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.
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.
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.
A patio extends from Bluff Dale Vineyards's tasting room, presenting an expansive view of the sun-drenched grapevines and sloping foothills that D Magazine called "impressive." This swath of land grows the succulent grapes used to make the winery's fruit-forward selection of silken reds and aromatic whites. In addition to an oak-aged cabernet sauvignon, crisp chardonnay, and sweet muscat, the tasting room features a Texas cream sherry that is blended with the traditional—and time-intensive—solera system instead of with an industrial-sized cocktail shaker.
Owners David and Theresa Hayes also host live bands at their winery from time to time, inviting visitors to attend for free, bring a picnic, and tap their toes to the melodies of such groups as the Double J-R Band or the jazzy Pearl Street 4.
Sugar Ridge Winery's rolling acres once held everything from white-speckled fields of cotton to waving meadows of hay. Then owners Don and Michele Andrews planted their first rows of varietal and transformed the land into a verdant, nectar-giving paradise. Michele inherited the acreage from her grandparents and honors their legacy through a red heritage wine that fills the tasting room's antique wooden shelves alongside chardonnays, tempranillos, and cabernets. This pride in the vineyards' history shines through in the decor as well: Outside the tasting room, a wood-sided well stands flanked by giant urns. Shaded by trees, a tranquil fountain babbles on a stone patio and a resident cat and kittens prowl the grounds, guarding the grapes and playing cat games such as Parcheesi. In addition to public and private wine tastings, Don and Michele also host tasting afternoons paired with an outdoor massage and encourage winery visitors to pack their own picnics.
Gene Estes suspects that growing up in the 'dry' precinct of Abilene, Texas may have inspired his alcohol-based ingenuity; he crafted his first batch of wine from Concord grape juice when he was just 23. Years later, after holding various pharmaceutical jobs and putting to use his Masters in Microbiology, Estes' interest in wine re-emerged with a full and passionate force. Today, as the president and vintner of Lost Oak Winery, Gene works alongside resident winemaker Jim Evans to craft a host of award-winning wines. Among them is the 2012 Viognier, which scored a double gold in the renowned San Francisco Chronicle International Wine competition?meaning all five judges awarded the varietal with top scores before gilding the bottle twice in molten gold.
The winery itself offers both guided and self-guided tours, offering visitors a glimpse into the wine-making process complete with samples straight from oak barrels. Additionally, special events draw guests to the lush grounds for live music, wine club events, and the pre-Christmas holiday open house, where they can place preemptive wine orders with Santa.