Falling for Fredericksburg: Sample all this Hill Country haven has to offer

By: Mauri Elbel
October, 2021
I’m in Fredericksburg, swirling a crisp white wine under an impossibly blue sky and gazing out at tidy rows of bright green grapevines that stretch out into the horizon. The first breezes of fall have landed in the Texas Hill Country, graciously fanning my skin beneath the warm sunshine. The blissful combination ⁠— the floral notes and subtle hints of peach and pear I taste in the wine, the heavenly fall weather and the bucolic Texas Hill Country landscape awash in vines ⁠— transports me far away. I have to actually remind myself (more than once) that I’m not traveling through California’s famed wine country, but instead, clinking glasses with my husband on a Monday afternoon just 90 minutes from our backyard.

Writer Mauri Elbel sips a glass of white wine at Augusta Vin. Photo by Travis Albrecht

Here’s the deal: If you haven’t tasted the fruits of Fredericksburg (or just haven’t done so in a while), go ahead and throw your previous opinions out the window. The Texas Wine Country is now home to more than 100 wineries and vineyards and Fredericksburg is the nucleus of it all with more than 50 wineries, vineyards and tasting rooms located in Gillespie County and dozens more just a stone’s throw away. This year, the Texas Wine Country happened to land the No. 3 spot on USA Today’s “10Best” list of the 10 Best Wine Regions of North America (you can view the full list here)  a ranking I was grateful to stumble on because it proves I’m not the only one wildly impressed with the award-winning wines Fredericksburg is pouring.

Of course, this charming German town just an hour and a half west of Austin boasts plenty of reasons to visit even if you aren’t an aspiring oenophile. And there’s no better time to plan a trip to Fredericksburg than this fall when the temps are cooling down, autumn’s breezes are blowing, and the town is celebrating both its 175th anniversary and the 40th annual Oktoberfest. Pro tip: if you’re keen on avoiding crowds and saving on lodging, plan a midweek escape to wine, dine and unwind in this Hill Country haven. Below are some old Fredericksburg favorites and up-and-coming gems we discovered on our recent whirlwind weekday getaway.

Sip and swirl

Wine production in this German town dates back to the original settlers, who used the native mustang grape to produce wine, but it goes without saying that a lot has changed since then. Thanks to the pioneering groundbreakers like the Aulers (Fall Creek Vineyards) and the Beckers (Becker Vineyards) who are responsible for putting the Hill Country wine region on the map  and plenty of up-and-coming winemakers who are paving a path for its continued success this area has made big strides in the country’s wine scene in recent years. On our recent trip, we stopped off for tastings at four wineries worth raising a glass to.

RELATED: Four Fredericksburg Wineries to visit this Fall

Augusta Vin’s tasting room overlooks its lush vineyard. Photo by Mauri Elbel

Augusta Vin, which opened its doors in 2019, is well on its way to being 100 percent estate grown, boasts 11 varietals and is expecting 300 tons of juice this year alone an amount that will yield between 215,000 and 216,000 bottles of wine from the current harvest. But be warned: Lingering is inevitable on this picturesque 60-acre property with vineyards striping the lush landscape as far as the eye can see. Reserve a 1-hour seated tasting ($20-$25 per tasting, which includes 1 ounce pours of four or five wines) while soaking in the stunning Hill Country scenery. A few favorites included the refreshingly crisp Celeste Melange, perfect for sipping on a sunny day; the 2018 Estate Malbec Reserve, with complex layers of berry and plum; and a bottle of Giovanna Rosso we purchased to take back home, an Italian blend of Sangiovese, Aglianico and Montepulciano that was full, earthy and surprisingly smooth.

Kalasi Cellars makes 100 percent estate grown and produced wines. Photo by Mauri Elbel

If you love wine with a beautiful backstory like I do, make sure to visit Kalasi Cellars. The tasting room has only been open for a year, but owners Greg and Nikhila Narra Davis have a farming history that runs across five generations beginning with Nikhila’s family, who cultivated crops of cocoa, coconuts, rice and turmeric in India. Today, this husband-and-wife duo continues to honor their family farming heritage by growing wine grapes and making 100 percent estate-grown and -produced wine in Texas Kalasi Cellars solely utilizes estate grown grapes from their vineyards in the Texas High Plains as well as its tasting room’s onsite vineyard in Fredericksburg. Greg and Nikhila are truly doing some amazing things with Texas wine a few of our favorites included the Malvasia Bianca and the 2017 Merlot and Tannat. Delicious snacks like savory vegetarian samosas and tikka masala naan pizza are also on the tasting menu if you like to nibble while you sip.

Writer Mauri Elbel and husband sip wine at Signor Vineyards. Photo by Tisha Shuffield

Signor Vineyards, run by a sixth-generation Texas family with a heritage in farming, horticulture and ranching, has been open for about three years and is home to seven varietals including Tannat, Montepulciano, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Mourvèdre, Tempranillo and Sangiovese planted across 17 acres. You can sample a tasting of four wines for $20, and snack on a delightful charcuterie board on the tree-shaded patio before ordering a glass and wandering around the impeccably landscape French country gardens or popping into the on-site, farmhouse-inspired Joanna’s Market for hand-curated gifts and gourmet bites.

