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.
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.
After 22 years in the air force, Water 2 Wine–founder John McFadden established his first custom winery in San Antonio seven years ago. Already the business has spread as far as Milwaukee to the north and Denver to the west, bringing the country's vinophiles more than 100 wines, each of which are fermented on site and available for tastings every day. Those who want to get more involved in the crafting process may sign up to make their own wine and steep themselves in each step of the operation, from selecting the grape varieties, beginning the fermentation process, withstanding a wait of about 45 days, and finally christening their creation by smashing a tiny boat against the bottle. All custom-made wines are plastered with personalized labels made from one of Water 2 Wine’s templates or images that customers design from the ground up.
Beginning atop a 20-story cliff, Lake Travis Zipline Adventures's final zipline carries riders above Lake Travis for more than 2,500 feet at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. To reach the cliff, a pair of professionally trained guides lead 2.5-3 hour hikes through Texas Hill Country, affording panoramic views of Lake Travis along the way. Before the finale over the lake, groups stop at four other ziplines that snake through canyons and soar above inlets.
Back on land, the company reserves more than 10 acres of Lake Travis shore for post-tour picnics and beach games. For guests embarking on a nighttime zipline tour or looking to linger in central Texas, Lake Travis Zipline Adventures rents out private cabins. Accommodations include a front porch overlooking the lake, as well as access to two private beaches.
While its mediums are many, the goal of Ceramics-N-More is singular: to tap into visitors' artistic potential. Here, you can paint pottery or get the hang of wheel-thrown forms during classes that utilize motorized pottery wheels. Even kids can get into the action by adorning ceramic pieces with handprints and footprints, or joining friends for an art-fueled party. The center also offers glass-fusing classes, which teach participants how to create colorful works of art from glass and the one magical power all humans take for granted: fire.
Brave souls attempt to walk the length of Haunted Hollow's woodsy trail, where the spirits of those who were once buried nearby attempt to find hosts in unsuspecting visitors. As they meander along the path, they encounter monsters, ghouls, and zombies that attempt to thwart their way. To defend their loved ones, adventurers can rent lung-powered marshmallow blasters that can distract the creatures lurking nearby.