Escapes have little to do with flashy destinations and full itineraries. For most of us, the point of a getaway crystalizes when simplicity merges with discovery—and that’s what you’ll find when wandering around towns in developing vineyard regions. Two such jewels are Coleman in West Texas, and Muenster, up north in Red River country. Both burgs surprise with wide-open vistas, good things to eat, dreamy accommodations, places to acquire interesting souvenirs, and unassuming charm to spare. And the wines will wow you. Plan on taking several bottles back home.
Coleman landed quietly on culinary maps about a decade ago when word spread about Rancho Loma, a small, upscale restaurant and contemporary inn on a ranch just outside of town. Owners Robert and Laurie Williamson continue to energize the old oilfield town—about 50 miles southeast of Abilene and 170 miles northwest of Austin—by renovating abandoned brick buildings downtown and opening businesses that give travelers passing through a reason to hang around. Guests who enjoy Laurie’s cooking often stick around for a whole weekend.
Smart travelers make room in their dining itinerary for the goods coming from Laurie’s wood-burning oven at Rancho Pizzeria, about 10 miles away. With high ceilings and concrete floors, the vibe at Rancho Pizzeria mirrors Rancho Loma’s aesthetic of sleek, simple lines and contemporary fixtures and furniture. That adds up to a comfortable setting for an appetizer of olive tapenade with burrata drizzled with truffle oil, plus roasted, bright-red piquillo chiles stuffed with creamy goat cheese, all served with fresh bread warm from the oven. Crisp, thin pizzas come with such toppings as arugula, prosciutto, roasted shiitake mushrooms, and Italian sausage. To drink, diners can choose from a selection of local wines, including new releases by Robert and Laurie’s new winery, which is across the street from the pizzeria.
Rancho Loma Vineyards has winemaking facilities in the back and a welcoming tasting room in front. The tasting room’s soaring roofline, chic seating areas, wall-size photos of Paris, and soft lighting invite long conversations. As grapevines planted nearly two years ago mature over the next few years, winemaker Kyle Johnston sources grapes from the Texas High Plains for making delicious wines that are quickly winning awards. At the Lone Star International Wine Competition this year, the RLV III, a viognier-roussanne-marsanne blend, took home a double-gold; the crisp muscat claimed a bronze; and the beautiful, cheese-friendly cinsault rosé won Grand Star Best of Show. I’m eager to try the two new red blends releasing in December, and I’m just as excited about the new art gallery and coffee shop they’ll open soon.
To complement the food-friendly wines, Laurie recently unveiled a dining menu at the winery, with such shareable options as brie with walnuts, figs, and dried apricots; cheeses with dried sausage; smoked salmon rillettes; and goat cheese salad; as well as larger plates such as lump crab cakes in lemon beurre blanc or steak au poivre.
The point of a getaway crystalizes when simplicity merges with discovery.
Between wine-tasting and relaxing at the Rancho Loma guesthouse, I usually make time to peruse new finds at Bonneville, a store near the winery that specializes in mid-century modern furniture and home accessories; a terrific vintage Phonola record player and a two-tier Heywood-Wakefield end table are among the treasures I’ve seen. The 1950s energy is duplicated a few blocks west of downtown Coleman at the Terrace Inn, an inviting place to stay if I’m not bunking down at Rancho Loma. The Terrace Inn occupies a 1958 home with smart, stylish suites dedicated to the era’s décor and personalities. My favor-ite is the Sinatra Suite, with its collection of Sinatra recordings and sleek bed, but the Marilyn Suite is hard to resist, with a private patio under a huge old live oak tree. Owners Jane and Mark Price welcome guests with late-afternoon cocktails and prepare breakfast in the morning for guests to enjoy in a sunny dining area with plenty of good coffee.
Rancho Loma is at 2969 CR 422 in Talpa. Call 325-636-4556.
Rancho Pizzeria is at 414 S. Commercial Ave. in Coleman. Call 325-726-9307.
Rancho Loma Vineyards is at 411 S. Commercial Ave. in Coleman. Call 325-625-1010.
The Terrace Inn is at 605 W. Hillside Drive in Coleman. Call 325-636-3663.
4R Ranch Vineyards & Winery is at 1473 CR 477 in Muenster. Call 940-736-3370.
205 Melody Lane B&B is at 205 Melody Lane in Gainesville. Call 817-403-5980.
Likewise, the temptations found about 200 miles northwest in the Muenster area appeal to the wining-dining fiend in me. Red River Valley wineries such as Arché and Blue Ostrich near Saint Jo have already attracted attention with popular wine clubs and festive afternoons (often with live music) on their tasting-room patios, but the new head-turner in the area is 4R Ranch Vineyards & Winery. Sprawling over a stunning spread of rugged landscape just north of Muenster, the winery is the dream of Dallas attorney Walt Roper, his brother Chris, and their mother, Suzanne, who bought the ranch as a family getaway two decades ago. To create a selection of wines, the Ropers hired pedigreed winemaker Willem Johnson, who has wasted no time in fashioning a significant list of whites, rosés, and reds with grapes grown on the estate and elsewhere.
Johnson’s work takes place in a solar-powered barn on the ranch, but visitors can enjoy the results in a hilltop tasting room with contemporary architecture as dramatic as the deck views of the countryside. Among eight wines claiming medals at this year’s Lone Star International Wine Competition, the red blend called No. 4 won me over with its bold spice and its label, a clever artwork of a bird fashioned from buttons. The wines pair well with plates of manchego, cheddar, and asiago cheeses, grazpes, salami, and nuts. And when the mood to shop strikes, the tasting room’s shop, the Vineyard Flea Boutique, offers a wide assortment of gifts like tea towels, wine gadgets, jewelry, and gourmet food goodies.
The Ropers have converted a three-bedroom home on the ranch into a guesthouse for visitors; it’s handy for those wanting to stay close to the tasting room. To satisfy my urge to roam around, however, I happily find a new lodging called 205 Melody Lane in nearby Gainesville. The owners recently renovated this three-bedroom 1957 home for guests wanting to stay a few nights or a month. Comfortable, modern furnishings throughout, along with smart artwork and a fabulous collection of travel and art books, make this a place to hang with girlfriends or family. A sparkling kitchen is available for cooking and the requisite gathering that goes with it, and the adjacent dining and living rooms—as well as a pretty patio—make for perfect places to linger, restfully.