Sonoma, Bordeaux, Rioja — these legendary wine-growing destinations may come to mind when you think of flourishing vino regions. But for those looking for something off the beaten tourist path, but with a charm all its own, the Texas Wine Region has vibrant offerings and ambition the size of its namesake state.
Currently, the nation’s fifth-largest wine growing and production region, and called by many the “Napa Valley of the Southwest,” the vineyards in this lush and winding slice of Lone Star country were first established by Franciscan priests in 1662 and developed by European settlers who brought with them cherished grapevine cuttings. Throughout the 1800s, winemakers faced many trials and tribulations when it came to finding the right grapes to succeed in Texas. Often, original vines failed and wineries were forced to divert their operations. Eventually, wineries learned how to adapt varietals to the Southern state’s terroir, later paving the way for the development of an industry that flourished throughout the 1900s and today.
Wine lovers from nearby San Antonio and Austin will often make the trip to what’s lovingly referred to as the Texas Hill Country, especially during peak spring when bluebonnets dot the winding hills and paths. Approximately the size of France, Texas is similarly gifted with a diversity of soil and a climate ideal for grapes ranging from Reisling to Grenache. At 9 million acres, Hill Country is the second-largest AVA (American Viticulture Area) in the U.S. and boasts a mild year-round climate, making it ideal for Mediterranean varietals like Tempranillo and Tinta Amarela, as well as Bordeaux grapes like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and more adventurous varietals like Blanc du Bois and Viognier.
In the heart of Texas Wine Country in the historic town of Hye, William Chris Vineyards has gained acclaim for expressing the range of Texas terroir through sustainably sourced grapes and dry Old World-style selections — all while providing a modern tasting experience. The vineyard, located on a restored 1905 farmhouse overlooking scenic, hilltop views, boasts wine tastings in the library, evenings sipping eclectic reds under the stars, and music events and dining overlooking a 400-year oak grove.
Founded in 2008 by William “Bill” Blackmon and Chris Brundrett, each a veteran of the Texas wine-growing community, William Chris Vineyards is a showcase of the best of Texas winemaking. Sharing a vision of what the Texas wine industry could be, since opening they have committed to using only 100 percent Texas-cultivated grapes, much of which are farmed in-house. Grapes that aren’t farmed at William Chris Vineyards are grown by a network of local and often family-run farms. As a result of this dedication to quality and place, William Chris Vineyards has developed a thriving label and an invaluable community, creating a space that acts as a place of meeting and joy for memorable get-togethers.
A boutique winery, William Chris is known for its vibrant reds and its Texas twist on crisp whites, mostly of the Rhône varieties, including Mourvèdre, Cinsaut, and Roussanne. But many regular visitors say nothing can compare to Mary Ruth, an aromatic white wine blend named in honor of Blackmon’s mother and a fan favorite, or the compelling Sangiovese. A great wine country weekend getaway just an hour from Austin, the perfect weather and bucolic scenery means it’s always an ideal time to visit. But for a once-in-a-lifetime road trip, drive through any time from mid-July through September while the grapes are being harvested, when the hills are decorated with the last wildflowers of summer, and the roads are lined with pointed cypress trees, giving the region the feel of an Italian excursion without the airfare.
While visiting, be sure to partake in the Vineyard Table Experience, which showcases some of the William Chris prized vintages, with Bill or Chris frequently on hand providing a crash course in Texas wines — including why some grape varietals grow well (or not so well) in the region. During these tastings, bottles are paired with gourmet house-made dishes that feature local ingredients, curated to enhance the flavor of each selection. Stepping into the main tasting room, built from repurposed homestead materials for a rustic yet modern charm, repeat visitors — or aspiring ones — are invited to join the elite Hye Society wine club, which offers members-only release parties, first access to paired wine dinners, barrel and library tastings, and dibs on purchasing new wines as soon as they’re bottled.
Bill and Chris have gained a reputation as passionate innovators, but also have a meticulous dedication to their craft, which shines through in the vineyard’s complex aging processes. In addition to fermenting in high-quality European – mainly Hungarian and French – oak barrels, wines are also aged in concrete vessels, allowing for complete control of temperature and movement of the wine, which helps to increase mouthfeel, body, and texture. The first winery in the U.S. to implement a Galileo Tank, imported from Bordeaux, France, the pair have developed a technique that requires as little intervention as possible, with fruit harvested and pressed using the pre-industrial method of open-air fermentation. Once the wine has been barreled, there is minimal handling, enabling wines to evolve in complexity and depth. But the pair’s commitment to Texas wine growing goes even deeper.
Recently, William Chris Vineyards collaborated with 23 leading global wine regions to support Truth in Labeling as a part of Wine Origins, a global initiative that champions the quality of designated wine-growing regions. Because of this work, in 2021 the winery aided in passing labeling laws legislation that established for consumers what “makes a Texas wine truly Texan.”
Luckily, even If you aren’t within driving distance of William Chris Vineyards, you can still experience a bit of Texas Hill Country at home simply by clicking your mouse. The vineyard’s newly launched online shop ships to 38 states across the U.S. and offers an assortment of its finest wines. Consider picking up a bottle of Mary Ruth, the aforementioned fan favorite, and William Chris Vineyards’ flagship white wine. With its blend of five Texas-grown, aromatic white grapes and bright notes of pineapple, blossom, and sea salt, this wine makes a wonderful summertime companion.
If it’s red wine you’re after, or perhaps something that calls to your creative spirit, look no further than the 2020 Artist Blend. Each year, William Chris Vineyards invites artists from all across the country to submit original artwork that is then voted on by members. The 2020 winner features a monarch butterfly, the veins in its wings reminiscent of grapevines. Not only does this wine pay homage to the vineyard’s official status as a monarch butterfly way station, it’s also a personal favorite of both Bill and Chris. The blend is all red Rhône varieties each year — Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre — with the Tannat grape coming in as a Texas twist.
But if you’re new to Texas wines, the Skeleton Key Blend VI serves as the perfect introduction. When Bill and Chris first began renovating the century-old estate’s tasting room they discovered an old skeleton key, inspiring their first red wine – a blend of Aglianico, Sangiovese, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Ruby Cabernet, and Tannat, with notes of black fruit and spice. An ideal pairing with steak and roasted vegetables, you’ll feel like you’ve lassoed your way into a rugged Southwest adventure with every sip. But don’t take our word for it: If you’re still planning an adventurous summer getaway with a taste of something new, why not swing by Texas Wine Country? And as Southern hospitality insists, you’ll be welcomed back any time.
This article is sponsored by William Chris Vineyards.