Heath Sparkling Wines is the first winery in Texas dedicated to exclusively making sparkling wines. Contributed by Heath Sparkling Wines

If you like bubbles, a stop at Heath Sparkling Wines is a must. Heath Sparkling Wines, the little sister of Grape Creek Vineyards, is the first winery in Texas dedicated exclusively to making sparkling wines and utilizes Méthode Champenoise secondary fermentation and sur lie aging (traditional techniques of Champagne) to produce all of its sparkling wines. My favorite was the Adoration a Pinot Noir rose with vibrant fruit aromas like pomegranate and strawberry but we found all four sparkling wines so impressive that we purchased our first wine membership and are already looking forward to our shipment that will arrive just in time for the holidays.

Fredericksburg for foodies

Hill & Vine opened its doors in Fredericksburg this summer. Photo by Mauri Elbel

I’ve got some steady favorites when it comes to Fredericksburg restaurants, but it’s always fun trying out what’s been cooking since my last visit. One newcomer stealing the show is Hill & Vine Jesse Barter’s modern, funky, Texas-centric restaurant that opened this summer. We dined here for brunch, feasting on locally-inspired dishes like the chicken schnitzel benedict with perfectly poached local eggs, smoked chili hollandaise and chimichurri; the avocado smash toast with pepitas and micro cilantro; jalapeno cheddar sausage stuffed pretzel kolaches; and pimento mac and cheese –– all washed down with festive brunch drinks like the prickly pear mimosa and Mint Condition, concocted with green tea infused gin, blueberry syrup, Topo Chico and mint. While the indulgent farm-to-table focused brunch and dinner menus are enough to warrant a visit to Hill & Vine, I also appreciated the fact that the restaurant serves an extensive list of Texas wines (varietals we actually tasted on nearby vineyards) and a modern, mid-century vibe –– there’s even a colorful, fully restored Volkswagen Das Bar Bus out front serving beer, wine and margaritas on the patio lawn. 

Brunch at Hill & Vine is a must. Photo by Mauri Elbel

For a breakfast on the go, jumpstart your day with in-house, small-batch-roasted coffees and hearty breakfasts like the Ranch Road burrito with sweet potato, arugula, black beans and barbacoa served with house-made salsa verde at Caliche Coffee on Main Street. Craving German food? Take a seat in the casual outdoor biergarten of the Ausländer Restaurant and Biergarten, a Main Street staple specializing in Bavarian-inspired fare and boasting authentic haus favorites like schnitzel, sausage, sauerkraut and spätzle. 

For a memorable dinner, reserve a table at Otto’s German Bistro, which brings farm-to-table German cuisine to the Hill Country and serves continually rotating seasonal dishes, classically inspired cocktails and incredible wines. We’d recommend the Flammkuchen with crème fraiche, Spanish chorizo, arugula and blue cheese; the savory sauteed mushrooms with garlic, shallots and fresh herbs; and the duck schnitzel with käsespätzle, rotkohl and cranberry marmalade.

Creative cocktails served at Otto’s German Bistro are part of the elevated dining experience. Photo by Mauri Elbel

A few other Fredericksburg food spots to put on your radar include: Hondo’s on Main, which serves up live music, hearty half-pound burgers, authentic Terlingua chili, cold margaritas and constant fun; Fredericksburg Brewing Company, the oldest operating brewpub in Texas; and Tubby’s Ice House, a family-friendly spot serving up street tacos, hearty burgers and extensive draft beer and wine selections that has an outdoor patio studded with brightly painted tables and a fenced-in garden, bocce ball area and playscape for the kids.

Find fall fun in Fredericksburg

This year marks the 40th annual Oktoberfest in Fredericksburg. Photo by Robbyn Dodd

Fredericksburg doesn’t fall short on fun this time of year. Beginning this weekend, you can experience all of the “oompah” you can handle in the Polka Capital of Texas during the 40th anniversary of Oktoberfest (Oct. 1-3). At this festive celebration of German heritage unfolding on MarktPlatz in downtown Fredericksburg, you’ll find three days of live German music on five stages, German food including bratwurst and sauerkraut, German bier, waltz and yodel contests and more. 

Fredericksburg is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year. Photo by Mauri Elbel

On your way into or out of town, be sure to stop at Wildseed Farms, the nation’s largest working wildflower farm brimming with more than 200 acres of flowering fields in Fredericksburg. Founded in 1983 by John and Marilyn Thomas, Wildseed Farms has been the trailblazer for the wildflower industry, but the family put their farming and harvesting experience into the planting of their first vineyard in 2015 and just launched a tasting room earlier this year. If you’re in town on Oct. 9, be sure to check out Wildseed Farms’ annual Monarch Butterfly Celebration  a free “tag and release” program celebrating the monarch butterfly migration to Mexico that’s fun and educational for the whole family.

