Making the Most of the 25th Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival

Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival logoThere are few better ways to celebrate the amazing collection of food and wine artisans found in Central Texas than at the annual Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival. Over the course of four days you can sample the creativity of the area’s finest chefs, take a day trip to a Hill Country winery for a luncheon that showcases Texas best wine and chefs, participate in Central Coast and big red wine tastings, and more. In fact, in four days you can totally give yourself over to a virtually unlimited collection of epicurean delights. The biggest challenge will be deciding how to best spend your time.

My goal with this post is to help make those decisions a little bit easier.

Navigating the Schedule

I’ve attended the festival several times and there’s one thing I know for sure: even if there were no overlap among the events, there’s no way to attend every event. Even if your budget would allow it, your palette would start to be overwhelmed. Instead, focus your energy on finding the best events for you.

The festival’s web site organizes the events by day, but I prefer to look at them by type to get a good idea of how the events support different areas of interest. This year the events fall into these categories:

  • Winery Luncheons: A favorite tradition of the festival, the winery luncheons feature a multi-course menu paired with specially selected wines from the vineyard and friends of the vineyard. Two years ago I attended the Fall Creek luncheon and the drive out to the vineyard was amazing, the food superb, and the hospitality of the Auler’s impeccable. The Stone House Vineyard luncheon is already sold out, but tickets are still available for the Fall Creek and Becker events. The luncheons sell out almost every year, so if you’re interested in attending one I’d buy my tickets sooner rather than later. Unlike the larger tastings, these events are more intimate and are conducive to making new acquaintances. $65.
  • Wine Tastings: As the category name implies, these events are almost wholly focused on the wine. If you’re a wine aficionado or want to learn more about wine, these events are for you. This year’s list of wine tastings includes:
    • Palate Cleanser: I wasn’t joking about palate fatigue and to that end, the organizers have put together a special palate cleansing event. Taste whites and lighter red varietals as you recover from the more intense events of the festival. $40.
    • Toast to the Stars: For lovers of bubbles. This tasting is all about champagne and sparkling wines, and if you’re like me and love anything with a bubble, this event may be right up your alley. $50.
    • Test Your Tastebuds: If you’ve always wanted to test your wine smarts, this blind tasting event may be just right for you. In true blind taste fashion, you’ll taste two different wines made from four different grapes and use all of your wine knowledge to identify the varietals and vintages. This event would be particularly fun to attend with friends. $50.
    • Dive into the Central Coast –Treana Tasting: An in-depth tasting of wines from a single wine maker. This year’s event features winemaker Austin Hope and his Treana and Hope Family wines. If you enjoy learning about a particular region and winemaker, this tasting lets you go vertical and learn from the winemaker himself – a rare opportunity. $65.
    • Stellar Cellar Collection: An event for collectors, or budding collectors, looking for unique wines for their cellars. You’ll be able to talk with the wine makers and learn why you should consider their offerings for your cellar. $75.
    • Big Dog Reds: A true cabernet lover’s event. Enjoy the biggest and boldest cabs around while you talk with the winemakers and learn more about their offerings. I’ve been to this even and I can say it’s not for the faint of heart. Be sure to give your palette time to prepare and recover. $75.
    • Quintessa Reserve Tasting: In the same vein as the Treana Tasting, this event will give you the opportunity to explore the wines of an individual producer. Quintessa wines are made in the heart of the Napa Valley, so for a few hours you can experience Napa right here in Austin, Texas. $85.
  • Food and Wine Tasting Events: At these events, purveyors of food and wine from around the state and nation come together for a fun tasting event. This year there are four such events:
    • Texas 25: A new offering in the festival lineup, this event will take place on the rooftop of Whole Foods Market and feature local favorites like Malaga and Max’s Wine Dive. At such a reasonable price this event is a great way to experience the festival without breaking the bank. $25.
    • Sunday Fair: A true fair to end the festival, Sunday Fair is a wonderful opportunity to taste food and wine from around the state in a more relaxed environment. This event is very popular, so if you’re planning on attending be sure to read my “know before you go” notes later in the post. $45.
    • Local Focus Wine and Cheese Pairing: For those who are interested in the specific pairing of wine and cheese, this educational tasting will give you access to knowledgeable wine and cheese experts along with your tasting. If you have lots of questions about wine and cheese pairings, this will be a great opportunity to ask the panel of experts all of your questions. $50.
    • Stars Across Texas Grand Tasting: This is THE big tasting event of the festival. All of the important local and regional chefs will be serving their creations and you can sample wines from around the world (and sometimes the globe). When combined with the special VIP pass, you’ll have access to food and wine on all levels of the long center. The space is glorious and the tastes abundant. If you’ve never attended this event, I would recommend it as a priority. $100 or $140 with VIP pass.
  • Special Events:
    • Grape Escape Cocktail Showdown: If the cocktail is more your style, enjoy a sampling of signature cocktails from the area’s best mixologists paired with tastes by Chef Jonathan Gelman of the Driskill Hotel. $45.
    • Culinary Masters Dinner and Silent Auction: This multi-course dinner features a different course created by well-known chefs from around the state. This year’s chefs include David Bull, Elmar Prambs, Kent Rathbun, and Rebecca Rather. This dinner will be much more intimate than a larger tasting event and are perfect for those who enjoy formal dining activities. $150.

