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.
Located on Main Street of Grapevine, Texas, D'Vine Wine treats visitors to countless varieties of wine paired with savory cheese and charcuterie plates. In the tasting and dining area, honeycombed wine racks and wooden barrels line the earth-toned walls, allowing visitors to imagine they've been swept away to the rustic cottage of a Tuscan vintner or the panic room of a billionaire. Guests sip house-made sauvignon blanc, malbec, and fruit-infused wine, while customers consult with sommeliers to custom-make a batch of their own wine, replete with one-of-a-kind labels.
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.
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.
When Birgit and Bruce Anderson first purchased their 2-acre property in Burleson, Texas, the new surroundings where they grew vegetables and raised farm animals reminded them of the then-popular television show Little House on the Prairie. The couple—who originally trained as a tax agent and sociology professor—and their daughters farmed the land for several years before a 1995 trip to Napa Valley seduced them into the vineyard lifestyle. After 10 years of studying grape-growing and winemaking, the Andersons opened Sunset Winery, which they've nicknamed and trademarked "The Best Little Wine House in Texas."
Since opening, the late-blooming winemakers have established themselves by winning multiple prizes for their wines and drawing a steady stream of visitors each year. Sunset's lauded bottles include Moon Glow merlot and Twilight Tango malbec, the latter of which won top accolades at the 2009 GrapeFest People's Choice Wine Tasting Classic, edging out other malbecs and a chagrined Susan Lucci.
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.
Wine Down calls on local producers to help the wine bistro satiate patrons with artisan cheeses, a frequently changing menu of paninis and full-fledged entrees, and an extensive liquids list. Pair the sherry-vinegar-sauce-splashed bacon-wrapped quail ($14) or wild-mushroom mac 'n' cheese ($10) with a drink, or erect a grilled cheese sandwich using an arsenal of raw materials, including bread, cheese, toppings, heavy-duty locking C-clamps, and spread ($5+). For lighter noshing, a cheese plate presents a choice of three artisan cheeses and an accompaniment of either fruit and nuts or salami and olives (up to $24.99)