48 hours in the Texas Hill Country

By: Mauri Elbel
February, 2024

On a recent weekend, my husband and I escaped to the Texas Hill Country for a 48-hour getaway. The temperatures were freezing but the sun was shining, and the idea of visiting a handful of wineries and taking the weekend at a slower-than-normal pace seemed like the perfect winter-weather remedy. 

When I think of wine tasting in the Texas Hill Country, my mind automatically gravitates to Fredericksburg –– the charming, albeit increasingly popular, German town sitting 90 minutes from Austin. But the Texas Hill Country is now home to more than 100 different wineries and recently landed itself as the second most visited wine region in the country, filing in just behind Napa Valley. During our late-January trip to this burgeoning wine region just west of Austin, we discovered some incredible Hill Country wineries a little closer to home and without the crowds. 

RELATED: 6 Hill Country Gems Perfect for a Spring Day Trip

Carter Creek Winery Resort & Spa is a conveniently-located retreat in the heart of Texas Hill Country. Credit Carter Creek

We booked a two-night stay at Carter Creek Winery Resort and Spa in Johnson City, less than an hour from our front door, which turned out to be an idyllic home base for visiting some of the wineries garnering attention along the 290 wine trail. 

If you’re looking to swirl some award-winning wines just an hour from Austin, consider staying at Carter Creek and booking tastings at some of the less-crowded, award-winning wineries found in nearby Hye and Stonewall. Most of the wineries we visited are members of Texas Hill Country Wineries (THCW), which has promoted the Texas wine industry for a quarter century and holds wine trail passport events throughout the year that allow ticket holders to enjoy complimentary tastings at more than 40 participating wineries. Here’s how we spent a relaxing 48 hours in the Texas Hill Country.

Friday afternoon 

Barrel tasting at Ron Yates Wines with Ron Yates and Dan Cook. Photo by Mauri Elbel

2 p.m. Ron Yates Wines 

We started the weekend’s wine journey on a cold and sunny Friday afternoon in Hye with a tasting at Ron Yates Wines, the sister winery to Spicewood Vineyards. We met Ron Yates, who sits at the helm of this family-owned and -operated winery sprawled across nearly 16 acres abutting Highway 290. Yates, a native Texan, told us he fell in love with wine when he was a student at the University of Texas and spent a semester in Spain, where he became familiar with the vineyards of Ribera del Duero. Recognizing the similarities between the vineyard landscape and climate in Ribera del Duero and the Texas Hill Country, he brought his passion for Spanish wines, and in particular tempranillo, back to the Lone Star State. Today, the winery creates Spanish, Italian and Rhone-style wines made with estate-grown fruit as well as grapes sourced from well-established growers in Texas. We loved every wine we sampled, including the 2022 Picpoul Blanc, 2020 SRV Sangiovese, 2019 Friesen Tempranillo, and a few bold up-and-coming vintages we tasted straight from the barrel. The tasting room is open seven days a week; wine tastings start at $20 per person and reservations are strongly encouraged. More at https://www.ronyateswines.com/

Reserve a wine and charcuterie tasting for two at Carter Creek Winery. Photo by Mauri Elbel

4 p.m. Check in and tasting at Carter Creek 

We checked in for the weekend at Carter Creek Winery Resort & Spa, a cozy Hill Country retreat set amid the rolling hills of Johnson City less than an hour from Austin. Carter Creek Winery Resort & Spa opened a little more than four years ago as the Texas counterpart to Temecula’s South Coast Winery Resort & Spa and Carter Estate Winery and Resort, both of which have emerged among Southern California’s top wineries. Featuring 78 cottage-style villas, an award-winning winery, two tasting rooms, an onsite restaurant and microbrewery, live music on the weekends, a heated seasonal outdoor pool and hot tub, and a pampering spa, it made for a charming and convenient home base to explore the surrounding wineries. 

Carter Creek Winery earned six awards at the 2024 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (SFCWC), which took place mid-January. Contributed by Carter Creek

Master winemaker Jon McPherson, well known in the Texas viticulture industry along with his father, Dr. Clinton “Doc” McPherson, oversees the production of the wines produced at all three family-owned Carter wineries. During our wine tasting, accompanied by a colorful charcuterie board piled high with artisan cheeses, local Texas honey, fig jam and candied pecans, we sampled crisp whites, bold reds and a few interesting sparklings. Our favorites? The 2018 Maverick, a blend of West Texas-grown Rhone varietals, and the 2022 Sparkling Tempranillo Rose, which I’m saving for a warm spring day. Carter Creek’s tasting room is open daily, and you can reserve tastings ($20-$30 per person) online. More at https://www.cartercreek.com/.

