The Area of Central Texas Settled by German Immigrants
Produces Peaches, Berries, Grapes and More
Published June 2014
When, in 1845, German settler John Meusebach set out from New Braunfels, Texas, and traveled 60 miles northwest to select the second settlement of the Fisher-Miller Land Grant, he chose well. He selected a valley situated between two creeks, now known as Barons Creek and Town Creek, and surrounded by seven hills. He named the settlement Fredericksburg, after Prince Frederick of Prussia, a kingdom in what is now northwestern Germany.
The rich farmland around the new settlement would allow the new Texans from Germany to prosper, both in livestock production and farming.
Today, agriculture is an important part of the Fredericksburg area’s economy. According to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, ag production and related industry in Gillespie County averaged nearly $50 million annually between 2008 and 2011. Half of that total came from beef cattle production. The agriculture industry in the county employs nearly 1,000 residents, with an annual payroll of nearly $7 million.
When folks in Texas think about Fredericksburg and the surrounding area, they think about German heritage, wines, beers, picturesque farms in a Hill Country setting, cattle, sheep—and peaches.
Peaches and Fredericksburg go together like bratwurst and sauerkraut.
There is a reason Central Texas peaches are so tasty, peach grower Jamey Vogel said. It’s the combination of the hot, fairly dry climate with just enough rain (most years) and the rich but acidic soil of the area that combine to make a tart and sweet peach with just the right amount of juiciness.
Vogel farms about 70 acres of peaches—6,000 trees—along with blackberries and plums near Stonewall, east of Fredericksburg. He is of German ancestry and his family settled the area in 1846. Vogel’s family has been raising peaches since 1953.
Most of the peaches and other fruit crops grown in the Fredericksburg/Stonewall area are sold at fruit stands and stores along the highway there, Vogel said. He said prices for peaches run from about $25 per half bushel for average to good fruit to $50 per half bushel for select peaches.
“The far majority of what we sell we sell right here in our roadside stand,” Vogel said. Stands and stores along the 14 miles from Fredericksburg to Stonewall offer peaches, nectarines and plums in season, berries, jams and jellies made with the fruit and some even offer fresh peach ice cream and pies as well as other Texas staples like jalapeno jelly and pralines.
To help day trippers and vacationers plan their trips to Central Texas and the Fredericksburg area, Vogel and other growers pubish a website, texaspeaches.com, where travelers can turn to find news about the latest peach or berry crops. Vogel and many other fruit growers belong to the Hill Country Fruit Council which operates and updates the website.
As of presstime for this magazine, the message on the website stated the following:
Peaches are now available at some member grower stands in the Hill Country! Blackberries, plums, and other items are beginning to harvest at the orchards as well.
Please contact the individual growers for availability.
A directory of growers is available on the website so peach and berry fans can find out when their favorites are ripe and ready to buy or harvest.
Strawberries in the area ripen from mid March through mid May, blackberries from early May to mid June, nectarines from late May through July and plums during June and July. Tomatoes and some apples are available July through October.
The severe drought of the last few years has affected the peach crop and other fruit crops, Vogel said.
“It’s been tough on us . . . we had a really good crop in 2010, but that’s the only one through this drought that we’ve had,” he said. “It certainly has cut the production back in several other years.”
This year the crop yield is below average but at least they will produce peaches, he said.
Gillespie County surveyor and math and science teacher Benjamin Lester Enderle is known as the father of the Hill Country peach industry. He planted five peach trees and began selling the fruit in 1921. Enderle developed the Hale, Burbank, Elberta, and Stark varieties. He began marketing them through the H-E-B grocery chain, and eventually had 5,000 producing peach trees on 150 acres
The climate and soil of Central Texas are ideal for another fruit crop that has grown into a substantial industry there during the past 30 years—wine grapes. These days vineyards are a common sight where sheep, goats and cattle used to graze. Of course the Fredericksburg area is not the only grape growing region in the state, but it is home to many vineyards and wineries that have earned name recognition.
Becker Vineyards, Messina Hof, Grape Creek Vineyards, William Chirs Vineyards, Inwood Estates Winery, SantaMaria Cellars and Hilmy Cellars are just a few of the 14 or more wineries and tasting rooms in and around Fredericksburg.
The Texas Hill Country was named one of the “10 Best Wine Travel Destinations in 2014” by Wine Enthusiast magazine in its February print edition and online.
The article states, “Each year, our editors scour the globe to suss out the absolute must-visit spots. To a few traditional wine regions, we’ve added several modern classics and a sprinkling of up-and-comers, making a compelling list of destinations.”
“For the Texas Hill Country to be listed with wine travel destinations around the world such as Mendoza in Argentina, Languedoc in France, the Aegean Islands in Greece, the Barossa Valley in Australia, as well as Sonoma County in California and Walla Walla in Washington state, is a wonderful testament to the dedication and hard work by Texas grape growers and wine makers over the last decades,” noted Ernie Loeffler, president/CEO of the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitor Bureau.
One of the more well known Texas vineyards and wineries is Grape Creek Vineyards between Fredericksburg and Stonewall. There, owners Brian and Jennifer Heath raise several varieties of grapes and produce wines that have won dozens of awards.
Grape Creek Vineyards started as a vineyard with, at one point, 25 acres of Cabernet and Chardonnay grape vines. But, in the 1990s a blight that was most likely Pierce’s disease wiped out a decade of growth.
Under the new ownership of the Heaths, planting resumed and Grape Creek Vineyards now has five vineyard blocks. The main tasting room block features a 2007 planting Montepulciano, an Italian variety known for producing bold, flavorful and aromatic wines.
Three other areas, planted 2008, include Aglianico (another Italian red variety) and Chenin Blanc, which is located along the driveway to the vineyard’s tasting room, a beautiful building reminiscent of European architecture and called the “Tuscan tasting room.” A new planting contains both Montepulciano and Aglianico.
Grape Creek’s 2010 harvest yielded a substantial first vintage of a red Italian blend they named “Epiphany.” Epiphany demonstrates aromas and flavors of dark chocolate, coffee and cherries, according to the Grape Creek website, www.grapecreek.com.
Another winery, Becker Vineyards, is one of the oldest in the area, established in 1992. Both the winery and tasting room at Becker are contained in a building that appears to be a massive barn constructed similarly to buildings along Main Street in Fredericksburg, with stone masonry.
Dr. Richard and Bunny Becker in 1990 were looking for a Hill Country retreat and discovered 46 fertile acres with mustang grapes growing. In 1992 they planted their first vines. The first harvest in 1995, laid the foundation for what is now just over a 100,000-case per year winery.
Becker Vineyards farms 46 acres of estate fruit and owns two additional vineyards at Ballinger and Mason, Texas, totalling just over 87 acres of vines.
The Beckers’ philosophy is to promote Texas wine and, therefore, Texas grown fruit. They currently contract with more independent Texas grape growers than any other winery in the state, according to their website, www.beckervineyards.com.
The wine business in Texas is still in its infancy but continues to grow. Nearly all grapes grown in the Central Texas area are used in Texas wines as well as grapes purchased and brought in from other areas. The Central Texas region with Fredericksburg as its hub has become a major wine producing area in Texas.
In addition to having become the top peach-producing area in the state and one of the preeminent wine producing areas in Texas, farmers here grow pecans, strawberries, wildflowers, watermelons and most every table vegetable imaginable.
If the original settlers of the area could see the fruits of the labor of their descendants they would be proud and pleased they chose this productive part of Texas as home.