Monday, May 02, 2011

Vineyard Tour through the Hill Country

Who knew Austin, Texas, had it's own gorgeous wine country complete with vineyards in full bloom, beautiful wineries, and gorgeous back roads to drive on? We certainly didn't until today. Friday I decided I needed time with my man and decided to take us on a tour of the hill country wineries. I mapped out our plan on Google maps, decided on a restaurant to finish the afternoon off with dinner at, and off we went. Things didn't go quite as planned, they went better. Our first stop was Bell Springs Winery.
While they don't have an actual vineyard, only one in the thought stages of possibly bringing in mature vines from the owner's hometown in California, the grounds were pretty enough,
and the girls inside were as nice as can be and willing to share the history of the owners.
All the wines they carry are wines from Paso Robles. How appropriate that was our first hill country winery stop as we just came from vacation in Paso Robles where we visited the wineries there as well. The owner of Bell Springs Winery went to college in San Luis Obispo and decided to bring the wines of the SLO life to the hill country. While the delicious Paso Robles wine might have been worth it were we drinking, what made the stop at Bell Spring Winery worth it to us was the beautiful drive on the way there and from there onto our next stop -- a drive we would have missed had we not gone this way specifically to stop by Bell Springs.

Our next stop was Driftwood Estates Vineyard. We drove past the turn off a little and discovered the vineyard itself.
Then turned around and headed up to the winery. Don't be fooled by the sign as you pull up the road that says Vineyard Estates -- that's a home development project. Brando fortunately wasn't fooled and pulled onto the dirt road to Driftwood Vineyards with a sign that said Driftwood Estate Winery (which is why one might be confused with all the signage). All the while I was unsure we were going the right direction and freaking out that because it was up a dirt road we were going to pull up to a scary little trailer and be stuck in the woods. Brando laughed, and continued on despite my protests, and tried to assure me that it could be some gorgeous view we would've totally missed otherwise. As we drove, the road began to curve up a hill, and I began to think he must be right as there could only be a beautiful view at the top of any hill around here. When we got to the top, the unassuming building still scared me, but the parking lot full of cars couldn't lie, so I got out of the car. He was totally right. It was a beautiful view with the entire vineyard stretched out below
that we would have missed had we not driven up that scary dirt road. Maybe it was only scary to me, but still. I'm a city girl at heart, and dirt roads don't agree with me. They had plenty of room to lounge with a glass of wine, and plenty of parties there were doing just that.

We explored the grounds
and the gorgeous views
 and checked out the tasting room.
before we headed off to our next stop. Though this is not the map we followed, Brando thought it was cute to show this wine tour map we picked up at Driftwood Estates Vineyard as the area we traveled.
On the way out, we found a few intriguing stops along the dirt road, now that I wasn't so freaked out about it.

Our third stop was to be Wimberley Valley Winery. However, as we learned from our first stop, we realized if it's called a winery there were no vineyards to be found. And since Brando and I are both allergic to wine and were actually headed on more of a vineyard tour, a winery didn't fit the bill for us. Even if we were drinking wine, I would prefer the beautiful scenic view of a patio overlooking a vineyard to enjoy the wine on. So we scratched our third stop and headed along more beautiful drives

Love how picturesquely perfect this convertible is with the overhanging trees and the white picket fence on either side.

Texas is grandiose with it's entrances to home estate projects. This one might be one of the most over-the-top and prettiest.
to our fourth stop instead, which was both a vineyard, winery, and a restaurant. The lovely ladies at Bell Springs had mentioned how delicious the restaurant was and I realized I have been wanting to go to this restaurant forever. So even though I had the famous Driftwood Salt Lick restaurant as our final eatery destination which Brando had never been to, with the girls at Bell Springs reminding us about the Trattoria Lisina, we decided to have dinner at Trattoria Lisina instead, especially since we both had not been there.

And, boy, was that a good decision. Duchman Vineyards is the vineyard next door to Trattoria Lisina. The vineyard used to be owned by the owner of the restaurant, Mandola, but while he still has his own winery and the additional restaurants in Austin, the vineyard is now owned by the Duchman family. However, they seem to work seamlessly as the grounds are combined and it is impossible to tell divisively where one ends and the other begins.

As we drove up to the grounds, we passed the vineyards in full bloom, with a picturesque red barn in the background.

The actual grounds themselves were stunning.

The girls at Bell Springs Winery had told us we would feel like we had been transported back to Santa Barbara, and they were absolutely right, only if I dare say so, even more beautiful. Lucky us, they had an outdoor wedding set up for the evening, so we were able to see just how one might set up an outdoor wedding at this venue.

We walked inside the tasting room, which was small, but beautiful with possibly 30 foot high soaring ceiling.
The room was super crowded, so I can only imagine it on a Saturday. Still, there was room to roam outside, and in the lobby area of the building. The rest of the building was closed off for the wedding. We explored the gardens outside some more

and then made our way into the restaurant.
 On the way to our table

we passed a delicious looking anti-pasta bar and decided that would be our appetizer. The waiter chooses the selection for two from the antipasto bar and delivers it to the table. We were blown away by how huge it is. Even Texas, with it's claims of big, tends to have over-priced, small, and downright distasteful cheese plates in our experience. This one was the total opposite -- perfectly priced, huge, and absolutely mouth-watering to live up to it's size.
Next up was the main meal which we devoured too quickly to take a picture. A roasted half-chicken with herbed fingerling potatoes and a marinated cucumber salad. Absolutely delicious. Our last course was the gelatto, and, wow, did we have gelatto. They were HUGE, and incredible. His was strawberry and lemon and absolutely divine, tasting exactly like strawberries and lemon. The combination of the two makes me want to go back for more immediately.
Mine was delicious, as well. Chocolate and hazelnut combined to make my own perfect Nutella tasting gelatto. I was in heaven every bite, per the usual for gelattos that pass my quality requirement bar.
It was an amazing day. And to think it all started because I was upset I didn't have time planned with Brando this weekend. Instead of being upset about it all weekend, I came up with an itinerary for us to do if indeed we ended up having time together. When my nephew was available to hang out with the boys all day on Sunday instead of having to drag them along with us to the vineyards, it worked out absolutely perfectly. Brando and I both were blown away at the end of the day by how we felt like we had a weekend retreat alone just from the pure beauty, serenity, beautiful drives, and delicious food of the afternoon.

Probably not having wine helped the feeling of relaxation and elation without any fogginess. As our previous wine tasting experience was fabulous, but did not end so well -- see the bottom of the post here -- we merely enjoyed the scenery, views, and food, and didn't participate in any wine tastings. This was a vineyard tour, not a winery tour, and though I can't speak with authority on the tastes of the wine, I can tell you that the places we went to are very well known for their delicious wines, and from personal observation, the people at the places we went to were sure enjoying the tastings.

This is my (over the top per usual) entry for Uniquely Your City. Please see my updated information regarding a monthly deadline and format for Uniquely Your City, and share your own post about your favorite unique place in your city or a city you've visited by Tuesday at midnight. As you can see from my entry, the post does not have to be posted on Tuesday, although it should have been posted within the last month.


Sonya said...

I'm not a wine drinker but I love vineyards so this post really appealed to me. Such beautiful scenery!

a tall sassy gal said...

I have been wanting to do that wine trail for a couple years now. Seeing your pictures really makes me want to do this!

Pink Sun Drops said...

Sonya - It was so nice to tour without having to worry about a DD, as well!

Tall Sassy Gal - Same here. I finally got up the gumption to just do it! Let me know if you end up coming to town - we'd love to get together with you and B!


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