7 p.m. Beer tasting and dinner at Old 290 Brewery & Restaurant 

While Carter Creek is known for its award-winning winery, it’s also the only one in the region with an onsite microbrewery. We toured the brewery with head brewer Justin Zimmerman, who brews everything from small-batch light ales to porters and stouts. Zimmerman keeps a rotating selection of 10 small batch craft beers on tap at all times, and if you sip something you fancy, you can take it home in a growler or cans. My favorite was the Imperial Hop Tropic IPA, an American-style juicy with hints of nectarine and grapefruit, and my husband enjoyed the Hell Raiser, a bourbon barrel, full-bodied brown beer.   

Carter Creek Winery Resort & Spa also has an onsite microbrewery with at least 10 small batch craft beers rotating on tap. Contributed by Carter Creek

Open for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, Old 290 Brewery & Restaurant serves hearty, Texas-inspired cuisine. Some of our favorite meals over the weekend included the Texas chili with jalapeño griddle cake, burgers with truffle fries, and seared red snapper with lemon butter, fried capers, spinach and mushrooms. More at https://www.cartercreek.com/dining/old-290-brewery.

Saturday 

10 a.m. The Spa at Carter Creek

There’s no better way to start the day than at the spa, and The Spa at Carter Creek offers soothing treatments spanning facials, massages, couples’ packages, body treatments and more. I booked a anti-aging, youth-enhancing facial with spa director Gülçin Johnson, which had a glowing effect on my complexion so I never applied makeup for the rest of the weekend. Johnson also has her own organic body and skin care product line, Gülçin Botanicals, which are used at Carter Creek’s spa and a handful of five-star spas throughout the country. More at https://www.cartercreek.com/spa/overview.

The Spa at Carter Creek is offering Valentines-themed couples treatments throughout February. Contributed by Carter Creek

12 p.m. Tasting and lunch at Hye Meadow Winery 

Hye Meadow Winery, sitting on more than 60 oak-shaded acres in Hye, pours 100 percent Texas wine made onsite. Swirl a glass on a pretty spring day in the tasting room overlooking serene Hill Country views. But on the cold, wet day we visited, we cozied up inside and sampled tastings including the 2022 Junkyard White, a blend of chenin blanc, viognier and trebbiano, and the Neighbors, a blend of montepulciano and negroamaro grapes with a big, rich profile. If you’re hungry, pair your tasting with lunch –– they serve artisan cheese boards, toasted sandwiches like the Hye Meadow grilled cheese finished with homemade pesto on a ciabatta roll, and warm mushroom risotto topped with parmesan and green onions. Reserve tastings online; standard blended tastings are $25 and include whites, roses and reds, and the red wine tasting is $30. More at https://www.hyemeadow.com.

2 p.m. Ab Astris Winery

Writer Mauri Elbel and husband, Travis Albrecht, wine tasting at Ab Astris Winery in Stonewall.

Located around the corner from the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, Ab Astris Winery (Latin for “of the stars”) is a family-owned boutique winery serving 100 percent Texas wines from their intimate tasting room tucked away from the bustle of Highway 290 in Stonewall. We enjoyed several of their wines and brought home the Dextra –– a Bordeaux-style Texas red blend with high tannins and velvety notes. Reserve a guided wine flight tasting of five wines offered Thursday through Monday ($25 per person). More at https://www.abastriswinery.com/.

RELATED: 4 Fredericksburg Wineries to Visit 

4 p.m. Kuhlman Cellars wine and food pairing

If you visit Kuhlman Cellars in Stonewall, opt for the wine and food experience –– an intimate “wine 101” style tasting that marries five wine samples with chef-prepared, bite-sized food pairings. We arrived just in time to experience the new winter menu pairing, sampling a 2021 Estate White with fennel marmalade, Manchego and fennel salsa and microgreens served on homemade bread; the 2022 Viognier with cauliflower custard, bitter orange coulis and crispy celery root; the 2020 Alluve with Kuhlman’s signature herbed almonds; the 2019 Barranca with rosemary ground beef and mashed potato cottage pie; and the 2019 Kankar with blueberry cheesecake mousse. The experience was educational, the pairings were delightful, and we brought back a bag of the tasty herbed almonds as well as the 2019 Barranca –– a signature red blend aged in new French Oak for 26 months. Reserve the winter wine and food experience tasting ($40 per person) in advance Thursday through Sunday. More at https://www.visit.kuhlmancellars.com/.

