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.
Mouthwatering aromas of smoked pork and brisket commingle with the distinct smell of hops at Uncle Billy's Brew & Que, a barbecue spot that teams up delicious sandwiches and entrees with a signature collection of beers brewed on-site. Diners can bask in the sunlight on large patios while perusing the menu, which boasts such down-home favorites as a crisp fried-pickle starter ($6.99) and chicken-fried chicken ($9.99–$10.99) dappled with house-made gravy. Teeth chomp to the rhythms of live music on weekends, settling into a savory groove on Billy cheesesteak sandwiches ($7.99–$9.99) that pile brisket, pulled pork, or smoked chicken on a hoagie roll with queso, peppers and onions. Hearty appetites scale one-pound mountains of pork ribs ($9.99) and half-pound foothills of lean or moist brisket ($6.99–$8.79), which can be topped off with a snowy peak of beer foam (alcohol not included in this Groupon).
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.
Vino 100 serves cheeses and imaginative pasta dishes in its cozy storefront, with live entertainment on Thursdays and Fridays. Start off a meal with a cheese plate, bedecked with one to four types of dairy ($9/one cheese, $20/four). Choose from brie, fontina, Brazos Valley–smoked gouda, and a Brazos Valley cheese of the month. Small plates such as the artichoke dip with crab and spinach ($12) or the goat cheese with raspberry-chipotle sauce ($6) whet appetites and fill bellies to half capacity. Send hunger packing with a stick and bindle by ordering a filling entree such as the truffle-oil mac 'n' cheese ($8), brimming with four italian cheeses, black-forest ham, egg noodles, and a dusting of smoked gruyere. Or try a savory shrimp-and-sausage cheesecake ($12), crowned with a crawfish rémoulade instead of traditional whipped cream and cookies. Polish off the meal with delectable dessert ($6 each), such as the s'mores panini, a combination of marshmallow fluff, graham crackers, and Nutella, encased in a ciabatta bun and grilled to gooey goodness. Stay alert by downing an affogato, a scoop of vanilla-bean ice cream topped with espresso, ensuring you never again fall asleep during an all-cymbal band recital.
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.