Weddings at The Vineyard at Florence hark back to an unhurried age, when horse-drawn carriages ferried couples to the ceremony, guests stayed in villas overlooking verdant rows of grapes, and the next morning began with a dip in the infinity pool. The sprawling venue embraces this mix of old-world Italy and modern luxury. Intricate stonework on the Tuscan inns contrasts with the sleek lines of its gym equipment, and the murmurs of a spring-fed creek accompany live musical performances in the amphitheater.
Guests needn't be getting married to explore the setting—there are single-day excursions such as the Sunday yoga class. Of course, estate wines remain a prime focus for the staff and the vineyard's visitors, with tastings held most Thursdays and weekends inside the Villa Firenze, where contemporary culture mingles with antiquated charm. Italian decor and architecture typify the rustic interior, though its main hallways give way to galleries where local artists can exhibit their work. Gigantic wooden barn beams grace the ceiling in the traditional wine shop, and the outer decks afford views of the polo field alongside the arbors and herb gardens.
Rather than preserve their slice of countryside with uninterrupted quiet or a colossal snow-globe dome, the vineyard's tenants strive to fill the hills with life. They host classes on topics from pairing wines to organic farming, and welcome diners to sample handcrafted confections at Bissinger's Chocolate Experience and Café. Bands fill the wine-tasting room with new rhythms each week, and festivals such as the Harvest Celebration Weekend—where attendees can glimpse stone carvers at work and dine on homegrown cuisine—imbue the rural expanse with a close sense of community.
Around harvest time on Rising Star Vineyards' verdant acres, vines of chardonnay, merlot, and other Old-World grapes hang heavy, ready for their transformation into the small-batch wines the vineyard is famous for. As detailed in the Abilene Reporter-News, the grapes are trellised several feet off the ground, which owner Michael Oubre says “produces superior fruit” for their distinctive blends of Old-World flavor and Texan style. Their Salado cheesery and tasting room serves salads and sandwiches on locally baked bread for lunch, while vending cheese and other sundries exclusively made by Texas producers. In addition to cheese plates featuring fresh chevre from Bonney Goat Cheeses and Watonga flavored cheddars, the shop serves frozen wine margaritas to sip as talismans against the Samarian curses of the hot sun. The winery also holds regular wine-education and tasting classes, from a basic Wine 101 session to a food-and-wine-pairing session.
In 2006, Craig Pinkley traveled to Napa Valley. It started as a business trip, but after a VIP tour of an established winery and a symphony of glass clinks, Pinkley's adventure ended with a career wakeup call. Grapes were his passion, so he set out to make them his coworkers.
Pinkley studied every aspect of wine—"from land, to vine, to vinification"—before deciding on Pilot Knob Vineyard's locale, where rainfall drains ideally and soil presents a balanced mix of nutrients. Spanning 112 acres and perched on a ridge overlooking Texas hill country, Pilot Knob takes its name from an extinct volcano nearby and serves as a romantic location for weddings and events. At Pilot Knob's tasting room, guests can sample the vineyard's wines amid stone fireplaces, high ceilings, and ample windows or step outside to the wraparound porch for far-reaching vistas of the surrounding countryside.
While it is easy to spot some of Kingdom Chauffeured Limousine Services' fleet of vehicles—such as a stretch limo transporting a bridal party or headed on a tour of wine country—some of their most impressive cars fit in any old parking space. The drivers spend most of their days catering to regular business travelers, ferrying them around town in the less elongated, yet more pronounced, style of a Mercedes Benz S550, Cadillac Escalade ESV, or Rolls Royce Phantom.
Most of the vehicles have tinted privacy glass for passengers, as well as pristinely maintained leather seats. Additionally, the stretch limousines boast privacy dividers, a premium sound system, and room for up to ten passengers or one extremely happy passenger and all of the stuffed animals he won at the carnival.
The staff at Texas Winos brings out the fun and unconventional side of wine. Eager to share their passions, they take guests to the state's finest vineyards, allowing tour-goers a behind-the-scenes look at the winemaking process while meeting new friends. Hands-on experiences include primers on how to expertly taste wine as guides expound on the vagaries of the fermentation process and explain exactly where baby grapes come from. Holiday-themed tours inject festive seasonal glee into tours, with special events on fetes such as Cinco de Mayo and Bastille Day.
Benefitting The Paladin Group, which supports the Hill County Children’s Advocacy Center, and attended to by Sullivan Street Caterers, A Spicewood Affair proffers elegant fare for patrons to nibble on in a dining area surrounded by rich woods and accented with sunlit golden curtains. Past feasts catered by Sullivan Street have included such morsels as tortilla-crusted catfish bites and tri-colored pepper salad. After lunch, diners can squeeze in holiday shopping while strolling around vendor tables that boast antler tableware, custom Christmas cards, and jewelry, among other offerings. Live acoustic and Christmas music pervades the air as attendees chat, mingle, and swap secret scout-troop handshakes. Guests are free to wander in and out at their whim, and can enjoy the amenities at any time during the event, which benefits the Hill County Children's Advocacy Center with their proceeds.