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Photo courtesy of William Chris Wine Co.

Texan wine enthusiasts and beginners wanting to test their skills or develop them further can now do so at a new Hill Country wine school led by an award-winning winery out in Hye, Texas.

William Chris Wine Co. (WCWC) has opened their William Chris Wine School with Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) classes and a one-of-a-kind ambassador certification course beginning in April. The school is offering these courses not only to educate fellow Texans about the intricacies of wine, but also to provide inspirational experiences that help ignite their passion for it.

“WSET courses are designed to inspire and empower anyone looking to develop their wine knowledge—regardless of prior experience, and from enthusiasts to professionals,” said Director of Education Kelsey Kramer in a press release. “So, we encourage anyone to sign up for our WSET courses no matter their current level of wine knowledge.”

WCWC is the first Texas winery to provide these educational courses to industry peers and enthusiasts. They’ll offer two WSET level tracks with multiple classes; their beginner-level WSET Level 1 classes are open for registration for April 15 and May 15. The WSET Level 2 Award in Wines courses are for more experienced aficionados, and are centered around trying new wines from all over the world while also educating on wine theory, grape-growing techniques, and more. The level two classes are scheduled for May, June, and July.

Kramer added that over half of the William Chris team have successfully passed the WSET Level 2 Award in Wines courses.

“Our ultimate goal, as always, is to increase the standard of knowledge for those in the Texas wine industry,” she said. “Anyone who participates in a course with us supports this goal and the future success of the industry as a whole.”

Though Texas wine is not included in the WSET curriculum, the wine school has their own solution for that. They are offering an exclusive Texas Wine Ambassador Certification program that focuses solely on wine-making and grape-growing in our own state. Their first certification class is scheduled for April 22.

More information about the William Chris Wine School and its classes can be found on their website.

Photo courtesy of Carter Creek Winery Resort

First-of-its-kind Hill Country resort blends acclaimed Texas winery, brewery, and spa

Texas getaways

When he’s a beer-loving outdoor enthusiast and she’s a wine-loving spa junkie, agreeing on plans for a quick Hill Country getaway can be tricky. My husband likes to spend the day climbing hills in state parks; I’d rather climb on and off a wine tour bus. He hunts down hoppy craft beer in town; I search for lavender bath products.

So a new(ish) Hill Country resort with our vacation trifecta - winery, brewery, and spa - beckoned to us for a weekend away. Carter Creek Winery, Resort & Spa stands high on a hill overlooking U.S. Hwy. 290, just off a swerve-fast-or-you’ll-miss-it exit outside Johnson City.

Thirty miles east of Fredericksburg, it’s along a stretch of the famous “Texas wine road” between Johnson City and Stonewall that’s become an attractive destination for a slightly more laid-back oenophile experience. (Locals are quick to make Napa-Sonoma comparisons.)

Carter Creek Family Winery has been bottling wines in the area since 2016, and they come with fine Texas pedigree: Head winemaker is Jon McPherson, son of Texas wine industry pioneer "Doc" McPherson and brother of renowned winemaker Kim McPherson. Jon McPherson has teamed up with winemaker Javier Flores to turn out award-winning Carter Creek wines for several years.

In December 2019, owners Jim and Dawn Carter opened Carter Creek Winery Resort in Johnson City as a sister property to their South Coast Winery Resort & Spa in Temecula, California. Knowing how much Texans like their beer, they say, they threw in a microbrewery, too. The Hill Country resort debuted with a winery and two tasting rooms, onsite brewery, restaurant, seasonal smokehouse, outdoor events center, and 78 luxe private villas.

Then COVID-19 hit weeks later and shut it all down.

As restrictions loosened and tourists came back to the area, the owners continued with their plans, finally adding a long-anticipated spa in summer 2022.

Carter Creek now has the only spa in the eastern section of the Hill Country. It’s also the only winery resort with a brewery in the area.

