To continue the tradition of the North American Soft Roaders summer convoy trips, we organized a wine tour of the Texas Hill Country for the last weekend of August 2016.
I threw out an event post with no invites in March 2016 on our North American Soft Roaders Facebook page to see what kind of interest was out there for this type of event. Our summer 2015 convoy to Sun Dog Trails in central OK was a successful trip with around 20+ vehicles in the group.
The interest level was enough for us to post an official event at the end of April and invite all of the members of the North American Soft Roaders. I also posted the event in Expedition Portal Central States to catch a few of those members. We decided to do an official registration to keep track of everyone going. The registration was necessary because we were limited to 40 people (It increased to 50 later) that were able to be in a group for wine tasting. We filled up registration in three days!
Between registration in April and the event in August we contacted wineries and restaurants to see if they were interested in hosting our group for the weekend. We lost a few wineries because they deemed our group too large, or the scheduling didn’t coincide with our route. We entrusted our friend Matthew to build us a route, one that he ended up scouting a couple of weeks before the trip. The route would consist of a mix of paved roads and unpaved roads in the Hill Country in the Fredericksburg/Mason/Junction area.
This was the itinerary posted two days before the event:
Soft Roaders Hill Country Wine Tour
6:00-9AM Bluebonnet Café Breakfast (Optional)
211 US-281, Marble Falls, 78654
Fuel and restroom in Marble Falls before 9:00AM Departure
8:30-9AM Meeting at 200 Avenue G, Marble Falls 78654 (Behind Bluebonnet Café)
Secondary meeting location at 708 1st ST (River City Grille Parking lot)
We will be on the road for 3 hours before the next restroom stop
12:00PM Cooper’s BBQ Mason TX (325) 347-6897
810 San Antonio St., Mason, TX 76856
Fuel stop in Mason TX if necessary, regroup at Cooper’s before leaving to Fly Gap
1:00PM Fly Gap Winery
2851 Hickory Grove Rd, Mason, TX 76856
Fly Gap Winery will not have a restroom
We will be on the road for 1.5 hours after Fly Gap
4:00PM 4.0 Cellars (830) 997-7470
10354 E US Hwy 290, Fredericksburg, TX 78624
Fuel and restroom in Fredericksburg before 8:30 AM Departure
8-8:30 Meeting in Parking Lot
298 N Milam St, Fredericksburg, TX 78624
We will be on the road 2.5-3 hours before next restroom stop
11:30AM Fuel and bathroom stop in Harper TX (approximate time)
12:00PM Fat Ass Ranch and Winery (830)644-2300
51 Elgin-Behrends Road, Fredericksburg, TX 78624
Chevron gas station in Stonewall between Fat *** Ranch and Hye
1:00PM Hye Market (830)868-2300
10261 W. Hwy 290, Hye, TX 78635
2.5 hours before next restroom stop
4:00PM Torr Na Lochs (832) 606-7575
7055 TX-29, Burnet, TX 78611
Our planned route for the weekend:
August 27, 2016 Marble Falls
Our morning plan was to meet at Bluebonnet Café in Marble Falls, TX. Our departure time was set to leave at 9:00AM, we didn’t leave until around 9:30.
The original plan was to have three groups of up to 15 vehicles. We had three teams, Team Gewurtztraminer led by Matthew, Team Bordeaux led by Fernando, and Team Moscato led by Alan. At around 9:30, team Gewurtztraminer lined up to leave. Team Bordeaux soon followed, but we didn’t have the leader for Team Moscato. I ended up sending everyone with Team Moscato to join the other two teams and let Alan catch up when he arrived.
On the way out of the parking lot, I went to a light that took too long and the entire group had already left Marble Falls. I wanted to make sure that we didn’t leave anyone at Bluebonnet and that the convoy was underway. At this point, I was in a bad spot because I did not have an easy to access map of the route. So I was trying to instruct the wife, who was in the back seat fighting a mad baby that didn’t want to go into his car seat, how to find our route. Eventually she figured out that the convoy was headed West down HWY 71 and we were en route to catch up to the group.
