Forget Hill Country: Where to Find Wineries in Your Backyard - kcentv.com - KCEN HD - Waco, Temple, and Killeen

Forget Hill Country: Where to Find Wineries in Your Backyard

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(KCEN) - Forget Hill Country; central Texas has plenty to offer to wine drinkers.

"It's been an education," said Cathy Endres of Harker Heights. We talked to her at the sixth annual Texas Wine and Rogue Art Festival in Salado in March.

"I didn't even know we had central Texas vineyards," she said. "It's not really the place you'd think we have them."

That's one of the biggest difficulties for wineries here -- just getting the word out.

"A lot of people don't expect Salado and this area to have wineries that can compare to Fredericksburg," said Stephen Clifton with Dancing Bee Winery.

Dancing Bee, outside of Rogers, makes mead -- honey wine.

"It's for that sweet wine drinker," Clifton said. "The moscato drinkers tend to really like our wines."

And we're just getting started.

Gary McKibben owns Red Caboose, with wineries in both Clifton and Meridian. They make what they call "old world wines": no pesticides on their vineyards, no filtering, and none of that fancy electricity.

"Electricity's only been around for 120-something years, and wine's been around for 6,000 years," McKibben said.

You've also got Lily Lake Vineyards in Lorena, Salado Creek and Rising Star Wineries in Salado, The Vineyard at Florence and Inwood Estates in Florence, Texas Legato in Lampasas, Nolan Creek Winery in Belton -- the list goes on and on.

(CLICK HERE for an interactive map of wineries and vineyards in central Texas, including links to their Websites.)

But there's an issue for these up-and-comers: getting their wine in stores like Spec's that buy through big distributors.

Among the rows of wine from California's Napa Valley, you can find the occasional local bottles. Right now they are few and far between, but the demand for that local flavor is definitely growing.

"Every day and every week, I am getting more and more product in, listening to what the customers want, what they need, what I think would be interesting," said Meredith Meyer, the wine consultant for Spec's in Waco.

But that's also where independent sellers come in. June Ritterbusch owns Salado Winery and Salado Wine Seller. She's the one who hosted the wine fest last month.

"It's a way to travel in your own backyard," she said. "It's a way to go explore."

And the more people doing that exploring, the more the central Texas wine business grows.

"People are just trying some new stuff with their Texas wine," said Stephenie Kilgore of Messina Hof Winery in Bryan. "It's nice to see, and it's exciting to see what they're going to come up with."

And the wine-lovers are excited too.

"I know that I'll be looking for that wine now," Endres said.

With hundreds of new wineries starting up in Texas in the last decade, you can now take your pick from wine makers like John Bagnasco.

Walking around his vineyard with him, you get a sense for just how much he loves the work.

"If you can show me a prettier vineyard than this in the state of Texas, I want to come see it," said Bagnasco, who owns Valley Mills Vineyards.

And he really knows his land.

"What we've discovered here is this limestone-thick soil," he explained as we toured his acres of grape vines.

Rocky soil means lower fruit volumes, but better fruit -- and better wine. Then you've got the central Texas climate to work around.

"The hot-weather varietals are king," Bagnasco said.

Tempranillo grapes come from Spain originally. They do very well here, as do moscato grapes.

Valley Mills recently finished off planting its five acres. It's about 3,000 grape vines total, and each plant makes about a gallon of wine.

And once they make their wine, you can taste and buy it at their tasting room out Highway 6 past Lake Waco.

Head east down Highway 6, and you find Tehuacana Creek Vineyards.

"I made my first wine in 1974 when I was in college," said Tehuacana Creek winemaker Ulf Westblom.

That was back in Sweden; Westblom still has the last bottle from his very first batch on display in his tasting room here.

"You can only do so much as an amateur wine maker," he said, "and I wanted to have the resources to make great wines."

One of their dessert wines has won a couple awards, but one of their most popular is Mulsum, a white mixed with honey, the way the ancient Romans imbibed.

"It's one of those types of wines that people really love it," said Jerry Federico, a new business partner at Tehuacana Creek.

But getting people out to the winery to taste those wines is still a challenge. That's where Federico comes in.

"We're thinking about, you know, do we do an event center, do we expand the tasting room," he said.

It's a common problem for wineries here, especially with local liquor stores carrying mostly big-name wines.

That's got the folks at Valley Mills hoping the central Texas wine industry continues to grow, and maybe even challenge Hill Country with a wine trail of our own.

"I hope that happens," Bagnasco said. "We'll see. We'll see."

It'll probably take some time to build up the wine industry here, maybe even a generation or two.

But once it's there, wine makers hope it'll attract some tourism, the same way Hill Country does.
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