RELATED: Wildflower Season in Texas

Sleep sweetly near Main Street

The rooms, suites and cottages at Trueheart Hotel each boast unique Texas-inspired designs. Photo by Mauri Elbel

Home to hundreds of bed and breakfasts, guesthouses, hotels and inns, lodging options in Fredericksburg abound. We were looking for a unique and cozy stay in the heart of downtown Fredericksburg just a block of downtown Main Street and found it at The Trueheart Hotel. The 13-room boutique hotel, formerly the Sugarberry Inn until owners Nick and Alice Adair purchased the property in 2020 and revamped it into a little slice of Hill Country heaven, boasts suites, rooms and cottages with Texas-inspired interiors every bit as unique as their names (Hawthorn, Cactus Wren, Rose Finch and Mimosa, to name a few). We stayed in Meadowlark, a bright and cheery Texas-inspired room with longhorns mounted above the headboard, an antique writing desk and a dreamy bathroom featuring a relaxing clawfoot tub made for soaking. If the bustle of Main Street prevents slumber, sound machines and fans help drown out the noise, while private porches and an outdoor limestone fireplace offer tranquil spots to sip a glass of your favorite Fredericksburg wine on the lushly landscaped grounds. 

Shop til you drop

Experience Luckenbach in downtown Fredericksburg at Luckenback on Main. Photo by Mauri Elbel

There are more than 150 shops, boutiques and art galleries fringing Fredericksburg’s downtown Main Street, and you can even sip while you shop sidewalk consumption is not only legal but encouraged. Pop into Luckenbach Outpost on Main, which sells Luckenbach-inspired gifts, clothing and, of course, has a bar in the back (be sure to snap a selfie in the photo room). Kids will love the Olde Thyme Fun Shop, a sliver of a shop that’s been there for a quarter of a century and brims with pranks, disguises, magic tricks and toilet humor, as well as Dooley’s, an old-fashioned five and dime store that was founded in 1923. On Main, you’ll also find a plethora of unique clothing boutiques, dozens of restaurants, wine tasting rooms, a brewpub and a couple of museums. 

Not to miss nearby

Fredericksburg is a convenient jumping point to numerous Hill Country gems, making it easy to stay in town and take short day trips to nearby attractions. The best way to burn off all of the German food, wine and beer you’ve been enjoying is at Enchanted Rock, the ancient pink granite dome rising from the heart of the Hill Country, just 20 minutes from downtown Fredericksburg. It’s a steep 425-foot climb to the summit, but the rugged beauty and sheer awe of this rock make every step worth it. Be sure to purchase a day pass in advance to guarantee entry. But even on busy days, you can explore the lesser-trafficked trails such as the 4.6-mile Loop Trail around the perimeter of the park or Echo Canyon Trail, where you can rest in the shade of gigantic boulders. 

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is a must-stop just 20 minutes from Fredericksburg. Photo by Chase Fountain

RELATED: 8 Great State Parks

Just 10 miles from Fredericksburg, you can step back in time with a visit to the laid-back tiny Hill Country hamlet known as Luckenbach. There’s not a care to be found on these 10 timeless acres where time seems to tick on a bit slower under the shady canopy of 500-year-old oak trees. What you will find is daily live music (check the calendar), a cash-only bar stocked with plenty of cold beer plus candy and sodas for the kids, a General Store with Luckenbach memorabilia and a Feed Lot serving up hearty country plates Thurs.-Sun. Visiting on weekday afternoons during a picker circle is usually uncrowded and always free, so you can listen to the acoustic harmony of a half-dozen singers crooning and plucking guitars while sipping a cold longneck beer and watching the chickens peck the ground.

If You Go

Getting there:

Fredericksburg is about 75 miles or an hour-and-a-half drive from Austin.  

Stay:

Rest your head at the charming rooms and cottages at The Trueheart Hotel, the artfully-designed Starry’s Studio or modern-luxury cabins in the country at The A-Frame Ranch. View a comprehensive list of Fredericksburg lodging options at www.visitfredericksburgtx.com/hotels-lodging.

Eat & Drink:

For breakfast, try Caliche Coffee. For a Texas-centric brunch, dine at Hill & Vine. Get your German food fix for lunch at Ausländer Restaurant and Biergarten or an upscale dinner at Otto’s German Bistro. Other Fredericksburg favorites include Hondo’s on Main, Fredericksburg Brewing Company and Tubby’s Ice House.

Do:

Dig into history and heritage while in Fredericksburg at the National Museum of the Pacific War, which is regarded as one of the premier military museums in the nation. Families can learn about the early days of Fredericksburg at the Pioneer Museum, or visit the Vereins Kirche Museum, one of Fredericksburg’s most iconic landmarks located in the heart of Marktplatz that recently reopened after an extensive renovation and boasts an all-new collection of artifacts, paintings and photos.

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