Rooms and brews
After a longer-than-usual drive from Fort Worth to Johnson City (who knew Marble Falls and Burnet had rush-hour traffic?), we checked into villa #2704, our own private palace: separate living room and bedroom, two 55-inch flat screen TVs and an electric fireplace, bathroom with double vanity, and porch with seating area.

We couldn’t help but compare this $209-per-night Hill Country castle to more high-profile Texas hotel-resorts — with tiny rooms — that cost double or triple as much. We were also thankful our quiet villa was one of the farthest back from the highway.

A (recommended) dinner reservation at the resort's Old 290 Brewery Restaurant awaited, just a short walk down a well-lit path across the property. “Old 290” refers to the road that runs along the resort — the actual old 290 road to Fredericksburg from Johnson City.

Here, head brewmeister Justin Zimmerman crafts award-winning small-batch light ales, medium-bodied pale ales, and stouts. Folks were buzzing about his Hell Raiser Bourbon Brown, aged for two months in nearby Garrison Brothers Bourbon Barrels, which won a coveted gold medal in the Fredericksburg Craft Beer Festival last summer. His El Bigote Mexican Lager took home a bronze.

The brewery’s adjacent Hill Country-fine dining restaurant serves the steaks, burgers, and CFS Texas diners demand, with some cheffy twists. The Old 290 Bison Burger, for instance, is topped with brie cheese, tomato bacon jam, horseradish pickles, and crispy onions on a pretzel bun. At a breakfast buffet, “Chef Trey” cooked eggs to order for every guest.

Over housemade garlic knots with tomato garlic compound butter, my husband sampled a flight of Old 290 beers — the IPA earned a rave from the self-proclaimed "hophead" — and I tried Carter Creek wine for the first time. (Tip: Take advantage of the free samples offered before committing to a glass.)

Without evening plans, we’d considered driving 30 miles to legendary Luckenbach to enjoy some live music. No need. A local musician entertained on the restaurant’s stage for hours. Outside, guests gathered around fire pits on the patio and played cornhole on the lush lawn that doubles as a wedding venue with beautiful vistas.

Spa with panache
The next morning, I arrived far too early for my facial and had the intimate spa all to myself. The 1,500-square-foot Carter Creek Spa might be small, but it’s got a mighty name behind it. Spa director Gülçin Johnson is a well-respected aesthetician with an eponymous skincare line called Gülçin Johnson Botanicals carried at top spas across the country.

Carter Creek Spa offers a variety of massages, body treatments, facials, and foot reflexology treatments for individuals or couples. A dry sauna, outdoor pool, and hot tub are just steps away. While priority is given to resort patrons, the spa welcomes day guests for appointments, too.

My refreshing, 50-minute Carter Creek Classic Facial — featuring some Eminence Organic products I've long loved — ended with a glass of crisp Muscat Canelli wine in the relaxation area. (So what if it was not quite 11 am?)

Wine time
An afternoon wine tasting revealed that, unlike other Hill Country wineries with lists as long as a Cheesecake Factory menu, Carter Creek zeroes in on a handful and does them well — currently, four whites, four reds, a rose, a sparkling, and two dessert wines.

The winemakers lean into European varietals, producing crisp whites such the popular Gloriosa ($24), a not-too-sweet blend of Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Muscat Canelli; and complex reds, such as the top-selling Maverick ($39), a Rhone-style blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, and Viognier.

Carter Creek also makes a Sparkling Peach ($35) that’s such a sensation, they have trouble keeping it in stock. It also has a fun backstory: When the Carters asked Jon McPherson — a master winemaker with special expertise in sparkling wines — to create a peach sparkler as a nod to the Hill Country, it took some arm-twisting. He wasn’t going to make some cloying hot-tub sipper, he told them; he would make it his way, as a “serious” wine.

A blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Muscat Canelli, and Pinot Noir results in a lightly sweet, refreshingly crisp and only slightly “peachy” bubbly. It won Double Gold at the 2022 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, in fact.

We couldn’t resist purchasing a bottle, along with three other favorites. (Looking back, we should have joined the wine club on the spot and saved 25 percent; there was no pressure to do so.)

