Texas: It’s A Big State; Come Early, Leave Late
Vaulted ceilings of marble and gold do well enough for the Vatican, but none could ever compete with the endless expanse of heaven, or the creation of the absolute architect. Here, in Texas, there’s no contest at all– we let the beauty of nature speak for itself, building humble but intricate tributes that draw attention to the perfection of their surroundings.
The painted churches that dot the hills of Dubina, High Hill, and Schulenburg (to name a few locations) are a prime example of the care taken by Texas artists. Early German and Czech settlers were inspired by the grand churches that they had attended in the European towns they once called home, and sought to capture that same majesty in the hill country of Texas. For all their spectacle and splendor, these churches were crafted from wood and artfully painted by the communities who sought to worship in them. This community is still just as vibrant today as the paint that remains in the churches, maintaining their cultural heritage while adopting their own southern twists.
Texasdeutsch also remains in Texas as a mark left by those settlers. It is a German dialect found in the regions of Fredericksburg and New Braunfels, where it can still be heard spoken in homes. It is filled with modern terms invented by Texans, as well as vocabulary specific to their experiences. (Stinkkatze, for example, is a word meaning skunk.) German words and phrases dominate menus of countless bars and restaurants in the area, and German inscriptions are also a common feature of the painted churches.
However, Texans’ love of religion doesn’t stop at the doors of the church. Fort Worth is home to the Christian Arts Museum, an unassuming collection with an incredible centerpiece. Lifelike wax figures are gathered around a table, staged to form an immaculately detailed recreation of Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. It is an altogether unexpected feat of artistry, the skill of the craftsmanship apparent in the individually rooted hair and glass eyes of Jesus and his disciples. To see it leaves one in a quiet state of awe and inspires a sense of reverent wonder.
The works of Christianity have also affected regional libations. Catholic missionaries enriched the area through the introduction of Mission grapes, so called because they were grown at Spanish missions as early as the 1650’s in El Paso. The history of Texan wine goes back even farther than that of Californian wine, with vines being grown in West Texas for sacramental use as many as a hundred years previously to the establishment of vineyards in other states. And if you enjoy French wines, you have Texas to thank as well. Horticulturists found the climate of Texas ideal for developing new hybrid grapes immune to pests that had become an epidemic, threatening ruin for the French wine industry. The city of Cognac, France (from which cognac brandy derives its name) went so far as to name Denison its sister city, in honor of the important work done there with the local Texas vines.
To this day, the vines grown in Texas continue to be a point of pride. At Bingham Family Vineyards they’ve come a long way from the gardens of old missions. They’ve got the wisdom of generations of farmers behind them, and combine their good agricultural sense with modern technology to turn the art of growing grapes into a science. Even the most skilled human can’t match the accuracy and precision of their high-tech tractors, planters, and plows, which automate the processes of spacing, planting, harvesting, and pruning. The fruits of all this mechanical labor result in a competitive micro-climate many vineyards cannot boast, yielding a high number of plants per acre.
Bingham Family Vineyards produces their own wines with these prized crops, making them one of the few Texas wineries that sells exclusively estate bottled wines. They offer tastings of these local wines in Fredericksburg, as well as a unique shopping experience featuring both fashion and taxidermy. The vineyards also sell their grapes (which they affectionately call the “jewel of the Texas High Plains”) to nearly two dozen other Texas wineries. The story of Texas wine comes full circle here, as they provide grapes for Holy Archangels Monastery, a stunning cloister in the rugged hills of Kendalia.
However, wine has been demonized as often as it’s been sanctified, and when national prohibition was enforced in 1920, the Texas wine industry was nearly ruined itself, not experiencing a resurgence until half a century later when new wineries were founded near Lubbock and Springtown. Even 100 years after Prohibition, around one in four Texas counties still have dry laws in effect.
Still, this has done little to dissuade Texans from pushing the boundaries of how they can improve drinking. Even Kentucky’s famous bourbon can’t compete with the stuff made in Hye. Keeping with the Lone Star tradition of breaking tradition, the folks at Garrison Brothers Distillery realized the climate of Texas could leave its mark upon the classic whiskey distilling process. The distinct Texas weather adds its own flavor as the heat cycles sugary extract from the sap of the charred oak barrels into the aging bourbon, creating a bold taste that has been reported to rival the best.
But if whiskey isn’t your cup of tea (or liquor), Texas is also home to some amazing local breweries. With a casual and friendly atmosphere, Family Business Beer Co. brings a touch of Austin’s spunky modernity to the rural roads of Dripping Springs. The effect is a comfortable one: the location grants the placid serenity of the arid hills, but the taproom is stocked with all the amenities of a city bar. You will find the live music present at any downtown venue, as well as an expansive oak grove where guests can play games or enjoy walking around the picturesque trees. Adding to the sense of Austin flare is the food truck on-site. Jep’s Southern Roots offers a variety of home-cooked comfort food, with recipes handed down from generation to generation to provide southern goodness that will be sure to please even the most selective of foodies.
But the family-friendly atmosphere of Family Business Beer Co. is not just for show. Discounts are offered for active military, veterans, and emergency first responders. Dogs and kids are welcome and encouraged, with a fenced-in playground to provide younger guests with endless entertainment. It’s a place where locals have worked hard with their families to ensure that you can play hard with yours.
As it’s been said before, it’s a big state, and the list of must-see sights could fill libraries—certainly more space than we have here. But more important than any attractions are the people, family, and friends that wait for you in Texas. After all, the state motto of Texas is “Friendship”, a reference to the Caddo word taysha which Texas is named for. It literally refers to the alliances Texans have forged with others, but is also a testament to the people there– friendly, fun-loving, and big-hearted, always ready to show off the wonders of their state to a stranger. After all, here in Texas, we don’t believe in strangers, only friends you haven’t met yet.
1- Carol Commons-Brosowske, “Historic Painted Churches of the Texas Hill Country,” Texas Hill Country.com FULL: Commons-Brosowske, Carol. “Historic Painted Churches of the Texas Hill Country.” Texas Hill Country.com. March 21, 2016. https://texashillcountry.com/historic-painted-churches/.
2- Thomas Adam. Germany and the Americas. (Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2005). FULL: Adam, Thomas. Germany and the Americas.
3- Karen MacNeil. The Wine Bible. (New York, New York: Workman Publishing, 2001). FULL: MacNeil, Karen. The Wine Bible.
4- Same as Above
5- Murdick McLeod and Roger Williams, “Grape Phylloxera,” Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet, FULL: McLeod, Murdick and Roger Williams. “Grape Phylloxera.” Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet. 1991. http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/2000/2600.html.
6- Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson. The World Atlas of Wine. (London, England: Mitchell Beazley Publishing, 2005). FULL: Johnson, Hugh and Jancis Robinson. The World Atlas of Wine.
7- Alexandra Hanson-Harding. Texas. (Chicago, Illinois: Children’s Press, 2001). FULL: Hanson-Harding, Alexandra. Texas.