Deep in the heart of the Hill Country of Texas is a destination for all seasons — Fredericksburg and surrounding communities in Gillespie County. Located about an hour’s drive from San Antonio, a bit longer from Austin, no matter what time of year you choose to visit this part of Central Texas, your eyes, stomach, and spirit will be filled to overflowing. The area’s special brand of Texas hospitality and strong German heritage combine to create a unique sense of gemütlichkeit wherever you go.
Springtime is bluebonnet season
When I learned I’d be visiting Fredericksburg in early April, I knew bluebonnets, the blue wildflower that blankets fields throughout the Hill Country in springtime, would be nearing their peak. When I lived in the Dallas area, I looked forward to driving through a bluebonnet trail 35 miles south of the city in Ennis, TX, every spring, but I hadn’t laid eyes on them since leaving the Lone Star state seven years earlier.
“They’re as common as the yellow butterweed and wild mustard plants that cover vacant fields in my home state of Indiana,” I thought, as we traveled down a 45-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 290 from Fredericksburg to Johnson City, Texas. But these blue beauties are not weeds.
Bluebonnets were designated the Texas State flower way back in 1901. They’re in the lupine family, and although other types of lupines grow in more northern climates, the Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis) and several other closely related varieties, can only be found in Texas and other Southern states. Other wildflowers often mixed among the bluebonnets include red-orange hued Indian paintbrush, yellow buttercups and pink evening primrose, also called pink ladies.
Our gratitude, in large part, should go to Lady Bird Johnson and the Highway Beautification Act of 1965 for this seasonal floral explosion. Wildflower seeds planted along roadways throughout the Hill Country and in other parts of the U.S. continue to bring enjoyment, and, as Lady Bird once said, “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.”
Wildflowers and wine at Wildseed Farms
Wildflower lovers, do not miss visiting Wildseed Farms, the largest working wildflower farm and seed producer in the U.S. Forty-one species of wildflowers native to southern climes are grown on the 200-acre farm located on U.S. Highway 290 near Fredericksburg. Purchase seeds from the flowers they grow, along with other items in the gift shop. Wander the walking trails, take photos of fields of Texas bluebonnets, poppies and other seasonal wildflowers, grab some refreshments, and visit the on-site wine tasting room for Wedding Oak vineyards.
Wildseed Farms owner, John Thomas, says: “Mid-April is the best time to see bluebonnets and other wildflowers in full bloom.”
There’s plenty to “wine” about
The word is getting out about Texas Hill Country wines… The region was named #6 among the top 10 winners in USA Today’s 10 Best in the Reader’s Choice awards – wine region category for 2018.
Did you know?
- The Texas Hill County is the second fastest growing wine destination in the U.S. Napa Valley, California, is number one.
- Wine Enthusiast magazine named Texas Hill Country among its “Ten Best Wine Travel Destinations” in 2014.
- Texas is the nation’s fifth largest wine-producing state, but most of it is consumed within the state.
With more than 40 wineries and tasting rooms in Fredericksburg and Gillespie County, visit a different winery every day for a month and you will still have more to explore. During my visit, I sampled wines at four of 19 wineries that are part of Wine Road 290, located on a 45-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 290 from Johnson City to Fredericksburg.
Becker Vineyards, one of the Hill Country’s oldest wineries, was established in 1992 by endocrinologist Dr. Richard Becker and his wife, Bunny. It is the third largest in the Lone Star state, producing over 100,000 cases per year. Becker Vineyards wines have been served in the White House to multiple U.S. presidents and at James Beard Foundation dinners. Although many of its wines are distributed throughout the state of Texas, most of those included in tastings at the winery are winery exclusive — even more reason to visit in person.
After finishing our tasting at a wisteria vine-covered patio outside the main tasting room, we strolled through rows of lavender fields a few steps away. An annual lavender festival is held the first weekend in May; soaps, sachets, lotions and other products made from this lovely perennial herb are available in the tasting room.
Pedernales Cellars, owned by a sixth-generation Texas family and established in the early 1990s, specializes in Spanish and Rhone style wines using 100% Texas grapes. Tempranillo, Spain’s biggest red wine grape, makes up about half of the estate’s vineyard.
Signor Vineyards, situated where the Pedernales River Valley meets Grape Creek, invites guests to visit its Tasting Room, located inside the Vineyard Estate House. Sample Signor’s Chardonnay, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Roussanne and Viognier while learning how the Signor and Weisinger families — neighbors and friends since the 1950s — joined forces to become winemakers. An idea first discussed in 2014 has now become a reality.
