The Austin Food Lovers’ Guide to the Hill Country Wine and Food Festival

Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival LogoThe 26th Annual Hill Country Wine and Food Festival kicks off next Thursday, March 31 and runs through Sunday, April 3. For four days local epicurean enthusiasts, restaurants, chefs, and artisans will celebrate what we love most about all things food and drink. Seeing as this is Texas and “Welcome y’all” is a state of mind, we’ll share our passion with visitors, nationally-acclaimed chefs and even a movie star (you heard that right, Kyle McLaughlin is coming to our festival).

Unless you’re planning to devote all four days to a bacchanalian of Texas proportions (if only we all could), you’ll be faced with the difficult task of selecting a set of festival events to enjoy. Are broad tastings where you can take a whirlwind tour of the tastes of Texas more your style? Or do you want to focus like a laser on a particular food or wine region? Does a field trip to a winery or game ranch strike you fancy? Trust me when I say there’s more than one something for everyone.

To make your event selection process just a bit easier I’ve put this guide together to help you find events based on what’s most important to you – your wine and food priorities if you will. Think of this as the festival goers’ gift guide.

You can also get a full listing by day of events on the Wine and Food Festival site. When you’ve created your custom itinerary and are ready to buy your tickets, you’ll be able to put your package together with just a few clicks of a mouse button.

Lunch is Better with Wine

While the festival is taking on a bit of fresh look, some things are best left alone, and the festival tradition of wine with lunch is resolutely in that category. You can even enjoy this grand tradition for two days of the festival this year.

  • Winery Luncheons – Enjoy a scenic day-trip out to one of the Hill Country’s beautiful wineries and enjoy a convivial lunch with food prepared by Texas chefs to go with the wines at each vineyard. These luncheons are a great way to try food and wine combinations you’ll almost never experience in a restaurant. Both the Fall Creek Vineyard and Becker Vineyard luncheons still have space available.
    Thursday, March 31, 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm
  • Winemaker Luncheons – Stay a little closer to town and enjoy lunch at one of Austin’s favorite restaurants paired with wine from California. Chef Jonathan Gillman of the Driskill Grill will pair a special menu with Robert Mondavi wines. Chef Theresa Wilson of Aquarelle Restaurant will match her menu wines from Freestone Vineyards and Joseph Phelps Winery.
    Friday, April 1, 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm

The Stars at Night Are Big and Bright

The festival is known for its spectacular evening events and this year is no exception. From a grand tasting to an intimate dinner and an adventure at the game ranch, you can treat yourself to an unexpected and unique experience any night of the festival.

  • Stars Across Texas Classic – If you want to get a true taste of full spectrum of Hill Country food and wine, Stars Across Texas is a can’t-miss event. With the city’s top chefs serving their tastiest bites, wine makers from Texas and around the country pouring delicious sips, and spirits artisans sharing their most innovative cocktails, there’s no better way to taste Texas on a beautiful spring night.
    Thursday, March 31, 7:00 pm – 10:00 pm
  • Live Fire! – Affectionately known as the “Cow Party” among local food bloggers, this event is dedicated to one of our state’s most beloved animals. Chefs from around the state will join forces with chefs from New York City, Australia, and Portland to celebrate the entire cow, with each cut getting its due. Wines from Texas, Australia, and Argentina will complete what can only be called cow adventure at the Texas Disposal Systems Exotic Game Ranch.
    Friday, April 1, 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm
  • Star Power: An evening with Kyle MacLachlan and Animal Restaurant –Treat yourself to a unique culinary experience as local favorites Chef Josh Watkins and Chef David Bull join forces with Food and Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of LA’s Animal Restaurant to craft an exquisite menu you won’t soon forget. And because this culinary star power deserves, no requires, wine star power, Kyle MacLachlan will be on hand to pour his Pursued by Bear cabernet sauvignon. This one’s going to be special.
    Saturday, April 2, 8:00 pm – 10:30 pm

All Wine, All the Time

One of my favorite things about the festival is the strong and diverse wine program that represents the current trends in American wine with a special focus on our Texas wineries. At each of these events you’ll not only expand your wine pallet but also your wine knowledge as you learn from winemakers and wine experts.

