Fall is peak season for visiting wineries and vineyards. The weather is mild, and the vines are flourishing right here in central Texas. You may be surprised to learn of the pedigree and history of wine here in the lone star state. Keep reading for some helpful tips on how to make the most of your winery visit!
Franciscan priests began to plant grapevines near El Paso in the 1650s, with European settlers bringing additional grapevine cuttings in the 1800s, according to the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association. That tradition of importing grapevines from Europe continues, with modern Texas wineries using European varietals to push the boundaries for quality and win international awards.
At Valley Mills Vineyards, the largest winery in the greater Waco area, the European grape of choice is Tempranillo. Tempranillo, also called “the noble grape of Spain”, was one of the original selections made by Dr. John Bagnasco in 2006 when he first began researching what it would take to plant a vineyard. He chose Tempranillo for the quality of the resulting wines as well as for the hardiness and resilience of the grapevines. Dr. Bagnasco’s vineyard flourished, and Tempranillo remains the cornerstone of the wine program at Valley Mills Vineyards, the family-business that he founded.
“My father wanted to see if he could produce a world-class wine here in Texas”, says Joey Bagnasco, John’s son and the GM of the winery. Two years ago, the original block of Tempranillo that John planted in Valley Mills produced a wine that garnered serious attention. The 2014 Tempranillo from Valley Mills Vineyards took home a double-gold medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the largest competition of domestic wines in North America, as well as a gold medal at the Texsom International Wine Awards in Dallas. The latter award placed it amongst the top four wines in the world in its category.
You can visit the vineyard that produced this classic wine just twenty minutes west of Waco! Valley Mills Vineyards is open every day 12-6 PM, offering a range of wines all grown and made here in Texas as well as daily menu options from their kitchen. Their new Estate Winery also serves as a venue for weddings and private events. You do not need an appointment to drop by their tasting room!
Tips when Visiting a Winery
No matter where in the world you are, set yourself up for a great winery experience by remembering a few simple tips:
First, check the hours before visiting a winery. Wineries often keep daytime hours for their tasting rooms and are rarely open late. You can expect a lively crowd on weekends and a more low-key and personal experience on weekdays.
Second, while wineries are generally free to visit, they typically charge a small tasting fee for you to sample wine (typically $10-20 here in Texas). However, it is common practice for a winery to waive its tasting fee if you make a significant purchase.
Third, pace yourself. If you’re planning a day-trip, visit no more than three wineries in a day, and include a substantial meal. Wine is meant to be enjoyed with food.
Finally, get yourself some VIP treatment! Wineries generally go out of their way to accommodate customers who make purchases by the bottle (or case), but you don’t have to be a big spender to get the staff’s attention. Ask lots of questions about the vineyard and winery. Better yet, bring a notebook with you on your next winery visit and conspicuously scribble some notes during your tasting. You’ll be amazed at the level of service you are met with…
Valley Mills Vineyards is available to rent for private events, such as weddings, receptions, etc. They also hold some in-house events for wine club members, including their annual harvest party.
“We contact our wine club members to come help pick grapes, and last year we had 80-100 people come out and help pick grapes,” Bagnasco said. “I feel like there’s a hunger for people to get outside in nature, around an agricultural product.”