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.
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.
Diners watch, transfixed, as a chef deftly chops, flips, and sears their meal in front of them while flames leap from the grill. This is Shogun Grill, where customers are often just a seat away from the culinary action.
The griddle-cooked teppenyaki dishes aren’t just for show, either. Packed with fresh chicken, steak, and vegetables, the entrees sate taste buds whose idea of a Japanese meal is more than just tipping a few soy-sauce packets into your mouth. The chefs also whip up fresh sushi starring salmon, eel, soft-shell crab, and smelt eggs.
Wine is an effective cure for ailments such as boredom, conversationitis, and pasta-mouth. At Dry Comal Creek, you’ll imbibe a wide range of home-bred, adult grape beverages that are complex and stimulating in a way that makes grape-juice boxes flush with jealousy. You and a friend will taste an array of 10 wines, from dry whites and reds to demi-sweet wines. The Mongrel Bastardo offers a tongueful of sweetness laced with pineapple and lemon, and Comal Red IX pairs perfectly with barbecue, lending its powerful bouquet of blackberry, cherry, and chocolate. With 10 educational palate-pleasers in your repertoire, you'll get one non-reserve bottle to take home.
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.