  • Robert Mondavi Reserve Tasting – Award-winning Robert Mondavi winemaker Genevieve Jannsen will take you behind the scenes with this respected Napa winery as you taste a cross-section of their wines at Ruth Chris Steak House.
    Friday, April 1, 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm
  • Spotlight on Texas Wines and Winemakers – June Rodil, former Texas Best Sommelier, will take you on a guided trip through the Texas wine country for an in-depth look at the state of our great state’s wine industry. A selection of carefully crafted dishes from the Hyatt Regency’s chef will give you just a taste of how to best pair our local wines with your own menus.
    Saturday, April 2, 11:30 am – 1:30 pm
  • The Art of Blending with Rodney Strong Vineyards – Wine blending is a delicate balance of art and science, with the best practitioners creating unforgettable combinations of varietals. Deep-dive the craft of blending and learn what separates a truly great blend from all the rest.
    Saturday, April 2, 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
  • Champions of Walla Walla — Spring Valley Vineyard, one of Washington’s most unique wine estates, is about to celebrate the 10th vintage of Uriah, their flagship wine. Their winemaker and the great-granddaughter of the vineyard’s founder will be at the tasting to take you on a virtual tour of Spring Valley.
    Saturday, April 2, 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm
  • Big Dog Reds – Cabernets are the kings of the red wine world and they get their full due during this big reds tasting. Meet wine makers from around the country who are as excited about making their wines as you are about drinking them while you enjoy bites created by the III Forks kitchen. If red is your favorite wine color, this is a can’t miss event.
    Saturday, April 2, 2:30 – 4:00 pm

Take a Taste Adventure

If moving a bit beyond the traditional wine and food tasting is more your style, any of these sessions will strike your fancy.

  • Josh Ozersky’s Burger & Beef Seminar – Glorious grilling weather is here and what better to toss on the coals than the perfect burger? James Beared winning meat expert Josh Ozersky will answer the question “Where’s the Beef” once and for all as he teaches you all you need to know to build the perfect burger.
    Friday, April 1, 11:30 am – 1:00 pm
  • Cigar Smoker and Whiskey Slam – The festival program puts it best, describing this event as “an unforgettable experience indulging in three of life’s luxuries — cigars, whiskey and good company.” Harken back to the gentlemen’s clubs of the past as you savor cigars and whisky in the relaxed and convivial environment of the Cedar Street Courtyard.
    Friday, April 1, 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm
  • Cured: A Charcuterie and Wine Tasting – Charcuterie is all the rage in the food world and we are lucky in Texas to have some the country’s best artisans in our back yard. This event will celebrate their craft and teach you how to pair their wares with the right wines.
    Friday, April 1, 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm
  • Australia Unleashed: Fine Wines and Rogue Cookery – Andrew Dwyer, known in Australia as the Outback chef, will teach you how to bring Outback campfire cookery into your own kitchen with a signature Aussie style. Enjoy Australian wines along the way as you discover just how much Texas and the Outback have in common.
    Saturday, April 2, 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm

Keepin’ It Casual at Sunday Fair

In keeping with tradition, this year’s festival will end with a big ol’ outdoor party. But because even the best traditions can use a breath of fresh air, the festival team has completely re-envisioned the Sunday Fair, turning it into an “urban celebration of food, wine, and spirits”. The fair is coming back to Austin proper this year to the shores of Lady Bird Lake on the grounds of the Mexican American Cultural Center. The festival will come to a rousing close with live music, food from local artisans, and a wealth of wine and spirits.
Sunday, April 3, 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm
$45/person ($30/designated drivers)

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