Hill Country Sips: A Tale of Two Brothers and Their Wines

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Tony Maples Photography


All photos for Pillar Bluff Vineyards are by Sharon Young. All photos for Texas Legato Winery are by Lori Triba.

Texas Hill Country natives Gill and Bill Bledsoe don’t just share a passion for grapes and the same last name; they’re also twins. Yet as similar as they may look, each of them grows their own grapes favoring different varietals and creating wholly unique wines from the other.

Pillar Bluff Vineyards lies just outside of Lampasas on the border between Lampasas and Burnet counties. A wide open ranch gate welcomes your arrival to the winery perched just a short distance from Pillar Bluff Creek. Pillar Bluff is Gill’s winery and consists of eight acres of vines.

The grapes Gill grows known as “the five noble grapes of Bordeaux” include malbec, petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot. White varietals include chardonnay, chenin blanc, and viognier. Gill chose the varietals based on the makeup of the alluvial soil and abundance of limestone in the area. Only later did he learn that the limestone of this area bore characteristics of the mineral, dolomite, found in the wine-growing region of northern Italy. The result is a more flinty soil instead of chalky one, making his varietal choices even more ideal for the area.

gill on tractor

Gill became interested in wine-making while in the military and stationed in Georgia. A newspaper recipe for muscadine wine intrigued him and his wife, and soon they were making wine from the recipe annually. The thing is, they got pretty good at it. Others thought so, too. They decided to get serious about wine-making after determining “that coffee filters make lousy wine filters.” Then a mix-up involving their eight-month-old niece, a sippy cup, and the latest batch of muscadine wine convinced them that wine should reside in properly labeled wine bottles and not recycled cranapple juice containers.

So, in 1998 Gill came home to Texas and started growing grapes in his backyard. In 1999, his small batch of chardonnay earned high praise from some folks at the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association. That same year, he applied for his bonding license from the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission. In 2002, he opened his tasting room doors. Today, Pillar Bluff Vineyards produces 1,200 to 1,400 cases of wine per year.

Enter through the front door of the unassuming tasting room and production facility and the golden yellow walls reminiscent of a late summer day near to harvest will cheer you instantly. Cozy up to the wine tasting bar or choose one of the two-seater tables in the back corner perfect for a more intimate wine tasting experience.

Pillar Bluff

Curious what to taste? Well, judges at the 2017 Houston Rodeo and Livestock Show Uncorked International Wine Competition hung silver medals around the bottle necks of Pillar Bluff’s 2012 Cabernet Franc and the 2015 Petite Sirah. The petite sirah is pricey at nearly $80 per bottle. But what is a fair price to pay for something that tastes like “Elvis on velvet” as one connoisseur puts it? The cabernet franc, on the other hand, seems like a little sister to the petite sirah, standing well on its own and at a price of $28.

If you prefer sweet wines, the Pillar Bluff Riesling is light and smooth employing grapes from Williams Ranch in the Texas High Plains. The orange muscat is sweet and silky but sophisticated and named Kitty after Gill’s mother. The Au Poire made from concentrated pear juice is a perfect after dinner sip or will elevate a post-dinner vanilla or almond pound cake to a whole new level.

Finally, if you think a port is after dinner’s best friend, then give the Wink a try. Blended from lenoir grapes from a vineyard just down the road in Briggs, Texas, this lovely after dinner sipper tastes of rich chocolate with cherry undertones.

When you go: Pillar Bluff Vineyards, 300 County Road 111, Lampasas; phone 512-556-4078; website: www.pillarbluff.com; hours: Friday & Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sunday 12:30 p.m. – 5 p.m. 


Finishing up at Pillar Bluff means you’re only half way through today’s wine journey. So don’t despair, just a short distance from Pillar Bluff (or a walk through the vineyard) brings you to Texas Legato.

Gill’s brother Bill and his wife Sulynn live and breathe the winery each day. Literally… An upstairs apartment that hovers over the tasting room provides the couple their home. And the best thing about it is that when you walk into the tasting room, you feel like you’ve walked into the home of a good friend.

Texas Legato - Meika

Simple and comfy with a long inviting bar, you’ll find Meika smiling from ear to ear just itching to start you on your wine tasting experience.

We found Bill puttering around the tasting room rearranging and adding to the winery’s medal collection. It was kind of like hanging out with your dad while he worked on a project, the two of you caught up in a friendly chat.

The wine bug bit Bill when he was working with Gill planting Pillar Bluff’s first grapes. But it was the wine-making process that drew Bill’s interest. “I like concentrating on the details. I like to blend,” he says.

Thus, he started his vineyard on 20 acres right next door to his brother. The lure of experimenting with different varietals than those that Gill grew interested Bill. And his overall mission is to extend a wine enthusiast’s horizon. “I want to move people from sweet [wines] to big, bold wines.”

Texas Legato Patio

Texas Legato’s range of wines reflects Bill’s desire to broaden a wine lover’s tastes. Legato in Italian means a gathering together of family and friends, and if music is your language, you’ll know that “legato” also refers to smooth and connected notes or performance. And that’s what Bill tries to convey in each of his wines. A fluid, intertwined balance that naturally progresses to the next verse (or in this case the next blend or varietal).  These wines beg you to share them with friends and family and with laughter and love.

Texas Legato has racked up some accolades in wine competitions as well. Take the 2011 Hoover Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. The Texas Wine Journal liked it so much that they awarded it 93 points in 2015 making it the highest rated Texas cabernet sauvignon that year. Texas Legato cleaned up at the 2017 Houston Uncorked International Wine Competition scoring a double gold for the 2014 Malbec, three silvers for the GCP Mirtillo, the 2015 Petite Sirah, and the Fight Night. And finally a bronze medal for the Family Reunion, a dry red blend named for the family reunions Bill attended while growing up.

Our recommendations for dry wines? The Family Reunion, a rich blend of merlot, malbec, cabernet sauvignon, petite verdot, and petite sirah, this crowd-pleaser hugs onto your palate letting you savor its nice long finish.

The award-winning 2014 Malbec hangs notes of leather and tobacco in the nose finishing with soft tannins and a smooth, dark cherry fruity flavor that lingers.

If you are a sweet wine drinker: Try the Sweet Peggy Sue. This white wine offers a soft nose of Granny Smith apples and peaches. Hints of melons and tropical fruits make this a smooth sipper especially during the spring or summer, or when Old Man Winter takes a brief vacation during colder months.

The Sweet Surrender appeals to folks who appreciate a wine with understated sweetness. Strawberries and light summer fruits characterize this crisp and clean wine that relaxes into a mellow finish.

When you go: Texas Legato Winery, 2935 FM 1478, Lampasas; phone 512-556-9600; website: www.texaslegatowinery.net; hours: Thursday – Monday 12 p.m. – 5 p.m., closed Tuesday/Wednesday