Kuhlman Cellar’s new winter wine and food pairing includes a sample of five wines paired with chef-prepared small bites. Photo by Mauri Elbel

6 p.m. Dinner at Bryans on 290

For a delicious dinner, make a reservation at Bryans on 290, located in the heart of Johnson City off Main Street. Chef Bryan Gillenwater’s passion for cooking ignited when he was a young boy scout cooking over an open fire. He went on to attend the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and worked under several James Beard award-winning chefs before bringing his love of live fire cookery to Johnson City. Start with oysters on the half shell and steamed mussels, swimming in a cilantro soy lime broth, and finish with beef tenderloin in a red wine demi served with garlic buttermilk mashed potatoes. Make reservations at https://bryanson290.com/.

Sunday

10 a.m. Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site

Just a 10-minute drive from Carter Creek, soak in nature and history at the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site which tells the story of our 36th president who was born and raised in the area. We’ve taken our kids to visit the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, which is a fascinating experience, but you can also walk and explore the easy nature trails, where you’ll often catch glimpses of bison, longhorns and springtime wildflowers. More at https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/lyndon-b-johnson.

12 p.m. William Chris Vineyards

William Chris Vineyards, located in Hye, creates Old World-style Texas-grown wines. Photo by Travis Albrecht

Hye is also home to one of my Hill Country favorites: William Chris Vineyards. Founded by winemakers William “Bill” Blackmon and Chris Brundrett in 2008, the winery makes wine using only responsibly grown Texas grapes from farms located in Texas’ American Viticultural Areas. William Chris Vineyards recently secured a spot on the World’s Best Vineyards Academy’s annual Top 100 Best Vineyards list and if you taste the wines, you’ll know why. Inside the lofty, light-filled contemporary tasting room, we sampled the 2021 Cinsaut, a light yet surprisingly smoky 2020 Mourvèdre, and the Enchanté –– a unique blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petite verdot and malbec so lovely that we purchased a few bottles to take back home. Book a winemaker’s tasting ($30 per person) or the Vineyard Table seasonal food and wine pairing experience ($85 per person) before you visit. More at https://www.williamchriswines.com/.

2 p.m. Cave tasting at Calais Winery

Just two minutes down the road, we concluded our wine-sipping weekend with a Cave Tasting at Calais Winery. Swirl samples of their whites, reds and reserves made from 100 percent Texas grapes inside the cozy cave, built into the hill and constructed in part with long-leaf cedar planks reclaimed from an east Texas horse barn. Every wine we sipped was wonderful, but we left with the 2019 TX RD, a Right Bank Bordeaux Blend with medium tannins and notes of cherry, rose petals and fennel. Make tasting reservations, $25 per person, Thursday through Sunday. More at https://calaiswinery.com/.

If You Go

Getting there:

Carter Creek Winery Resort and Spa is an hour west of Austin.

Stay:

Carter Creek Winery Resort & Spa is a luxury retreat in the heart of Texas Hill Country in Johnson City, featuring 78 luxury villas, two tasting rooms, an outdoor pavilion hosting live music on the weekends, Old 290 Brewery & Restaurant, a spa and a heated seasonal outdoor pool. It’s home to an award-winning winery –– and the only one in the region with an onsite microbrewery.

Food & Drink:

Make tasting reservations in advance at Ab Astris, Calais Winery, Carter Creek Winery, Hye Meadow Winery, Kuhlman Cellars, Ron Yates Wines and William Chris Vineyards. Enjoy hearty meals and craft beers brewed on site at Old 290 Brewery & Restaurant. Reserve a table at Bryans on 290 for a memorable dinner. Need a pick me up? Grab coffee at Johnson City Coffee Co which also hosts the LBJ Farmers Market from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Insider tip:

Celebrate the Texas Hill Country Wineries’ 25th anniversary with a celebration passport. From January 29 to February 23, passport holders can experience tastings at more than 40 participating Texas Hill Country Wineries. The signature passport ticket ($100/couples or $65/individuals) benefits include a complimentary wine tasting and a 15 percent discount on three or more bottle purchases at each of the participating wineries.

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