Funky VW microbus transports wine tasters in style


Wearing my grandmother’s bright red coat, I sipped bourbon after a Garrison Brothers Distillery tour. An orange and black butterfly landed on my shoulder, and I coaxed the insect onto my index finger, marveling at it.

My weekends rarely include interactions with dainty butterflies. As a mother to two young boys, my itinerary includes rescuing garden snakes from our cat’s clutches, refereeing impromptu wrestling matches, reenacting superhero scenarios, and pretending to understand today’s second grade math. A glass of wine can offer a reprieve from these demands, and the beverage has gained quite a following in the “mommy market” as women seek a break from their everyday lives.

On this day, after the butterfly flitted into the breeze, I climbed into a light blue, fully restored 1971 Volkswagen Microbus, heading out on a winery tour to taste handcrafted pinot grigios, sauvignons blanc, syrahs, malbecs, moscatos, and ports from the Texas Hills Vineyard, William Chris Vineyards, Garrison Brothers Distillery, and Solaro Estate Winery. Liz Smith, owner of Vintage Tours of Texas, settled into the driver’s seat, cooing supportively to her VW time machine. The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, and Creedence Clearwater Revival played in the background, setting a groovy mood.

“I was born in 1960 in Minneapolis, a little too late to be a flower child,” said Liz. “I arrived in Austin in 1979, and it’s been home ever since.”

Our cheerful tour guide, a former preschool teacher in Dripping Springs, sported stylish reddish highlights and showed no sign of pretension despite being surrounded by wine connoisseurs. In 2006 a drunk driver killed Liz’s then sixteen-year-old son. In her quest to heal, she continued to think about Austin’s need for designated drivers. In 2009 Liz and her husband bought the bus in Missouri, and by 2010 they were shuttling private parties of two to six revelers to more than thirty Hill Country wineries.

Vintage Tours of Texas offers more than a safe ride. Liz provides three winery visits, tasting fees, food, a local guide and driver, and a souvenir photo. When asked to share her most obnoxious tour story, Liz’s preschool teacher outlook shined through. “I don’t know if it’s the bus or the free love spirit that it evokes, but our clients are genuinely happy folks,” she said. “This business has been both therapeutic and joyful for me.”

Which brings me back to the butterfly. That fanciful creature reminded me that happiness finds you in the most unexpected places, like in a forty-two-year-old baby blue bus.

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