Located in the Texas high plains and combined with 21st Century land-use, entrepreneurship, technology and yes, tourism, Highway 290 in recent years has been created into a Texas Wine Road with more than 50 wineries of all sizes. They’ve helped turn Fredericksburg into a hotspot for Texas wines (and distilleries) and are now beginning to do the same in sleepy Johnson City.
Enter Carter Creek Winery Resort & Spa. Located just a few minutes outside of Johnson City and one hour north of San Antonio, it’s the newest addition to the Carter Hospitality Group’s collection of winery resorts. Since it opened in 2019, Carter Creek has helped make Johnson City the newest place to be along the Wine Road.
“Johnson City has a vibe all its own,” said Matthew Kleefisch, general manager of Carter Creek. “It’s what Fredericksburg was 20 years ago… fish fries, rodeos. And you can still walk downtown.”
The Carter Creek story began in 2015 when Jim Carter, owner of South Coast Winery Resort in Temecula, CA, came across land in Blanco County, TX, he thought would work for his next winery project. A native of Ohio, Carter always loved Texas—and he liked growing everything from grapes to the big American elm trees that are scattered across the Hill Country.
“He’s always driving plants and trees and pipes back and forth from Temecula to Texas,” said Kleefisch. “He’d rather drive than fly.”
That mentality says a lot about Carter, who founded South Coast Winery Resort & Spa in 2003. In 2015 he opened Carter Estate Winery & Resort, also in Temecula. Meanwhile, in the Texas Hill Country, Carter saw the same kinds of rolling hills and weather as in the Temecula Valley. Others succeeded in growing grapes and producing wine in the Hill Country, now it was his turn. Carter went right to the source of Texas wines—Jon McPherson—whose father, the legendary “Doc” McPherson, is to Texas wines what Sam Houston is to Texas statehood.
Carter had worked with Jon McPherson on creating award-winning wines for his Southern California wineries, so it was logical that he looked some 350 miles northwest to McPerson Cellars in Lubbock to bring some Buddy Holly flair to the land of Willie and Waylon.
The results over the past three-plus years have been 20-award winning wines and a resort that attracts visitors from all around the country, particularly Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, not to mention Carter’s Wine Club members in California.
“Texas wine is varietal driven,” Kleefisch said. “You’re going to find a lot of [grape] varieties from southern France, southern Germany and Portugal.”
To qualify as a “Texas” wine, Kleefisch said, 75 percent of its fruit has to come from Texas soil.
“Texans love things that are grown in Texas. So they have really started to embrace what’s grown here as opposed to California and Argentina.”
Carter Creek Winery Resort & Spa features 78 one-bedroom suites, each designed and furnished by Carter’s wife Dawn. A large lawn is the resort’s main gathering place, with a stage on one side that plays host to Friday and Saturday night concerts. A few yards away, the seasonal JC Smokehouse serves brisket (of course), flatbreads and its famous smoked carnitas grilled cheese sandwich.
Across the lawn, the Old 290 Brewery & Restaurant is Carter Creek’s main eatery, where Brewmaster Justin Zimmerman creates some outstanding hand-crafted beer selections. The wine-tasting room is a “must stop” for resort guests and visitors. It reinforces Carter’s saying that “wine is the magical fruit.”
“I think a lot of the impact of Carter Creek is staying true to Texas,” Kleefisch said. “We have 20 wines, each of them award-winning. There are no additives. Jon McPherson and Jim Carter want you to taste the grape.”