Narrow Path Winery began making wine in the early 2000s using grapes from a one-acre estate vineyard. The first harvest ended in an old-fashioned grape stomp with friends and family. Narrow Path has developed into an excellent small batch winery using grapes from its own vineyard, as well as select Texas and California vineyards. The name is meaningful to its founder, Bob Turbeville, who chose it from a Biblical passage. Questions about the winery’s name allow him to share his faith and his belief that everyone follows their own path in life.
Eight wineries have tasting rooms in downtown Fredericksburg: Main Street Wineries and Tasting Rooms
No “designated driver?” No worries! You can arrange for a limo tour of the wine country through Fredericksburg Wine Tours.
Summertime is prime peach season in the Hill Country. Gillespie County (Fredericksburg is the county seat) is one of the largest peach-producing counties in Texas. Mineral-rich soil and climate conditions make the area excellent for growing peaches, as well as grapes for wine. While peaches are usually at their peak from mid-May through early August, visitors can take part in the annual JAMboree Peach Festival and Rodeo the third weekend in June.
On our first evening in Fredericksburg, we dined outdoors in a picturesque setting at Fischer & Wieser’s Das Peach Haus, overlooking a lake and a peach orchard dating back to 1928. Founded in 1969 as a roadside peach stand, the business has grown to become the #1 gourmet food store in Texas, offering a line of cooking sauces, salsas, jams, jellies, appetizers, pasta sauces, and soups. A Culinary Adventure Cooking School was added in 2016 and a wine tasting room in 2017.
History and heritage
When you’re all “wined” out, there is still plenty to see and do in the Fredericksburg area. Much of it is related to its German heritage, including the Pioneer Village and Vereins Kirche Museum, which we visited on a walking tour of Fredericksburg’s downtown area. Free self-guided walking tour maps of the district are available at the main Visitor Information Center.
Even though the wineries are a major draw for tourists, the National Museum of the Pacific War and the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site, including the Texas White House at the LBJ Ranch, are additional must-see attractions while visiting the Hill Country.
The National Museum of the Pacific War was established in 1967 as the Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz Museum. Nimitz was a Fredericksburg native who was Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Forces in World War II. The Museum has been expanded over the years to become the only one of its kind dedicated to telling the story of the Pacific and Asiatic Theaters in World War II.
Gillespie County’s most famous son was Lyndon Baines Johnson, our 36th President, who was born and raised in Stonewall and lived at his ranch following his presidency until his death.
Where I stayed
I found my first bluebonnet patch on the grounds of my accommodation in a “Sunday Haus” cottage at the Fredericksurg Herb Farm, four blocks from the main shopping district.
Fourteen one-bedroom “Sunday Haus” cottages await guests. They are patterned after those built by German settlers who would come into town on the weekend to buy provisions and attend church services. Painted in pastels, each cottage has a front porch with old-fashioned rocking chairs, providing a peaceful place to relax between activities during your stay. Take a 360 degree virtual tour.
While I didn’t have time to schedule a treatment in the on-site Spa, I’d love to do so on a return trip. I checked out the treatment rooms and enjoyed using the herb-based products provided for guests in the cottages. Walk through the herb gardens, and dine in the Farm Haus Bistro for breakfast, lunch, weekend brunch or dinner. Menus feature whatever is freshest and inspired by freshly picked herbs from the gardens.
More than 1,200 guesthouses and bed and breakfasts, 1,100 bookable hotel/motel rooms and a number of RV campsites are available. Check out additional lodging options on the Visit Fredericksburg site here.
Where to dine:
August E’s, serving Nouveau Texas Cuisine since 2004, features steak, seafood and sushi, with a full Thai menu every Tuesday.
The Cabernet Grill – Texas Wine Country Restaurant, named one of “America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants 2018” by Wine Enthusiast, serves locally-sourced Hill Country cuisine featuring a wine list of more than 100 all-Texas vintages.
Altstadt Brewery, Fredericksburg’s newest brewery (opened Summer 2018), has wine on the menu, too. Tour this authentic Bavarian brewery and then enjoy great German food.
For more info:
Thank you to the Fredericksburg CVB and the restaurants, wineries, attractions and accommodations for their hospitality in hosting me along with other writers during our visit in April 2019. (Featured image – Bluebonnets at Sunset © Fredericksburg CVB)