Texas Hill Country Wineries Founding Members
Texas Hill Country Wineries Founding Members Celebrate 20 Years.
In October, we celebrated 20 years of Texas Hill Country Wineries Association. We have Gary Gilstrap of Texas Hills Vineyard, one of our founding members, to thank for pointing out that we couldn’t pass up our platinum anniversary without a celebration. We spent the night at Luckenbach Dance Hall looking back, sharing memories, sipping on some of our favorite Texas wines and dancing the night away. The weather might have been dreary, but our spirits were high as we reminisced over the last two decades.
Texas Hill Country Wineries was founded with 8 winery members in 1999. Their goal was to promote their wineries and tasting rooms while bringing attention to Texas Winemaking. Over the years we’ve seen our group grow from 8 to 16, 24, 32, 42 and now close to 60 winery members! We might have grown, but our purpose is still the same as Texas Hill Country Wineries founding members. We aim to promote the development of the member wineries in the Texas Hill Country AVA while bringing overall awareness to the Texas Wine industry. As part of the efforts to increase traffic to the tasting rooms, the original members created 5 unique wine trails. We are proud to say that THCW still hosts 4 of those original events. In 2015, a scholarship fund was created with a portion of event ticket sales going towards Texas students who are working towards a degree or certification in a field related to the wine industry. Every year at the Texas Hill Country Wineries Symposium we present the scholarships to the recipients. We revel in the diversity and passion of our members, who work to create a spectacular experience for the weekend visitor or wine lovers to share!
Texas Hill Country Wineries would not be where it is today without those who support the growth of Texas Wine and our founding members. Let’s take a look back and see where they started and where they are now.
Texas Hill Country Wineries Founding Members
When the Beckers first moved to the Texas Hill Country, they weren’t looking to start a winery. Bunny Becker, a speech therapist, and her husband, Dr. Richard Becker, a fourth-generation Texan, and endocrinologist, were looking for a weekend getaway haven that needed little maintenance. The Beckers purchased a cabin with a sprawling 46 acres of raw land, planted with native mustang grapes, a long-beloved component of the local German heritage. Both Richard and Bunny had enjoyed gardening and took on the challenge of opening a commercial vineyard. In 1992, the first plantings were placed in the ground with the help of friends and family. The first harvest took place in 1995 and laid the foundation for Becker Vineyards. It could be argued that Becker Vineyard’s success can be traced back to Bunny Becker’s willingness to take risks. She was the first to plant Viognier grapes in Texas even though it meant going against other’s well-seasoned advice. A pioneer in her own right, we said goodbye to Bunny Becker this past Spring, and there is no denying she left her mark. Today, Becker Vineyards produces just over 100,000 cases of wine per year and has grown from 46 acres to 308 acres.
Chisholm Trail Winery, owned by Paula K. Williamson, who is also the winemaker. Chisholm Trail Winery opened its doors in 2001 and now boasts 103 acres of land. 80-acres are dedicated to ranch land with 23-acres dedicated to the vineyard. It is home to “The Spirit of the Old West,” and you’ll see longhorn cattle and quarter horses roaming the property. Even the winery’s 12,000 square foot tasting room has a western theme, and you can almost imagine yourself stepping into a Western saloon.
Ed and Susan Auler, are one of the founding families of the Texas Wine Industry. They started Fall Creek Vineyards in 1975 after an inspiring trip to The French Wine Country. Two years after their trip to France, the Auler’s planted their first test plot, and Fall Creek Vineyards was born. The Auler’s are proudly the pioneers of Texas Wine and they set make Texas an internationally recognized wine region. Ed Auler, who was previously a lawyer, put his legal practice knowledge to good use by aiding in writing early laws regulating Texas Wine. Ed created the “Texas Hill Country” appellation, which was certified by federal law in 1990. Susan Auler created the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival, as a promotional tool to place the Texas Hill Country on the map. Through her wine promotional efforts, Susan was named One of the Top 50 People in the Wine World by Wine & Vines magazine. The winery now has several vineyards located across the state in places like Driftwood, Voca, Tow, and West Texas north of Big Bend.
Flat Creek Estate opened on Valentine’s Day 2002. Founders, Rick and Madelyn Naber moved to the Hill Country after Rick’s retirement. They quickly noticed that the region was growing and thriving as more and more people moved to the Hill Country. The couple purchased an 80-acre parcel of property and committed to using the land for sustainable agriculture. The Naber’s turned to fellow winemakers in the region like The Auler’s of Fall Creek Vineyards, Edward and Madeleine Manigold, founders of Spicewood Vineyards, and Gary Gilstrap of Texas Hills Vineyard for advice. Since then, Flat Creek Estate has become a destination winery with their very own bistro, a new tasting and barrel room, private tasting rooms, and a disc golf course.
Fredericksburg Winery is owned and operated by the Switzer Family. The winery first opened in May of 1996 and was recently named one of the top three producers in Texas by USA Today. Fredericksburg Winery specializes in making dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet, sweet and even one-step further late harvest dessert wines. The winery produces, on average, 7,000 to 9,000 cases a year. Their 10,600 square foot facility handles the fermentation, filling, corking, and labeling is all done right there. Customers can watch the process while sipping on wine in the tasting room.
Pillar Bluff Vineyards was founded in 1999 by Gill Bledsoe, with the intent to create and specialize in French wines. The grapes grown at Pillar Bluff Vineyards are known as the “the five noble grapes of Bordeaux,” which include Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. White varietals include Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Viognier. Gill chose these varietals early on due to the makeup of the soil and limestone in the area. Today, Pillar Bluff Vineyards produces 1,200 to 1,400 cases of wine per year.
Sister Creek Vineyards has been producing award-winning wines for over 31 years, since 1988 they’ve been located in the Texas Hill Country. Bordeaux and Burgundy winemaking techniques are employed to produce their Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot wines. You’ll take notice of their tasting room, which is housed in an 1885 cotton gin. Sister Creek Vineyard‘s wines are traditional-aged in 60-gallon oak barrels for up to three years. In combination with barrel aging, minimal filtration methods are incorporated so the wines will retain their fullest flavors.
Owned by Gary and Kathy Gilstrap, Texas Hills Vineyards opened in 1999. After touring their current property and finding that the soil content was similar to the Tuscany region, the Gilstrap’s first planted their 10 acres of vines in 1995. Texas Hills Vineyards were one of the first to grow Pinot Grigio in Texas. They did not plant only Italian varieties but are home to Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio. The vineyard has now grown to 27 acres a year and produces around 16,000 cases of wine a year.
Wimberley Valley Winery has been producing fine Texas wine since 1983. The winery has always had an emphasis on creating a variety of fruit and seasonal wines. Over the years, the original winery has seen renovations and additions to support its continued growth. Wimberley Valley Winery first opened its tasting room in 2011 as the “dry” law for the county changed. The winery resides on 30 acres of land and is capable of storing and fermenting 25,000 gallons of wine.
There is no denying Texas wine is rich with history. We have all of our founding members to thank for how far Texas Hill Country wine has come. As we continue to grow, we look forward to the new wineries who will join us and the innovation they will bring to this industry. Cheers to the next 20 years and more!