Outdoors and out-of-this-world
After spa-ing and sipping, it was time for an outdoor adventure together. Pedernales Falls State Park was just a picturesque, 30-minute drive away. We laced up our hiking boots and drove down hilly backroads to the park, where my husband’s handy Texas State Parks Pass got us in free.

On this sunny afternoon, a lot of other people had the same idea. We hiked out to the famous river rocks - mostly dry after a season with little rain. To break from the crowds, we sat for a spell in the bird blind and viewed bright red cardinals a chirpy finches darting around the trees.

At dusk, we drove up to the park’s star theater for a stargazing session led by a state park ranger. While we bundled up in a blanket and gazed up at the stars, “Ranger Steve” laser-pointed to constellations and recounted their humorous and harrowing origin stories.

Then, he paused and told us to look up at a blinking light streaking overhead. We waved hello to the International Space Station as it cruised by for four minutes, then disappeared among the million stars in the night sky.

We left the Hill Country, this time, having sampled a bit of everything we were craving - wine, beer, pampering, and nature.

Everything, that is, except bluebonnets. Now, to plan that spring wildflower excursion.

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Carter Creek Winery, Resort & Spa, 4064 W. U.S. Highway 290, Johnson City. Rates start at $209, plus $19 per-night resort fees. Discounts available for AAA, AARP, and more. Family-friendly and pet-friendly. Check website for days and hours at tasting room, restaurant, and spa.

Carter Creek Winery, Resort & Spa

Photo courtesy of Carter Creek Winery Resort

Carter Creek Winery Resort opened in the just-before-covid month of December 2019.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Austin earned top 10 rank for highest number of build-to-rent homes last year

THE RISE OF THE RENTAL

With the increasing demand for housing and rising popularity of constructing homes for rent, Austin has earned a top 10 position in a new analysis of American metro areas with the highest number of single-family rentals built for all of 2022.

A total of 324 build-to-rent homes were completed in Austin in 2022, which is a 10-year high, according to the study by RentCafe. The newest findings put the Texas Capital three places higher than in 2021, when the city ranked No. 13 in the nation.

"Austin was named the second fastest growing city in the U.S. by the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise," the study's author wrote. "That came after the city recorded a 4.3 percent rise in its GDP in 2022 to $216 billion, following the Bay Area."

The study analyzed build-to-rent data from RentCafe's sister site, Yardi Matrix, for communities that had at least 50 single-family rental units.

Dallas nailed the rankings this year by earning the top spot with nearly 2,800 single-family rental units completed last year. Phoenix (which outpaced Dallas last year) ranked No. 2 with only 1,527 units completed. After Phoenix, single-family rentals in other American metro areas only went into the triple digits, with Atlanta, Georgia (No. 3) at 808, Greenville, South Carolina (No. 4) at 584, and Charlotte, North Carolina rounding out the top five with 475 units completed.

The metro areas that complete the top 10 for the most build-to-rent homes in 2022 include:

  • No. 6 – Detroit, Michigan
  • No. 7 – Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
  • No. 8 – Panama City, Florida
  • No. 9 – Charleston, South Carolina
  • No. 10 – Austin, Texas

Austin had the seventh highest number of single-family rentals completed in the country within the last five years, totaling 1,096 units. The Texas cities that ranked higher were Dallas (No. 2) and Houston (No. 4). San Antonio ranked below Austin at No. 8. Phoenix took the No. 1 spot with over 6,000 build-to-rent homes completed in the same time period.

The study's findings support a growing demand for flexibility among renters who may not want the high cost and maintenance associated with home ownership, RentCafe says.

“More and more people are deciding they want the best of both worlds: the flexible lifestyle of the renter, with no maintenance commitments and costs, and the comfort and privacy offered by living in a house,” the study’s author wrote. “In this case, build-to-rent homes check all of the boxes, while high home prices and rising interest rates make them even more appealing.”

