tucked away winery estate with its limestone and wood buildings, boasts a gleaming, rustic tasting room. Vineyards as far as the eye can see, a meandering creek, and a lovely covered patio all contribute to a great outdoor space perfect for sitting back with a glass or bottle. You’re even free to bring your own picnic. A tasting of 6 wines is $15 and includes my favorite wine from them – their Tempranillo.
Where to Stay
If you’re venturing out to places more remote, of course you need a place to stay. One of the best places to stay in the area is Horseshoe Bay Resort located on the shores of Lake LBJ. The AAA four diamond resort offers a range of luxury villas, condos, and guest rooms (even entire homes) and features golf, tennis, a full-service marina, multiple restaurants, a spa, and more. It’s a destination in and of itself and leaving can be difficult. But you’re here for the wine damnit!
For a different take, consider renting a lake house as we did on one of our trips. We rented a fabulous house through VRBO a little further north on Lake LBJ in Kingsland. Thing 1 and Thing 2 were legit trying to get us to buy the place! Driving through the small town, Kingsland didn’t look like much, but once you get to the lake, it’s an entirely different story!
Other Stuff to Do
Do get out on the water whether jet skiing, trying your hand at a pontoon boat, or even kayaking.
If you’re a golfer, there’s the Escondido Golf Course at Horseshoe Bay as well as Legends Gold Course in Kingsland. Additionally, Inks Lake State Park with its pink granite rocks offers hiking trails, picnic spots, volleyball, birding as well as rentals of paddle boats, canoes, kayaks, and more. In fact the park isn’t far from Perissos so reward your hike with some wine and perhaps live music afterwards. Finally, Longhorn Cavern State Park is really cool for checking out underground rock formations. Yes, I occasionally do stuff beyond wine!
Lake Travis and Points South
The southern portion of my Texas wine and lake views itinerary centers around Lake Travis and Lake Austin and the towns of Driftwood and Dripping Springs. This upscale area has more of a suburban feel, but there still is a lot of the rustic Hill Country charm that makes the region unique. The area has become quite the beverage destination with multiple wineries, breweries, and distilleries dotting the landscape. When visiting wineries from here, I always like to start with the farthest winery and work my way back.
Where to Taste
As I mentioned above, you could also include Spicewood Vineyards in this section of your itinerary as its just due north.
So first up is Duchman Family Winery. Their love of Italian wines lead Drs. Lisa and Stan Duchman to work with Texas growers to realize their dream in 2004 to open Duchman Family Winery. And lucky for them that Italian varieties love the Texas climate. Always with a commitment to using Texas fruit, they are known for cultivating varieties like Vermentino, Aglianico, Montepulciano, Sangiovese, and more. You’ll immediately be immersed with Tuscan charm when you drive up to the expansive property. In fact, the facility was listed by HGTV as one of the 20 most picturesque wineries in the country. The stone and wood tasting room is warm and inviting and the varied outdoor spaces invites you to grab a bottle to enjoy your surroundings. Grab a pizza or a charcuterie board (or even some truffle fries) and kick back and enjoy. A regular tasting is $17 for 6 wines.
If you didn’t make it up to Tow or want to visit again, Fall Creek Vineyards is your next stop. While it doesn’t have the lake views of its sister property in Tow, it still offers miles of vineyard views as well as multiple indoor and outdoor spaces. A gorgeous patio area complete with beautiful gardens, lush vineyards, and majestic oaks will make it difficult to leave.
After you finish your tasting at Fall Creek, stop by Salt Lick for some smoky Texas BBQ. Its directly across the street and is a no-brainer either before or after a visit to Fall Creek.
While you wait for a table (as is often the case) visit Salt Lick Cellars right next door for some wine. The winery first opened in 2009 and has a varied portfolio of wines, many of which are tailor made for BBQ. You’ll be able to taste varietals that love BBQ including Tempranillo, Mourvédre, Syrah and Grenache. And if you’re on the fence, its hard to go wrong with the house BBQ RED and BBQ WHITE wines. And since the Salt Lick BBQ restaurant is BYOB, just find a favorite from your tasting and bring it next door to have with your BBQ.
Continuing back north toward your hotel, stop by the Texas AVA Tasting Room which features the wines of C.L. Butaud and Wine for the People. I absolutely love this joining of forces of two exciting Texas wine brands. I still remember the first time I met C.L. Butaud founder Randy Hester, and tasted his very hard to get Tempranillo. In that moment, I understood the scarcity of the wine – it was fantastic. Born and bred in Texas, he spent a decade training and making wine in California because he knew he wanted to make wine in his home state someday. When the time was right, he and wife Brooke returned to Texas to join a burgeoning Texas wine industry and named the winery after his great-grandfather. In addition to Tempranillo, he’s a bit of a Grenache whisperer.
Rae Wilson’s Wine for the People includes three different brands – the really dandy, Dandy Rosé (I know, I know!), The Grower Project, and La Valentia. I’m particularly fond of The Grower Project wines which is partnership between Wilson and Andrew Sides of Lost Draw Cellars. The duo saw a need to connect growers to the larger market while raising awareness of individual vineyard sites terroir. The Grower Project bottles single-site wines to showcase high-quality, boutique wines made from 100% Texas grapes. The tasting room offers flights for $25 featuring C.L. Butaud, Wine for the People, or a combo of both.
Where to Stay
The first time I visited the area, I stayed at Lakeway Resort and had a fantastic time. Now this was “before times” and it seems they’ve been having some issues of late. So, I will share MY experience and hopefully they can get their shit together together soon. In the before times, we loved the views, pools, bars, and more. It wasn’t the best hotel room ever, but the rest of the resort made up for a little dated room decor. Whether it was enjoying the lake views and wildlife (lots of deer!) from the balcony, poolside lake views, the swim-up pool bar, meals with a view, or the daily s’mores, we found there to be no shortage of pampering.
One of my favorite spaces was the Back Porch Lobby Bar which really was a porch complete with rocking chairs and views of Lake Travis. We made multiple trips there and enjoyed gorgeous sunset views. I also enjoyed the luxurious spa which was top notch. We were also able to hire a sailboat onsite which was quite convenient. So, we certainly had a fantastic experience here and i do hope they can get back to what they were.
As an alternative, consider the Sonesta Bee Cave which isn’t too far from Lake Austin and is in the upscale Hill Country Galleria area. With a contemporary chic and laid-back vibe, it puts you a little closer to the wineries, particularly those in Driftwood and Dripping Springs, but sans the lakeside views. I also love the rooftop lounge and bar as well as the pool area.
I also like the ability to walk to several shops, restaurants, and other entertainment options. If your priority is being closer to the wineries, then this is a great bet.
Other Stuff to Do
Do get ON and IN Lake Travis. Hire a sailboat for a few hours or even an entire day and be sure to take a swim in the pristine waters of the lake. It’s limestone bottom makes for some of the clearest, crystal blue water. If sailing isn’t your thing (and I don’t know how the hell it couldn’t be!) there are stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, jet skis, wakeboard boats, pontoons, party barges, luxury yachts, houseboats and whatever else your heart desires.
The Texas Hill Country is so vast and really does offer an experience for everyone. While I definitely love Fredericksburg and its surrounding wineries, I have also come to enjoy the slower pace and wide open spaces of these highland lakes wineries. Cheers to Texas wine and lake views!