FREDERICKSBURG TOUR: DAY 3
You could spend another day of wine tasting at the vineyard estates on 290, east of Fredericksburg, but a better bet is to head the opposite direction for some unique experiences.
A scenic 15-minute drive from town will take you to Chisholm Trail Winery. This winery definitely has the best backstory: the Chisholm Trail was a legendary 19th-century route immortalized in western movies, country songs and early American poetry. The cattle trail stretched from the Texas-Mexico border all the way to Kansas. Texas had a surplus of longhorns (descendants of cattle brought over by the Spanish) at the time, so the cattlemen rounded up the livestock, cropped their ears, branded their hides and drove them to markets in the North. More than six-million longhorns were transported via the Chisholm Trail, making it the largest recorded animal migration in history. Though the railroad would end the glory of the Chisholm Trail, the story still evokes nostalgia for campfires, chuck wagon cookouts and cowboy life.
Along the twisting road leading up to Chisholm Trail Winery, loose longhorns graze, paying homage to their fabled ancestors. Upon entering the saloon-style tasting room, you may be tempted to order the "Round Up" — Texas-sized tastings of the entire list. Winemaker Paula Williamson gives every wine a backstory befitting the setting. The Belle Starr blanc du bois and the Madame Merlot are top choices for a dry white and red respectively. If not sold out, the popular Ghost Rider — a slightly sweet white Merlot — is the shade of the Texas sun. After enjoying an expansive vineyard vista from the corral and a friendly game of giant checkers, it's back in the saddle again.
On the way back through Frederickburg, make a downtown pit stop at Fredericksburg Winery, where the Switzer family operates a little winery that’s generated big acclaim — not that they’ll ever let it get to their head. “Oma” — German for grandmother — still applies the labels by hand, and while you’re sampling the Texas wines, you’ll likely learn a lot about the art of winemaking “without the pooh-pooh.” Be sure to try the dry Gewürztraminer or some Texas Chardonnay.
Stick on this side of town for lunch at West End Pizza, where, not surprisingly, signature pizzas are the calling card; pastas, sandwiches and soups are also worth your attention.
A half-block away is the center of town, home to the Marktplatz — or Market Square. The octagonal Vereins Kirche was the first public building of Fredericksburg, serving as a town hall, school, fort and church for all denominations. The German roots are also represented through the town’s Maibaum (Maypole), which were essential to German May Day festivities. This Maibaum was built in 1991 with figures on the crosspieces that symbolize the town’s history and community life. Across the street, the Pioneer Museum Complex houses an impressive collection of structures, including a family home, schoolhouse, smokehouse and barber shop that interprets early life in Texas with a variety of artifacts ranging from cooking utensils to medical instruments.
Now that you’ve walked off lunch, get back in the car to drive north on Highway 16 until you get to Bell Mountain Vineyards, the area's first government-designated appellation. Owner Robert Oberhelman is considered a pioneer of Lone Star wines, and his château-style tasting room is state of the art. Pinot Noir and Cabernet are well-liked, and the Riesling is a signature.
Since you’re about halfway there, you may want to continue heading north to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, one of the most popular attractions in the area. Hikers from all over the state come here for the geologic anomaly known as a batholith — a giant rounded dome of granite that suddenly pops out of the landscape. Give yourself at least an hour for a round-trip hike to the top of the smooth granite dome, where you’ll find exceptional panoramic views and oddly dotted plant life and pools of water.
After the short drive back to town, visit the National Museum of the Pacific War. This landlocked portion of Central Texas seems an odd location for such an impressive complex dedicated to the history and lessons of the Pacific-Asiatic Theater of world war — until, that is, you realize Fredericksburg is where Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz was born and raised. His boyhood home is also a museum adjacent to the complex. A highlight of the museum is the three-acre Pacific Combat Zone, a living history venue that truly immerses a visitor into the world our veteran heroes endured.
Save yourself time for one more dinner before heading out of town. The Rathskeller Restaurant is in the cellar of the old Fredericksburg hospital, which is cozier than it might sound. Prime rib or chicken with artichokes are two specialties, as are many German favorites, which have likely become favorites of yours by now, too.
On your way out of town, stop at Das Peach Haus, the homestead of Fisher & Wieser's extensive line of jams and jellies. While grape harvests are catching a few more headlines these days, peaches have long been the favorite of Fredericksburg farmers. A memorable peach cobbler is served here every day. Savor a slice on the patio in an idyllic farewell to Fredericksburg.
Holding on tightly to its German heritage but adaptive to the Texas landscape, Fredericksburg is much like those native grapes and the imported cuttings. Sometimes the best wines are blends. And undoubtedly, so are the best cultures. Come experience this unique corner of the world, where German traditions have been Texified, providing a new host to a California-style wine tour. Your first 72 hours in Fredericksburg may be the beginning of a new tradition spun into your own travel history.
For more information, visit the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, www.VisitFredericksburgTX.com
(Updated: 03/29/12 SB)