The number of single-family rentals is expected to continue rising dramatically in 2023. Currently, 945 units are under construction in Austin. Overall, there are 44,700 build-to-rent homes being built this year throughout the nation; three times more than the number of completed homes in all of 2022, the study says.

Shuttered Salvation Army shelter in downtown Austin will get new life

Salvation Army

When the Salvation Army shelter on East Eighth Street shut its doors back in April, Austin City Council member Zohaib "Zo" Qadri (District 9) said it was unfortunate to see as an Austin resident and leader.

"The Salvation Army kind of abruptly stated that they were pulling out without much of a notice to the residents of the shelter in the district – a shelter that largely houses or housed women and children," Qadri said. "So, you know, that was a huge disappointment for us."

Now the City of Austin has reached a compromise and solution that Qadri believes will help those experiencing homelessness. The Austin City Council on Thursday, June 8, approved a 12-month lease agreement for the former Salvation Army shelter that will cost more than $1 million.

The site will be operated by California-based nonprofit Urban Alchemy, which also provides services at the ARCH, or the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. The council also approved a contract for Urban Alchemy to add more funding, extend the ARCH program and run the former Salvation Army shelter, providing 150 beds.

Urban Alchemy will get more than $4 million.

Later this summer, City leaders will also consider a temporary emergency shelter that will provide around 300 more beds for people experiencing homelessness.

ECHO, or the Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, estimates there are thousands of people experiencing homelessness in Austin. Since the city's camping ban was reinstated in May 2021, many of these individuals have spread out throughout the city or gone into hiding, making it harder to connect them with services.

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Read the full story and watch the video at KVUE.com.

Tenacious D will play the best song in the world in Austin this fall

Spicy Meatball

America's favorite (only?) comedy rock duo is back on tour, and lucky for Austinites, they've announced the addition of three Texas dates this fall. Of course, we're talking about none other than Tenacious D, comprised of Jack Black and Kyle Glass.

The duo's Spicy Meatball Tour is currently underway this month in Europe, with newly extended dates including Houston (September 13), Grand Prairie (September 14), and Austin (September 15).

Supporting acts are yet to be announced, but tickets are on sale as of Friday, June 9, at 10 am. Fans can purchase tickets HERE.

According to a release, the tour dates come on the heels of the recently-released recorded version of Tenacious D’s viral, fan-favorite live cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.” The single is accompanied by a video directed by longtime D collaborator Taylor Stephens, and features our dynamic duo in a glorious, romantic romp by the sea. Last month, they released their first new song in five years, “Video Games,” which has been streamed over 18 million times across all platforms in less than a month. The animated music video, created by Oney Plays, brings video game-ified versions of Black and Glass to life in classic and hilarious ways.

In addition to the single releases, Tenacious D will be the special guest at this year’s Video Game Awards, happening on June 25 at the Hollywood Bowl, where they will perform their new single.

But of course the burning question remains: Will Black perform his equally viral "Peaches" from the recent Super Mario Bros. movie? There's only one way to find out.

Full Tour Dates are below (new dates in bold font):
6/7/23 Berlin, Germany @ Zitadelle
6/8/23 Nickelsdorf, Austria @ Nova Rock Festival
6/10/23 Milan, Italy @ Carroponte
6/12/23 Zurich, Switzerland @ The Hall
6/13/23 Brussels, Belgium @ Forest National
6/14/23 Rotterdam, Netherlands @ Ahoy
6/16/23 London, England @ O2 Arena
6/18/23 Clisson, France @ Hellfest Open Air Festival
6/25/23 Los Angeles, CA @ Hollywood Bowl (Video Game Awards)
9/6/23 Charlotte, NC @ PNC Music Pavilion
9/7/23 Franklin, TN @ Firstbank Amphitheater
9/9/23 Indianapolis, IN @ All IN Music Festival
9/11/23 Rogers, AR @ Walmart AMP
9/13/23 Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall
9/14/23 Grand Prairie, TX @ Texas Trust CU Theatre
9/15/23 Austin, TX @ Germania Insurance Amphitheater