You probably know the Hill Country for its natural beauty — winding streams, fields of prairie grasses and wildflowers, those characteristic rolling hills. But did you know that Texas’ fair heartland is also the #2 wine destination in the United States, second only to California’s Napa Valley?
In a big way, we’ve got hidden wine giant Texas Hills Vineyard to thank for that. Along with several neighboring wineries, THV masterminded both of the most popular self-guided wine trails that reel tourists into the Hill Country today: The Texas Wine Trail and Wine Road 290.
Gary and Kathy Gilstrap, two former pharmacists from Kansas and Minnesota, respectively, founded Texas Hills Vineyard and planted their 25-acre vineyard (which comprises 40% of THV’s grape quota per year) in 1995. Around that time, wineries were popping up like rain lilies after a storm because the word was out: the Hill Country might be hotter than wine capital Italy, but it’s got the same dirt.
“I’ve got chemical analysis of the soil from a friend of mine in Tuscany and his soil is exactly our composition,” Gary Gilstrap told Austin.com. “We don’t get the same great color because Tuscany is much cooler than us at night, which means their grapes put on thicker skins, but we get the same great flavors. I’ll put our Merlot up against anybody’s and our Cabernet has won gold medals against California Cabernets, hence the name ‘Kick Butt Cab.'”
And that’s not the only time that “Kick Butt Cab” has enjoyed the spotlight. It’s been the reigning champion of GrapeFest, the largest people’s vote wine festival in the world, for six years running. In fact, fans have even taken to submitting photographs of Kick Butt Cab and other THV favorites such Toro de Tejas in various locations as part of the winery’s “I Kicked Butt” photo campaign. For a midsize production winery, Texas Hills Vineyard has an impressive following — and their fans have good reason to be supportive. Not only is the company 100% committed to using only Texas grapes and “sustainable organic” growing methods, but THV also takes customer morale very seriously.
“When people walk in, even if we’re busy that day, we want them to be satisfied and happy,” said Gilstrap. “Not happy drunk, but happy that they came and wanting to bring people back. So, we’re careful with our wine prices and we make wines that are balanced and easy to drink.”
Besides their bestselling “Kick Butt” Cabernet Sauvignon and “Toro de Tejas” Tempranillo, Texas Hills Vineyard makes and sells 18 other wines — including Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Chenin Blanc, Sangiovese, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Moscato, Orange Moscato, Port Rubino, and Port Blanc — and each one has a unique story of its own.
You won’t find Texas Hills Vineyard bottles at your local HEB, but Spec’s has you covered. However, if you’re really curious, why not attend an upcoming wine trail event at THV such as Ragin Cajun Shrimp Fest on February 21 or Vino & Pasta on March 21? If you did that, then you would not only be able to taste THV’s delicious wines paired with foods catered by favorite local restaurants, but you would also get to enjoy the winery’s beautiful grounds, meet the Gilstraps, and shake paws with the company’s beloved mascot: Lilly, a 3 year-old chocolate lab.
Lilly might not be a wino, but between chasing squirrels and writing a column in THV’s Circolo Wine Club newsletters, she gives the best Texas-sized greetings, and that’s a fact.
Featured photo: Gary and Kathy Gilstrap, owners of Texas Hills Vineyard. Rebecca L. Bennett