Aug. 10, 2006 – No one is likely to mistake Gillespie County, Texas, for Napa Valley, Calif. But I must admit to thinking of similarities earlier today as I drove Highway 290 from Austin to Fredericksburg.

For about 10 or 15 miles, on a stretch between Johnson City to within a few miles of Fredericksburg, vineyards and wineries cover acreage not planted in vegetables, peach trees or grass (apparently grown for some truly magnificent horse ranches).

The low line of greenish brown mountains added to the illusion. And it was arid.

Being of a curious nature, I pulled into Bell Mountain Winery, a quaint building constructed of weathered timbers and decorated with horse saddles and old wine casks.

They advertised wine tasting and I highly recommend both the harvest and the dry Reisling. I was not keen on the peach wine and the honey (Meade) took my breath away. I apparently inhaled at the wrong time and coughed until I quit. The Rita Margarita, however, was refreshing. Just so you’ll know, tastes consisted of approximate thimbles full so I was in no way impaired after my visit. Well, no more impaired than usual.

Phil Webb, who was in charge of the place along with his daughter-in-law, gave me a brief tour, explained some of the history of wine production in the region and conducted the taste tests. He didn’t even request an ID. He told me that the area around Fredericksburg was the first official wine producing area in the state.

I had assumed that vineyards were important to the area after I crossed South Grape Creek.

That creek, by the way, runs close to Luckenbach, the place made famous by a Waylon Jennnings’song. It takes less than two minutes to tour Luckenbach. I tallied only five buildings, not counting two porta-potties and a permanent privy.

Of course if you get lured into the old post office, the tour lasts longer because it’s a cleverly disguised gift shop where you can buy tee shirts, stuffed armadillos, and CDs by Willie and Waylon and the Boys.

e-mail: rsmith@farmpress.com