Valentine’s Day is right around the corner and this time of year, there’s a lot of pressure on guys like me to be “romantic”. Romance doesn't come naturally to me, but my lady is worth my best effort so, every February, I make sure to remember the flowers, the chocolates and the fancy restaurant reservation. A bit predictable, I know, but she always appreciates it. Last year, though, I kicked it up a notch. I surprised my wife with a weekend in Texas Wine Country. She is a real wine-lover and it had been many years since we had done a winery trip so it seemed like the perfect Valentine's getaway.
There is a reason why wineries are often chosen for proposals, weddings and honeymoons: the romance quotient is over the top! The grounds are always beautiful, overlooking acres of grapes, with secluded spots along the walkways and secret gardens. The air smells earthy and fruity. Each winery has its own look – rustic, modern, European – its own mood and its own story. Many of them have B&Bs on the premises, adding another layer to the romantic atmosphere. My wife and I have great memories of strolling hand in hand among the vines, dancing to the music of a guitar duo and clinking our wine glasses together making a secret toast to each other.
There are two ways to experience a winery tour: a self-guided driving trip or a professional tour company. We were staying in Fredricksburg so, on our first day, we got a map (like this one) and decided to just drive east along Rt. 290. We started out at Chisolm Trail Winery and had a great lunch, followed by a tasting of their wonderful reds and whites (tastings are usually priced at about $5 for 5 samples). If you decide to drive in your own car, you need to have a plan. Either select a designated driver or do what I did: spit! First, you inhale the scent of the wine from the glass, then take a sip and swish it around your palette. Then, you *ahem* spit it out. The first time, I admit I felt a bit self-conscious and wondered how this was fitting into my romance plan. But soon, you realize everyone else is doing it and you don't think twice about politely spitting out your sip of wine into the buckets provided. We sipped and spat our way through about three more wineries that afternoon and really enjoyed exploring at our own pace, being spontaneous and taking as long as we liked at each location.
On the second day, we decided to try a tour company that specialized in the area's wineries. Heart of Texas Wine Country offers a choice of three routes leaving out of Marble Falls (about an hour northeast of Fredricksburg). This is a full day trip and you will spend time at around 5 different wineries. Our tour guide, Dale, was friendly and really knowledgeable about the area, the grapes that are growing there and the history of each of the wineries we visited. We enjoyed all the stops on our tour, but our favorites were Stone House Vineyard, which overlooks Lake Travis and provides breathtaking scenery and Bella Vista Ranch, a Tuscan-style farmstead which not only produces grapes and wine but also grows olives and produces their own olive oil. Although we enjoyed the previous day’s driving tour, it was nice leaving the keys to someone else and feeling free to taste – and swallow – the wine without worrying about unsafe driving.
Guys, if you want to surprise your Valentine with more than just a heart-shaped box and roses — or ladies, if you are in charge of the romance in your relationship — there’s a “wine country” in most regions of Texas. For starters, check this map to see if there’s a trail near where you live or plan to vacation. There are all sorts of Valentine's Day events going on, from gourmet winery dinners, B&B "romance packages", to wine and chocolate pairings, even a special, limited edition wine called "Valentine" from Bernhardt Winery.
All the wines we tasted were fantastic. We brought home many bottles of reds and whites, at least one from every vineyard we visited and, although I’m usually a beer guy, I have to say I have enjoyed opening each of those bottles throughout the year and revisiting the tastes, the memories and, yes, the romance of that Valentine’s Day vacation.