In 1977, when Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo first opened the original Messina Hof Winery in Bryan, Texas, very few people gave any credence to Texas wines. In the 40 years since then, Messina Hof and other Texas wineries have taken the wine world by storm. Texas is now number five in the nation in wine production, behind only 1) California, 2) Washington, 3) New York, and 4) Oregon.
And Messina Hof is number one in Texas! Today, Messina Hof is the largest producer of Texas wines. They have expanded to three successful locations: the original in Bryan, followed by locations in Grapevine and Fredericksburg. Paul and Merril’s son, Paul Mitchell, and his lovely wife Karen, joined them in 2010 and help run the family business. Paul Mitchell had just returned to Bryan following five years of service in the United States Marine Corps. He is now the CEO and his wife Karen is the Director of Administration, with Paul and Merrill still involved with operations.
Award Winning Wines
Messina Hof has many award-winning wines, including the wonderful Papa Paulo Port, which has won many awards worldwide, including Double Gold at the Houston Livestock Show. It was also named one of the “World’s Finest Ports” by the internationally renowned and professionally respected Gayot’s Guide to The Good Life.
In celebrating their 40 years in the wine business, Paul and Merril have been hosting numerous special wines, programs and events. One of these special events that my wife, son and I were fortunate to attend was the Harvest Festival 2017 at the Bryan location. Held annually from late July to early September during harvest season, this year’s festival was extra special.
Picking, Stomping, and The Big Kahuna
We began early in the morning along with dozens of other participants, picking grapes straight from the vineyards. The general rule is pick four, eat one. When pickers do pluck one of these Lenoir grapes and place it in the mouth, one can immediately tell the difference between the sweet, full bodied, concentrated flavor of these grapes compared to the eating grapes you pick up at HEB. The deep, sweet, fruity flavors dance in your mouth, and give you a better understanding of where those intense flavors in the wines comes from. Just be careful not to swallow the seeds!
The competition is fierce for The Big Kahuna Contest. The title of The Big Kahuna is given to the person or couple who picks the most creative cluster of grapes, and then uses some special talent to convince the audience that they are worthy of the title. My wife and I were one of ten finalists, and we failed miserably in the talent portion as we sang Puff the Magic Dragon, with my wife moving the jaws of our grape cluster dragon head up and down. But we sure had fun, and totally agreed with the audience’s verdict crowning a young girl who performed awesome cartwheels and backflips as the winner of The Big Kahuna.
We also had fun stomping the grapes we had just picked. Piled deep into large bins, each of us waded through a bucket of cleansing disinfectant and then squished our toes in the cool, wet, fragrant grapes. With our feet soaked in grape juice, we carefully stepped out of the bin and stepped on our T-shirts, leaving our footprint behind on our souvenir for the day, designating us as members of the Official Messina Hof HARVEST CREW.
Messina Hof Mission Statement
“Messina Hof is a family-owned business based on the three cornerstones of family, tradition and romance; and is dedicated to produce a gold medal winning wine in every varietal and to maximize opportunities developed from the wines in a tourism destination focused on the best in hospitality, food and customer service.”
All that picking, stomping, singing, and cheering worked up quite an appetite. We returned to the dining room upstairs and feasted on fresh salad, salmon, roasted potatoes, and an assortment of desserts. We enjoyed friendly conversation with the other couples at our table, especially after we discovered that each couple had an least one Aggie alumni. And, of course, most guests washed down their meal with some of that great Messina Hof wine.
One of the great things about wine is that it makes so many of our foods taste better. Of course, knowing which wines to eat with each food is both an art and a science. To help us figure out this dilemma, Karen Bonarrigo hosted a wine pairing for about twenty couples. It was fun testing which smells we could distinguish, as we all took a blind smell test. Was it melon, or vanilla, or cherry, or pineapple? My untrained nose had no idea, but it was fun trying to make that distinction.
My favorite wine pairing was a delicious bacon and cheese quiche paired with a Messina Hof Malbec. I am no wine connoisseur, but I do know that the flavors of the bacon, cheese and flaky crust were perfectly balanced with the wonderful Malbec. I literally savored every bite, taking my time to truly enjoy the intense flavors enhanced by each sip of wine. Some of the other pairings included a skewer of fresh pineapple, melon, and blueberries with a tasty Prosecco. We especially enjoyed the final pairing of chocolate dipped biscotti with a rich Port Dessert Wine.
Stay Overnight at The Villa Bed & Breakfast
Visitors to Messina Hof can extend their experience by staying overnight at Messina Hof’s The Villa Bed & Breakfast, which was named “Best Romantic Getaway” in Texas and is the only AAA Four Diamond resort in the Brazos Valley. Admire the Great Room with its beautiful stained-glass windows from the Louvre in Paris and from one of the original Spanish Missions in Texas. Each of the 11 private rooms are tastefully decorated and pay tribute to romantic and historical icons like the star crossed-lovers Romeo and Juliet, Thomas Jefferson, and D’Artagnan of the Three Musketeers.
Guests of The Villa Bed & Breakfast are treated to a made from scratch breakfast spread, complete with coffee and mimosas. Messina Hof also provides a complimentary wine and cheese reception in the Wine Bar, as well as a tour and tasting in the tasting room. Guests enjoy access to private patios with lakeside views. And, they will be treated to a park like setting with a menagerie of active turtles who make the lake their home.
For those not familiar with Texas geography, Bryan, where Messina Hof is located, is only ten minutes from College Station, home of Texas A&M University, a thriving college town with over 60,000 students and maroon banners and flags everywhere. As a proud Aggie who received my Bachelor’s in 1980 and my MBA in 1982, it’s always a double pleasure when I get a chance to visit the best winery in Texas along with the greatest University in the nation! Gig’em!
Messina Hof Locations
Messina Hof Winery and Resort
4545 Old Reliance Road
Messina Hof Hill Country Winery
9996 US Hwy 290 East
Messina Hoff Grapevine Winery
201 South Main Street
Visit any Messina Hof location for a taste of award winning Texas wines. For information on more Texas wineries read about Scott’s tour of Hill Country wineries.