I had the wife check all of our Facebook messages to make sure that we didn’t lose anyone. In the confusion we lost Molly and Brandon in the Porsche Cayenne that was in our convoy. I did not see them when we were trying to catch up to the convoy. I called Alan to get a fix on his location, he was at Bluebonnet Café trying to map the route. I asked if he could retrieve the Porsche and catch up to the convoy. After a few attempts from John across the country on Facebook the Porsche was finally able to catch up to our group. By this time, we had no phone signal or internet. My CB wasn’t strong enough to get the attention of anyone in the group.
When we finally got to Llano, TX I was able to get in contact with Matthew at the lead position and ask him to find a place to pull over so that the entire convoy would be able to catch up. By this time we had 30+ vehicles in a single line heading Southwest towards Mason.
The highlight of Saturday’s route would be the James River crossing near Mason, TX. The way to the river was a dusty, low visibility, sometimes zero visibility dirt road because of the convoy. I was behind a TJ Wrangler, when it got too dusty I would slow down enough so that I could see and Mitch in the TJ would wait for me to catch up at the dozens of turns we had on our route. Sheila and her husband were behind us in their Renegade Trailhawk trying to follow us through the dust. I turned my lights on, hopefully that helped.
We had no wind, and the chance of rain that the weatherman had forecasted would have been great to keep the dust down. We didn’t have any of that. It was an interesting drive. We crossed a few dry low creek crossings and a couple that still had water/mud in them.
The James River Crossing
When we arrived at the river, Matthew stopped and waited for me to cross so that I could set up a camera to get a video of all of us crossing. I inched past the entire convoy on the narrow road to get to the river.
I brought two DSLR’s that day, a D5100 with a 35mm lens and a D3300 with a 55-200(not exactly sure, son’s camera). Athena wanted to film us going across the river and as soon as she turned on the D3300 there was a card error. I was supposed to use that camera for videos, So I ended up being stuck with the 35mm for the river crossing video. I went to grab my tripod so I could get a steady shot and with my luck one of the leg supports for the tripod was broken. Double fail, hence the shaky cam video for the river crossing. I got everyone in the video except for myself in the JKU. My dashcam wasn’t working at the time either, there’s a problem with it booting up.
If you hear yelling from the left side don’t mind that, that’s just the wife telling me that I left the tailgate open and someone splashed water all into the hatch area of my Wrangler. I was parked too close to the water.
We arrived at Cooper’s Original Pit BBQ in Mason, TX around 12:45. I’m pretty sure the group was pretty hungry by then since we had been on the road since 9:30. Cooper’s cooks traditional Texas BBQ including brisket, beef ribs, pork ribs, and jalapeno sausage, all smoked to perfection. I had been in contact with the owner Pam over the months prior to make sure that she would be ready for our group. She even had benches set up at the back of the restaurant to ensure that we would all have a place to sit and eat. We ended up taking over the Lowe’s grocery store next to the restaurant. Hopefully they didn’t mind too much, we were only there for about an hour.
My wife and I decided to get our food to go and get a head start towards our first winery stop. I sent Brock at Fly Gap Winery a couple of text messages letting him know that we were running a little behind. He was ok with it and told us to take our time and enjoy our lunch. I went and told Matthew and Fernando I was headed towards the winery and for them to gather the crew and meet me there.
On our way to Fly Gap I asked the wife to see if we could get any GPS signal on our smartphones to see how far away we were from the winery. The night before we left our house I loaded an offline map onto our tablet. I was trying to get it to locate our GPS signal Friday night in the hotel but it wasn’t working, so I abandoned using the tablet as a map. During our trek towards the winery while not being able to use our maps because of no 4G signal, I pulled over and took out the tablet to see if the offline map would work. Success! The GPS showed us exactly where we were and showed us that we were only a mile from our turn-in to Fly Gap.
