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Wine tasting is like sampling the earth from which a vine grows. Each drop conjures images of the soils and the hands that have lovingly toiled over it. When tasting wine from faraway places, those scenes are often left to the imagination. But on a Texas wine tour, such as the five-stop Lampasas County Wine Trail in early October, one gets a true taste of the land and can cheer the winemakers.
Pillar Bluff Vineyards, Lampasas—Owner Gill Bledsoe greets a tour bus loaded with about 55 passengers at the vineyard’s gate. Beyond him, a mowed field gives way to grapevines and earth ready to receive new plantings. Here, guests lounge under a gazebo, once a round pen for horses, as Bledsoe whirls around serving wine and pouring out details. To their lips, they bring drops of a peachy viognier, sweet Founder’s Red and a brown-sugary Au Poire, which dribbles down the cobalt blue bottle to Bledsoe’s delight as he licks a drop from his fingers. In the cedar-leather-tobacco finish of the tempranillo, a wine produced from the grape native to Spain, one can almost taste the alluvial plain of Pillar Bluff Creek where this Texan and wife Peggy Sue have tended their vines since 1997.
Texas Legato Winery, Lampasas—The owner of this winery just down the farm road from Pillar Bluff Vineyards bears a striking resemblance to Gill Bledsoe. That’s because it’s his twin, Bill. Wife Sulynn hosts guests in the tasting room, which opened in 2007, and Bledsoe conducts a tour. He explains how he’d helped his brother build Pillar Bluff Vineyards before branching out—albeit not too far—on his own. “I kind of tap into his market share,” he says, grinning as he balances among stacks of oak barrels containing a 2011 malbec. He shares this still-aging wine, which evokes the pop of a fresh grape in the mouth. Even fresher is the 2013 malbec, which Bledsoe splashes into glasses from a spigot on a metal tank. “Now this will taste very young,” he says, taking a draught and nodding.
Fiesta Winery, Lometa—At the house across the street from the barn and winery, a toy car parks next to the winery’s delivery van. In the tasting room, a row of boots—men’s, women’s and children’s—line a cabinet behind the bar. Here, members of the Baxter family serve up signature sweets, such as the red with blackberry called Back Porch Sittin’ and select drys, such as merlot, produced on land that has belonged to the family for six generations. The owners hope the wine business they began in 2009 in their home kitchen and expanded to a remodeled barn will give them reason to keep it a few more. “This is something we are doing for the generations,” says Weston McCoury, winemaker and son-in-law of proprietors Stephen and Sally Baxter.
Alamosa Wine Cellars, Bend—A breeze rustles the grapevines entwining a pergola where owner Jim Johnson pours wines, such as the plum-peppery syrah and the sweet Amigo Red, made from warm-climate grapes. Inside the tasting room, decorated with the winery’s Texas horned lizard mascot, wife Karen explains that they were the first in Texas to produce a commercial tempranillo in 2000. “We started out on the right foot,” she says, dispensing tastes of El Guapo, a wine blend featuring the native Spanish grape that has taken off in Texas.
Wedding Oak Winery, San Saba—Visitors drink in the ambience of the tasting room, snug in a renovated 1926 building, and an adjoining production facility. They muse over paintings of the namesake historic Wedding Oak tree, sculpture-like old vines and stained-glass windows from a Mexican mission that adorn the venue. “For me, wine and art go together,” says managing partner Mike McHenry, who opened Wedding Oak in 2012 with wife Lynn and a network of friends. The artsy air carries out to the courtyard where tasting room manager Marcus Holley prepares to pour three wines—white Bridal Veil, pink Bridal Blush and red Regency Bridge. Holding a bottle of the first, he steps out and greets the group with a hearty “Howdy.”
The crowd cheers.
Suzanne Haberman is a staff writer.