What Napa Valley is to San Francisco, Fredericksburg, Texas, is to big-city neighbors San Antonio and Austin: a gem of a getaway where visits to the area’s 50 wineries provide a bucolic break. Snuggled in the rolling Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg traces its roots back to 120 Germans who founded the town in 1846 under the auspices of the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas. Today this city of just over 11,000 people is a destination in its own right, chock-full of natural and man-made attractions—wine perhaps foremost among them.
Wine tasting rooms tuck in among the shops along Main Street, but to truly experience the Hill Country AVA (American Viticultural Area) that wraps its arms around Fredericksburg, you’ll need to head for Wine Road 290, where 17 wineries cluster amid the undulating hills. With more than 9,000,000 acres, Hill Country is the largest AVA in Texas, and the second-largest in the United States.
Though German settlers vinted wine from the area’s native Mustang grapes, the modern wine industry didn’t take root until the 1990s. The Beckers and the Kuhlkens were among the first families to spirit the revival of the Hill Country wine industry more than two decades ago.
Dr. Richard Becker, an endocrinologist who practices in San Antonio, and his wife, Bunny, had no background in wine when they planted their first vines in 1992—other than the fact they enjoyed drinking it. They were advised to keep their operation small: “No one’s interested in wines from Texas,” they were told. Yet from their first harvest in 1995, which yielded only enough grapes to make 2,500 cases of wine, the winery has grown to be the third-largest in Texas, with an annual production of 120,000 cases.
The Beckers crafted what they like to drink, focusing on Bordeaux and Rhone varietals including an award-winning 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve and 2016 Reserve Merlot, as well as Viognier—Dr. Becker’s favorite white and one of their best sellers. “It’s the Beckers’ attention to detail in the winemaking and growing processes that makes their wines stand out,” says Nichole Bendele, the winery’s public relations and tasting room coordinator, “and the fact that they don’t cut corners.” Scattered around Becker’s limestone winery building are 56 acres of vineyards and three acres of lavender that make for a photogenic visit in early summer.
Located in the Bell Mountain AVA nearby, Kuhlken Vineyards followed Becker in 1995. Former IBM computer programmers who met while working on NASA’s Apollo 11 project, Larry and Jeannine Kuhlken retired in Fredericksburg to start a vineyard. In 2006, the couple’s children, Julie and David, left their respective jobs to complement the vineyard with a winery. They set Pedernales Cellars in the Hill Country AVA, naming it for the lovely river valley the winery overlooks. With Julie managing the tasting room, wine club, and events, and David as the winemaker, they produce 15,000 cases of handcrafted, small-lot wines a year from varietals that thrive in the Hill Country. About half of what they grow is Tempranillo, the backbone of their family reserve wines.
“Dave focuses on the structure and finish,” notes Julie, “and that was a shift in winemaking in both Texas and the Hill Country.” When Pedernales opened, her brother refused to make a sweet red, preferring to specialize in dry, old-world-style wine. Their 2012 Viognier Reserve took top honors at the Lyon International Wine Competition in France.
Back in town, evidence of Fredericksburg’s German heritage appears everywhere, from downtown’s brick-paved Marktplatz (Market Square) to the biergartens that dot the 3.5-mile stretch of Main Street (Hauptstrasse). The site of seasonal festivals and farmers markets, the Marktplatz holds a replica of the eight-sided Vereins Kirche (“society church” in German), originally constructed in 1847 to serve as a church, town hall, schoolhouse, and fort for settlers. Just steps away, the Maibaum (Maypole) displays eight levels of whimsical figures that limn the town’s frontier history.
The Pioneer Museum, two blocks west, marks the original settlement and holds a collection of nineteenth-century structures that illustrate how the early Germans lived on their new land. Buildings include a Sunday House, a one-room dwelling German farmers built as a place to stay in town during weekend trips to Fredericksburg to attend church. More recent history is preserved downtown at the National Museum of the Pacific War, the only institution in the continental United States dedicated exclusively to the Pacific Theater in World War II.
At day’s end, whether you spend it tasting wine, immersing yourself in history, or browsing Main Street’s many fine shops, celebrate your vinicultural vacation in town with a marvelous German-accented meal and a bottle of Hill Country wine.
Fredericksburg Herb Farm // A spa, a bistro, and landscaped gardens add to the appeal of the Herb Farm, where a clutch of 14 comfy cottages—each with an inviting front porch—recall the city’s historic Sunday Houses. 405 Whitney, Fredericksburg; (830) 997-8615
Emma + Ollie // For a memorable breakfast, head to this little bakery where chef/owner Rebecca Rather turns out scrumptious morning fare including fried-to-order beignets and organic eggs folded into freshly baked croissants. 607 S Washington St, Fredericksburg; (830) 383-1013
Otto’s German Bistro // Alsatian flammkuchen and duck schnitzel with spätzle will give you a signature taste of the carefully crafted farm-to-table cuisine at Otto’s. 316 E Austin St, Fredericksburg; (830) 307-3336
Wildseed Farms //America’s largest working wildflower farm is the place to be in early spring, when the fields burst into bloom with vivid bluebonnets, the Texas State flower, and the scarlet spikes of Indian paintbrush. 100 Legacy Dr, Fredericksburg; (800) 848-0078
Wine Road 290 // Both Becker Vineyards and Pedernales Cellars lie along this 45-mile wine trail, which runs from Fredericksburg to Johnson City.