Fly Gap Winery
After getting off the highway, the roads to Fly Gap were all dirt. We got to a fork in the road and spotted a burgundy Land Rover coming towards us slowly. We took a left at the fork and the Land Rover followed us as we pulled into the location that was supposed to be Fly Gap. I saw a table set up with some benches under a couple of trees, this had to be the location. Walking out of the house and walking towards us was a young guy in shorts and a polo shirt, it was Brock from Fly Gap winery. I got out and chatted with him for a little bit as we waited for the convoy to show up. The Land Rover following us ended up being Ciaran and Franklyn, they took a detour to retrieve a lost phone and ended up heading to Fly Gap the same time we did. The wife got a head start on wine tasting as we waited for the rest of the group.
Brock took us on a tour of his operation, he uses concrete in the fermentation process of his wine. He touches on it a little on his website:
The ones that weren’t wine tasting hung out on the property. After the tour Brock gave us some history on his wine, offered everyone ice and water, and got started with the wine tasting. I enjoyed the tour and the experience, the wife liked his wine and regretted not buying a couple of bottles while we were there, I’ll have to order some from him later.
After leaving Fly Gap, we were about an hour from our next winery in Fredericksburg. The route from the winery to Fredericksburg was about half dirt road and half pavement. We drove through some more dusty trails, this time I got right behind the leader and followed him so I didn’t have to deal with too much dust. Plus, I would never get lost because Matthew knew exactly where he was going.
Driving through the town of Fredericksburg
We arrived at 4.0 Cellars winery around 4:20 PM. We ended up pulling into the wrong driveway so we were stuck at a gate, about six of us, until everyone figured out that 4.0 Cellars was the next driveway. When we finally got sorted out we all arrived at 4.0 Cellars and headed to the pavilion and finished off the day with a little wine and conversation. A very nice place to end the day.
Cristol at 4.0 Cellars printed out these special flyers for our wine tasting.
The staff was great, there was a man on a microphone describing all the wines and the rest of the staff poured while he spoke. I didn’t participate in the wine tasting, I spent most of the time chasing the kid around making sure he didn’t hurt himself.
We headed back to our hotel in Marble Falls. We were staying at La Quinta Inn, it had a great view of the river and of the town to the north of us. During our way back the wife called Flat Creek Enoteca to order a pizza to go. When she went in to pick up her pizza she also did a little wine tasting and came out with a pizza and two bottles of wine. Flat Creek Estates was one of the original wineries we were going to visit, but we couldn’t work it into our route so I had to cancel. Maybe next time.
The rest of the group stayed at various hotels in Marble Falls and Fredericksburg, while others camped around the area. What would an overland trip be without some people camping?
August 28 2016 Fredericksburg
Saturday afternoon a few people were confused on the meeting location for Sunday morning, so I posted the address on Facebook as soon as we got to the hotel Saturday. We met in a parking lot of what looked like an abandoned grocery store.
That’s my 1.5 year old playing with his 4×4 toy in the left corner of the photo while Matthew is giving the driver’s meeting.
JR was having issues with the CJ, so Fernando stayed behind to assist JR in repairing the CJ and then catch up to us later.
Learning from Saturday’s run, we decided to just form one large group and do the entire route as a single convoy. This route was very rocky in contrast to Saturday’s dusty dirt run, and started off with some pavement and scenic views.
We crossed a tiny river, Little Devil’s river, that I had questioned a couple of years back and decided to not cross in the Subaru when we were alone. It had more water last time than it did when we crossed this time, I would say the water was close to 2 feet deep when we aborted the crossing in the Subaru.
We drove by a group of cows, everyone on the radio commented. We were at Defcow 5 according to the leader. One of the cows decided to dart across the path of one of the trucks, I’ll have to find the footage of that.
We stopped in the middle of nowhere for about a ten minute break. It gave us time to use the bathroom and gave my little man an opportunity to stretch his legs after being in the Jeep all morning.
The western route was scenic. It was a lot less dusty than Saturday’s route, part of that may have been because I was following the leader. Everyone still had their lights on, I had to inform Leader 1 that he needed his lights on. “Lights on for safety” came out on the radio. I found a practical daytime use for LED light bars.
We crossed about 5 gates that morning, some of them Matthew pushed open with his front bumper, then he got out to hold the gate for us. A couple of them Matthew had to get out and prop open, while our caboose closed the gate after we all passed through.
