Every year, thousands of visitors flock to the Salado area for shopping, food and wines produced by local wineries.
Dancing Bee Winery near Belton specializes in honey wine, also known as mead. Honey wine is thought to be one of the oldest alcoholic drinks, dating back to 7000 B.C.
Although meads are white or clear in color, their aging potential is comparable to red wines, said owner Clint Walker.
“They age better than a (grape-based) white or clear,” he said. “Most of our wines are sweet, but we also have a very dry mead merlot. Most of our sales are at the sweet end.”
Dancing Bee sweet wines reach a segment of the market that Walker believes is underserved in Texas.
“The saying is true — Texans talk dry but drink sweet,” he said.
Dancing Bee wines are made from honey harvested at Walker Honey Farm, which has been in the Walker family for several generations.
Downtown Salado is home to Salado Winery & Salado Wine Seller, Salado Creek Winery & Vineyard and Rising Star Vineyard and host to several wine-tasting events throughout the year.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, June Ritterbusch, owner of Salado Winery & Salado Wine Seller with her husband, Sheldon Vickers, was holding down shop while tending to the needs of her newborn son. Despite the commercial and domestic demands, she eagerly took the time to talk about her wines and upcoming events.
She was especially excited about the “grape stomp” she plans to host in October.
“I can’t tell you how many people want to stomp on grapes,” she said.
Ritterbusch and Vickers began growing grapes in 2005 and opened their winery the same year. Along with their own harvests, they also get grapes from Belle Crest Vineyard near Temple, Black Rock Vineyard near Lake Buchanan and a Belton vineyard near the Lampasas River.
In July, Salado Winery made its first batch of white wine with the Belton grapes. The white is not bottled yet, but Ritterbusch hopes to have it perfected and ready to sell soon. The winery’s biggest seller is a dry red tempranillo called Big Bully, according to Ritterbusch.
Rising Star Vineyards was established by Michael and Vicki Oubre near the town of Rising Star in 1999. In May 2011, they tapped into the popularity of Salado and opened a tasting room and “cheesery” downtown. Serving pasta, sandwiches, salads, cheese from Texas artisan producers, fresh locally-baked artisan bread and desserts, the “cheesery” is much more than a cheese shop.
All wines produced under the Rising Star label are made exclusively from grapes grown in the Rising Star vineyard, while grapes from other Texas vineyards are used to produce wine under the new Dodge Creek label, Vicki said.
Some of Rising Star’s most popular wines are the cabernet savignons and merlots, according to Vicki.
A Dodge Creek viognier has become a customer favorite, but the Rising Star Rustler’s Red is the winery’s biggest seller.
“It’s a blend of red grapes … we sell out every year,” she said.
At Salado Creek Winery & Vineyard, Texas fruits take center stage. All wines produced by the winery are made on-site from grapes and other fruits grown in the Lone Star State, according to the website.
Lone Star Lemon, Lone Star Lime, Burnt Orange Reserve and Salado Frost Icewine are some of the unique wines offered by Salado Creek Winery, along with the more traditional chardonnay, pinot grigio, merlot and tempranillo.