What’s better than “A day at the fair?” Today was the 20th anniversary of the Fredericksburg Wine and Food Fest in Fredericksburg, Texas. Fredericksburg is the epicenter of the exploding and now widely recognized Texas Hill Country Wine Trail, about 70 miles from either Austin or San Antonio. A long time tourist destination, Fredericksburg was in my youth, better known for growing some of the sweetest and juiciest peaches known to mankind. They send Georgia peaches home cryin’ every time.
Over the last ten years wineries have sprouted like bluebonnets all across the Hill Country. There are close to 40 of the 200 wineries in Texas along the roads of this picturesque area. Are all the wines good? No. But as a whole they improve each year and some Voiginers and Tempranillos, in my opinion, have made it to “Damn, that’s Tasty!” status. There are an ever increasing number of acres in the region dedicated to grapes but most of the Hill Country wineries import grapes from other parts of Texas more conducive to predictable grape farming. Some wineries even import “foreign” grapes from the left coast. For the record, the sales of wine made from non-Texas grapes are restricted and labeled “For Sale in Texas Only.”
We moved away from Austin in 1996 but we did attend the Fredericksburg Wine and Food Fest was in 1993 and 1994 with a group of old friends. I recall being far more interested in the food and music because the wine was, well, mostly bad. We moved from vintner to vintner in search a wine I could deem simply “drinkable.”
A lot has changed since 1995. The two most notable today are that my hairline has receded, a lot, and these Texas wines have improved, a lot. One of the bonuses of attending the Festival is the opportunity to taste wines from across this big state that never make it past winery tasting rooms and local wine shops.
We arrived at the festival in the early afternoon under threatening skies which ultimately only produced a few power plopping sprinkles. The fist change we noticed was the sidewalks of the town and the festival itself were packed with people anxious to sample Texas wines from the 25 wineries represented. We tried to stay away from our known favorites like Fall Creek Vineyards, Becker Vineyards, Grape Creek Vineyards, McPherson Cellars and Pedernales Cellars so we could sample some unfamiliar wines. Many of the wines available were those “For Sale in Texas Only” wines which we tried to pass in favor of Texas grapes. In fairness to those wineries, the 2007-2009 growing seasons in Texas were very rough due to an extended drought and other weather issues forcing many to buy grapes from souces outside of Texas.
Out in the festival there were plenty of tents with wonderful Texas goodies like hot sauce, glassware painted with Bluebonnets, wine barrel furniture and kitchen accessories and candies. One interesting addition is the increasing number of Texas olive oil producers. It seems that olive trees do very well in central Texas. Cooking demonstrations sent wonderful flavors across the event and live music filled the air.
As with any Texas festival there were school and charity fundraisers going on as well as a live auction. The auctioneer was as Texas as it gets, complete with cowboy hat, jeans, boots and a knee slapping sense of humor. The highlight was the auctioning of the original painting used in the festival poster; a red cardinal perched upon a Texas grapevine, pregnant with purple grapes. The auctioneer had the lubricated crowd very energized. As the price exceeded $1,000 he began to strut his Texas stuff to Wild Thing blasting on the sound system. This really got the crowd hootin’ and hollerin’ and the painting went for $1,800.
After sampling from the unfamiliar vintners, we found that the overall quality of Texas wine had improved but not many really had a “Wow” factor. Our favorite from this group came from Sister Creek Vineyards. This 2007 red blend of Cabernet, Merlot, Sagiovese and Malbec was nicely balanced and smooth with some decent tannin structure. While we were assured by a winery representative that the wine was 100% Texas grapes, it did carry the “For Sale in Texas Only” label.
As the sun grew low in the Texas sky we settled in on a picnic table with some new friends for a little country music. By then our glasses were filled with our tried and true Texas winners like Becker Voiginer, Fall Creek Granite Cabernet, Pedernales Cellars Tempranillo and McPherson Tre Colores. It was a good day at the fair.