Video from some of our western route from my dashcam:
On our way back towards Fredericksburg, both the wife and baby were jarred awake by some rough terrain. We noticed that we were running about an hour behind, so as soon as we were within phone signal range I called our trail leader and told him we were going to pass and head to the first winery. The convoy was going to take a bathroom break and pick up JR and Fernando who were now waiting for us in Harper, between Junction and Fredericksburg.
Fat Ass Ranch and Winery
We arrived at the next winery early and found a couple of people that missed the morning route waiting for us.
My wife went inside for an early wine tasting while I set up the video camera to get some shots of everyone coming in. This time both of the cameras were working and I was able to rig up the tripod so that it wouldn’t fall over.
Took this shot while everyone was inside wine tasting:
We planned to have lunch at Hye Market in Hye,TX. It’s about 15 minutes from Fat Ass Ranch and it was suggested by them when I made the wine tasting appointment with them. By now we’ve lost over half of our group. Since it was Sunday afternoon everyone was on their way back home.
The Hye Market is connected to the Hye Post Office which I would assume is open Monday-Friday. We initially sat in the kitchen side of the building until someone told us there was a larger part of the building where they also do wine tasting. Jason and Chloe were awesome enough to take our orders in advance during the week so that when we got there all we had to do was pick up our food. The sandwiches were great, we even ordered their special pork belly sandwich to go.
After our late lunch we all split up. A couple of us wanted to go to the last winery while another group wanted to do the last leg of the route for the weekend. Matthew gathered his crew and they set out on their adventure up north. I wish we would have had time to do both the winery and the off-road route.
The remainder of the convoy going through Sandy Creek:
Torr Na Lochs
We ended our wine tour in Burnet, TX at Torr Na Lochs winery. The views were spectacular and the wine was good enough where my wife bought a couple of bottles. On Sunday, Torr Na Lochs closes at 5PM, if we would have taken the overland route with Matthew’s team we wouldn’t have made it in time. We were scheduled to have 50 for wine tasting at 4PM, we ended up with a group of 5. I talked to one of the employees about our group and he said that after looking at our itinerary we weren’t going to make it and it was no problem. Jay, Connie, and my wife did their wine tasting inside while Brandon and Molly were on the outside patio with their dogs enjoying the wine and the view. We were there until 5PM.
I’d like to thank everyone that came out to join us on our multi-day field trip of the Texas Hill Country. I thank everyone for their patience, it was confusing from the beginning when we were scrambling to find out which groups everyone belonged to. I’m glad that we only lost a few people temporarily on the first day, the Porsche team found us early and the Land Rover group met us up for lunch. I hope all of you enjoyed it and took lots of pictures to remember this trip.
I’d like to thank the restaurants and wineries involved with our tour. Thanks to Brock at Fly Gap for opening up his property to try out his wine (and let some people use the bathroom), thanks to Pam and family at Cooper’s BBQ for having us for lunch on Saturday, thanks to Cristol and staff at 4.0 cellars for hosting us Saturday afternoon, thanks to the staff at Fat Ass Ranch and Winery for hosting our group Sunday, thanks to Jason, Chloe, and staff for having us for lunch on Sunday at Hye Market, and thanks to the staff at Torr Na Lochs for hosting our small group and understanding we didn’t all make it.
Thank you team leaders Matthew, Fernando, and Alan for stepping up to help with the convoy. I couldn’t have done this all by myself and you all have my appreciation.
I barely had time to take any pictures, so we can thank Michael, Sheila, Andrew K., Andrew R., Ciaran, David, Emile, Johann, Matthew, Sarah, Jason, and Tim for all the great photos I used in this report.
We had 35 vehicles on Saturday at Cooper’s BBQ and 24 vehicles on Sunday by the time we got to Fat Ass Ranch.
A couple of people suggested to me that we should do a brewery tour next year. While putting together this event I already had the idea in my head to visit all of the breweries in the area. Keep an eye on the North American Soft Roaders event page because for 2017 we’ll be working on another Hill Country event.
The Facebook link for this image gallery is here:
Soft Roaders Hill Country Wine Tour Facebook Page
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Thank you for reading about our event, we’ll be on a break until our spring meet.
Get lost somewhere!