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 Caf?. 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.
Texas hills unfurl before Wimberley Valley Winery, gently guiding guests to the winery’s stock of wines. Since 1983, the winery’s resident winemaker has created a range of classic varietal wines in addition to offering wines from around the world. While the winemakers weave their magic in the cellar, the remainder of the winery’s staff entertains customers in the elegant tasting room. Here, an expansive stone fireplace steals the attention from sunny yellow walls, and granite counters hide bottle after bottle of wines waiting to be sampled. While tasters sink into cushy leather couches, the staff explains the flavor profiles of wine types and divulge tips for pairing wine with the right food or crazy straws.
When Reina Morris relocated to Texas from Argentina in 1997, she quickly impressed new friends with the Argentinean dishes that she brought to dinner parties?in particular, the desserts. That conversational praise inspired her to hone her skills by enrolling at the Texas Culinary Academy. Today, she's the owner and head chef of the award-winning Buenos Aires Caf?, where she earns adoration for puff pastry layered with housemade dulce de leche or rolled strawberry cake laced with Kahlua and coffee. "Morris' pastries, the likes of which are found nowhere else in Austin, are delicacies worth every calorie," wrote Claudia Alarc?n for the Austin Chronicle.
Morris also creates savory recipes as unique and flavorful as her last courses. She fills empanadas with spiced beef and raisins, forms gnocchi from scratch with pumpkin and cinnamon or cilantro and jalape?o, and fashions small plates of tapas for the happy-hour crowd to enjoy with glasses of wine poured into glasses or feedbags. On a whim, she'll concoct specials such as wild-mushroom-stuffed quail with cheddar-bacon grit cakes and broiled tomato. The kitchen stays stocked with organic produce and hormone-free beef and pork from local farmers, ensuring that the dishes are as fresh as they are ready to give directions to the interstate.
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.
Local ingredients and classic country recipes pop off Chef Brian Bennett's lunch and dinner menus at Café 131 before adorning tables in tantalizing arrangements. Edible expeditions can commence during dinner with a sweet and savory spinach salad, topped by nectarous strawberries and candied walnuts, fusing flavors with piquant feta and red onions beneath balsamic vinaigrette ($4.25). Proving that the wheel can be reinvented, if that wheel is made of meat, Café 131's steak savants raise the standards of a classic with their country-fried rib eye, which wears a light and crispy batter and is juxtaposed with cream gravy and mashed potatoes ($12.95). Zesty sautéed creole shrimp are infused with thyme and lemon as they cavort with corn, bell peppers, and arugula ($11.95), and roasted rosemary half-chicken ($10.95) harkens back to the kind of homemade meals people ate before food was downloaded directly into stomachs. Finally, guests can seal off meal-envelopes with a sugary finish such as decadent cheesecake ($5.95) or a fresh fruit crisp ($4.95). Earlier eaters will discover an array of lunchtime salads and sandwiches, such as the classic reuben ($7.95), the vegetable wrap ($7.95), or the BLT ($6.95). The restaurant's stone cottage setting and patio bedecked with umbrella seating greet guests warmly for either meal. Café 131 does close for a short time between lunch and dinner and is not open on Mondays.
In many ways, the distilled spirits crafted by Crystal Creek Moonshine are a tribute to its community. The team hand-makes the moonshine right in Austin, using ingredients that they source locally and a spirit sourced from all those people that wouldn't stop dancing during the 1920s. Atop that base, they infuse inventive and exotic flavors ranging from sweet-and-sour goji berries to piping hot serrano pepper. And if a certain variety isn't available, the distillers invite customers to request a custom bottle.
Beyond its Texas ties, though, the story of this company's moonshine stretches all the way to Ethiopia. That's where co-founder Shane Berber was moved to action by the country's poverty. In response, he and co-founder Sam Wakefield opened Crystal Creek Moonshine as a charity-focused business, and now a percentage of the profits from each bottle sold goes to building water wells in Africa.