When considering my schedule for the festival, I’ve found its’ best to try and find a collection of events that will make you feel like you’ve made the most of what the festival has to offer and that will help you further your epicurean experiences. A couple of approaches I’ve taken include:

  • Try a little bit of everything. Last year I made it my mission to try one of each type of major event. What I liked most about this approach was I had the widest possible exposure to both local and national experts. I also didn’t burn out on any particular type of tasting (food, wine, or otherwise) so my palette survived the event intact.
  • Deep dive a particular area of interest. A couple of years ago I had just read Andrea Robinson’s Great Wine Made Simple and was really interested in sampling as many wines as possible to shore up my learning. That year I focused most of my time on wine events, including an amazing Caymus reserve tasting and an awe-inspiring Big Dog Reds tasting where I took a crash course in all things red wine. I attended a couple of food events as well, but chose to focus my energy on furthering my wine education.

You could of course break out the dart board and let fate decide.

Maximize Your Budget

The festival is a special treat for many of us, but luckily the prices for events cover a fairly wide spectrum. If you can budget about $100 for the event I have two recommended approaches:

  • Splurge on Stars Across Texas. You won’t find a bigger or better collection of food and wine in one place at one time in Austin any other time of the year. Given how much you’d have to spend to sample this array of tastes individually, Stars Across Texas is a great value. If you have the extra $40 to spend, the VIP room is a great way to have meaningful conversations with local chefs. Several my relationships with local chefs began last year in the VIP room.
  • Wine Tasting or Winery Luncheon and Sunday Fair. For between $95 and $110 you can enjoy all but a couple of the wine tastings or a trip to a winery in the Hill Country as well as a healthy sampling of Texas food and wine at Sunday Fair. This approach lets you do a mini deep-dive on both food and wine and immerse yourself in the ambiance of the festival. While Sunday fair is a little more relaxed and much more crowded than Stars Across Texas, it will give you a similar opportunity to survey the best food and wine available in the Hill Country.

Sunday Fair – Know Before You Go

Sunday Fair is a well-attended event to say the least, and it’s the end of the line for the chefs and wineries participating in the festival. The saying “early bird get the worm” (or in this case the food and wine) applies in spades to this event. You’ll enjoy your time most at Sunday Fair if you:

  • Get there early. Last year there were some traffic issues but I’m sure the organizers of this year’s events will have taken steps to address those. Even so, the food and wine moves quickly until it’s all gone, so the earlier you arrive, the better chance you have of sampling all of the offerings you are interested in.
  • Dress comfortably and wear layers. While Stars Across Texas is a dressier event, Sunday Fair is absolutely a fair, so get comfortable and plan for the changing temperatures typical of any Hill Country Spring day.
  • Stay hydrated. You’ll be sorry on Monday if you don’t. Enough said.
  • Find a designated driver. The event is out at the Vineyards at the Salt Lick so unless you live in far west Austin, you’ll have a bit of a trek and you’ll want to do that safely. Find a friend who is willing to enjoy the food but skip the wine – maybe offer to buy their ticket or promise to be their driver at a different festival event. Regardless of how you do it, please be responsible for the sake of yourself and everyone else on the road.

See You There!

I’m looking forward to this year’s festival, and while I don’t plan to live blog it because it’s too hard to blog and enjoy the events at the same time, I’ll be sharing my adventures via Twitter, on my Facebook Fan Page, and in a recap at the end of the event. My full schedule isn’t set yet, but you can be sure I’ll be at Stars Across Texas. Have you procured your tickets yet? Once you know where you’re going, please share your plans in the comments or on the Austin Food Lover’s Facebook wall so we can connect. If there’s one thing that’s always true about the Hill Country Wine & Food Festival: it’s always more fun with friends!


  1. Cecilia /

    This is an excellent and comprehensive guide, Natanya. You obviously put a lot of thought into this so we don’t have to. 🙂 Thanks!

  2. Great roundup for the fest! I am waiting on my volunteer assignments before I buy tickets for other events. Stars Across is always a blast! I will definitely be there as well as the luncheon at Fall Creek. I’m sure I will see you around the fest 🙂


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