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” cooks 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?)
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.
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.