Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A View From the Top: Visiting the Arc de Texas

 Every time we drive up 281, we watch for the lighthouse that breaks the rolling hills just south of Johnson City. These days, just before the lighthouse, another large structure reaches up into the hill country sky. For a while, we jokingly called it the arch. We guessed the lighthouse and arch were a local B&B, but we were pleased to find that besides the various accommodations, the arch also has a wine bar. On a bright Spring Saturday, we decided to stop and found out our nickname was not too far off; the Arc de Texas offers great wines and an incredible view.

The B&B

Both the lighthouse and arc are part of the Lighthouse Hill Ranch. The Lighthouse has 4 bedrooms and can accommodate 9-15 guests. There are other houses on the premises, including the Grey House (3 bedrooms, 8 guests), the Brown House (also 3 bedrooms, 8-10 guests), the Green House (3 bedrooms, 12 guests), the Red House (3 bedrooms, 6-7 guests), and the Log Home (3 bedrooms, 6-11 guests). Each of these accommodations is secluded from one another on the ranch.  They also include amenities like kitchens and access to other attractions on the property. The houses run from $210 a night (2 guests at the Red House) up to $1015 for 15 people in the Lighthouse.

View of the Lighthouse from the Arc
The Arc itself houses 4 suites. 3 of the suites occupy the second floor and include kitchens and two bedrooms. The Louis XIV Suite encompasses the entire third floor. This particularly suite has an incredible view, though all suites have a view. Like the other areas, guests can enjoy the swimming pool at the Arc, hot tub, and fire pit, as well as the surrounding area. The suites run from $210 night (2 guests in the Napoleon Suite) up to $730 for 14 people in the Louis XIV Suite.

The Arc -- Tastings

The first and fourth floor of the Arc de Texas can be visited Thursdays-Saturday from 11am-7pm and Sundays from noon until 7. On the first floor, guests can lounge in a well apportioned wine bar, sipping at a table or at the bar. The terrace houses a smaller bar and a panoramic view.
Tastings run $10 for 5 or $15 for 8. The list does change periodically, to encourage multiple visits. During my first visit in April, they offered wines from California and Oregon, along with South Africa, South America, France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. They do not offer any Texas wines; they would rather encourage guests to head out to the many nearby wineries instead (the closest winery is Texas Hills). Guests can also enjoy wine by the glass (starting at $6) or by the bottle.

In addition to wine, the Arc also offers beer. Glasses start as low as $4 and include international faire – England, Germany, Czech Republic to name a few – as well as local beers.

The Arc does allow for outside food, but no outside alcohol. Also, friendly dogs can come and visit. The wine dog, Titan, greets guests and enjoys the company – two- and four-footed.

The View

Terrace Seating
One thing the Arc prides itself on is the magnificent view from the fourth floor roof terrace.  They provide outside seating, including umbrellas. However, if the sun is out, it does shine quite strongly on the roof, so be prepared. Also, the wind can really lash the terrace, which is both enjoyable and also problematic (it can easily take off with a class of wine). On our visit, the sky was nearly clear and the sun blazed down, making it rather hot; however, the breeze was crisp and cool to take the edge off. To round out the spot, a smaller wine bar can take care of guests, including tastings, glasses, and bottles.

View to the Northwest
The main reason for coming up the terrace is the view. From the front, guests can enjoy the southern side of 290 as it stretches west. The back view looks out east over the property. In both cases, the hills rise and fall, some very close. The valleys stretch out between the hills as they roll towards the horizon. It is easy to lose track of time will sipping wine up on the terrace.


Visiting the Arc de Texas

For those driving to, from, or through San Antonio along 281, the Arc de Texas and the rest of the Lighthouse Hill Ranch property provide a wonderful rest. Sitting comfortably in the bar or on the terrace, guests can leave behind the 290 traffic and slow down to enjoy some wine and a quintessential hill country view.

Thursdays-Saturday from 11am-7pm & Sundays from noon until 7 

  • From Austin take 290 west until it dead-ends into Highway 281.  Turn right and go 3/4 mile.  You'll see the Arc on your right.  
  • From San Antonio head north on 281 and turn right at the Arc about 3 miles before you get to Johnson City.  

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Fun in Paso: Episode 1 of Dudes Being Dudes in Wine Country

Let me first start by saying this has nothing to do with Texas wine, at least not yet. This shows does allow viewers into the winery and vineyard to learn more about wine, and enjoy it too.

At the beginning of the month, a new wine show premiered online. The owners of Nocking Point Wines, Stephen Amell and Andrew Harding, decided to take their enthusiasm for wine beyond just owning a winery and drinking lots of wine. These days they are also filming Dudes Being Dudes in Wine Country – at least when Stephen’s Arrow and Teenage Mutant Ninja schedules allow. Their debut episode saw the friends in one of the places that sparked their interest in wine, Paso Robles, CA. 

The episode is lots of fun. First, the guys are out for a really good time. They enjoy every glass of wine, every bite of food, and all the interesting people they meet. And they take us along for the ride. The show starts where their wine journey began, Paso Robles. They meet up with their original guide, Tyler Russell (winemaker at Nelle Winery), who takes them on a journey through Central California wine.
Their first stop was Herman Story where they begin to learn about wine from owner and winemaker Russell From. The relaxed atmosphere of the small winery is friendly and fun; it is reminiscent of many boutique wineries in Texas. Here the guys get a good lesson in winemaking and grape growing. In fact, Andrew and Stephen are recruited to do punch downs of some recently harvested Gernache, an experience I have had several times in various locales throughout the Texas Hill Country (It is much more interesting to watch Stephen do this and then me). As a seasoned wine drinker and winery visitor, the education portions provide the most entertainment, but having some wine knowledge made it easy to follow and understand. However, those not familiar may struggle through these parts. There are a few cutaways where Andrew provides lessons to help, but these may not be enough for the uninitiated. 

Me doing punch downs at Wedding Oak Winery, Fall 2014, supervised by winemaker Penny Adams
 From the winery, they head out to Glenrose Vineyards to learn more about growing. The picturesque trellises set the stage for a beautiful sundown. Here Stephen and Andrew find out about vineyard management and caring for the vines, a situation they recently found themselves in when they bought a vineyard in Washington State. In the vineyard, they learn about fermentation as they taste a wine that had just been pressed. Between jokes and shared stories, Tyler presents some great insight garnered from his experiences.

There is also some fun and indulgence. They spend time enjoying great local cuisine, paired with local wines. They even zip-line over vineyards as well. The guys have a great time, and they share that with the viewers. For me, they made me thirsty, very thirsty. I planned to drink one glass of wine during the show, but I fell prey to the constant wine drinking. The enjoyment they are having while drinking is contagious. And the beautiful filming of the wine made me drink a few more before the show was done.

The goal of Dudes Being Dudes in Wine Country is to experience great wine and visit fun places. They want more people to learn about and enjoy wine. To do this, they plan to visit wineries from lesser known wine regions. And if their site is to be trusted, Texas will welcome them to some more great wine. For now, Episode 1: Paso Robles is available through the GooglePlay and YouTube for $1.99-2.99 an episode. Definitely splurge for the $2.99 Hi-Res version for some beautiful shots of wine and wine country.  

For now, check out the trailer here: