Curious & Thirsty: Texas Hill Country

Dr. Richard Becker: A Vignoble Prescription
Stonewall, TX,

Tasting Room at Becker Vineyards in Stonewall, Texas

Dr. Richard Becker, owner of Becker Vineyards

The Hill Country’s early German settlers brewed up some very tasty beers, but their descendants have discovered that the sloping terroir works perfectly for viniculture as well. Wineries now dot the landscape, and wine production has become a significant part of the local economy and tourism.

Two eye-popping figures provide quick insight into Hill Country wine production: 2.5 million Texans have visited the area this year, and Texas is #2 in U.S. wine consumption. Only California consumes more.

Exterior of Becker Vineyards Tasting Room and production facility

Founded in 1992, Becker Vineyards is one of the oldest and most prestigious of the Hill Country wineries, as well as one of the area’s largest -- producing over one million bottles annually. The vineyard properties consist of 120 acres planted with all major varietals: Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, Petite Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chenin Blanc, Reisling, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, and Scheurebe. Another 15 growers supply grapes for additional production.

The winery itself is located in a handsome 19th-century German stone barn reproduction. The tasting room is especially attractive, featuring heavy wood paneling, antique mirrors, candelabras, and a massive serving bar. Most days, the area is packed with visitors sampling the 30 plus wines blended on site.

Given all the activity -- and dozens of medals for winemaking -- it’s hard to imagine that less than 20 years ago, the vineyard was nothing more than a hobby for Dr. Richard Becker. An endocrinologist, with medical degrees from the University of Texas at San Antonio and Yale, Dr. Becker continues to maintain a full-time practice. The vineyard began as, and still is, his weekend getaway.

“Believe it or not,” he explains, “it’s because of the winery that I’ve been able to continue my medical practice. The winemaking is so completely different from medicine, I’m able to escape entirely. By Monday, I’m totally refreshed and ready to go back to the clinic.”

Becker says that his wife, Bunny, who is a chef trained in French gastronomy, first prompted his interest in wine. The couple continue to make frequent trips to the French wine regions.

Becker also credits legendary San Antonio restaurant Chez Ardid for further nurturing his interest. The restaurant’s wine list was exceptional, and Chef Ardid convinced Becker to purchase wines for his own collection. Thanks, to Ardid’s influence, Becker obtained incredible vintages in the early 1980’s -- cases of Margot, Lafitte, Burgundy, and Bordeaux. It was a superb investment, since the wines have quadrupled in value over the years. The French wines have also provided invaluable inspiration for his own vineyard.

Soaps, sachets, and oils from lavender grown at Becker Vineyards

In addition to the grapes, Becker has planted lavender in a section of his property. “It’s beautiful to see the lavender fields in France,” Becker says, describing the motivation for this newest venture. “The scent is everywhere and the color is extraordinary.” Sachets, soaps and oils from the lavender are now available in the winery tasting room and gift shop.

Dr. Becker also worked with the late Fess Parker, actor and winemaker, to found the Buffalo Gap Wine & Food Summit in Abilene,Texas. The festival celebrates fine food and wine and provides a platform for education and industry discussion. Jacques Pepín was the featured chef this year. Details for the upcoming 2012 festival can be obtained at

Hill Country vineyards and wine barrels

But, Becker continues to devote most of his “vineyard time” to actual winemaking. He and his vintner, Russell Smith, spend hours blending grapes, concentrating particularly on French-style Cabernets. When asked about future plans, Dr. Becker says he’s not interested in acquiring additional acreage or in commercializing his property further. Nor, he adds quickly, is he ready to give up medicine. His goals are to maintain his practice and “to stay focused on the wines by developing the best expression of the fruit possible.” Sounds like the perfect prescription for a balanced life and outstanding wines.

More Hill Country Wineries:

Duchman Family Winery - Driftwood

Fall Creek Estate - Marble Falls

Fredericksburg Winery - Fredericksburg

Grape Creek - Fredericksburg

Pedernales Cellars - Stonewall

Sister Creek Vineyards - Sisterdale

Spicewood Vineyards - Spicewood

Torre di Pietra Vineyards - Fredericksburg

Chez Ardid


Petite Verdot