BRYAN – In the fertile soil of the Brazos Valley, you’ll find a field of vines with a Lenoir linage dedicated to a Lone Star State libation.
No matter what quarter of the state you go to, Texans are always willing to raise a glass to their favorite vino. But we wanted to get the whole process, so we went down to Bryan to the Messina Hof vineyard to harvest some of this heart-healthy concoction.
Paul Bonarrigo is the CEO of Messina Hof, a Texas wine tradition that was founded by another Paul Bonnarigo and his wife Merrill back before Paul was even born. You could say the vineyard is his kind of an older sibling.
“Messina Hof was officially started in 1977. That’s when the vineyard went in the ground,” said Bonarrigo. “I was working in the vineyard since I was incredibly young, so I mean, my first official social security year was when I was 8 years old.”
Growing up around grapes was a constant learning experience for Paul, but before leading the family’s vineyard, he followed another calling and, like his father before him, served our country. Paul joined the Marines and was deployed to Iraq twice.
“You know, it makes you appreciate everything. Life in general, the things that some people may consider to be big deals, I don’t, you know, it’s humbling, it modifies your viewpoint on life,” Bonnarigo said.
These days you’ll always find Paul raising a glass to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness while teaching thousands of visitors about the joy of winemaking at a special celebration they call, the harvest festival.
“Harvest Festival is when we get a chance to share what we do with the public,” Bonnarigo said. “To understand the process, to be a part of it, is a lot of fun and it’s something your memories will last a lifetime here because it’s so unique. You can’t do this very often.”
Every August, with the vines sagging from the full weight of the fine Texas fruit, folks line up to work the fields.
“We, as winemakers, get to do this on a daily basis and we experience the wine and we see the art and science involved with it. It’s a great opportunity to share knowledge, but there’s also our motto of ‘Join the family,’ that’s what it’s kind of all about,” said Bonnarigo.
Before the harvest begins, the vines are blessed.
“Being faith-based and focused on that is big for both our family and for the winery,” Bonnarigo said. “So, we always give it up to God.”
Well, water won’t turn into wine here, so the grapes have to be harvested. With a collection of clusters, it’s not hard to find the fortuitous fruit. You’ll even find the Paul senior with his trademark beret pulling his boisterous weight.
It’s not often you’ll see people smile while performing manual labor, but this is one of those exceptions. And that might be because in the end, you know there’s a payoff. Before uncorking a fine vintage, stomping on some grapes leaves a lasting impression.
“Most people are fine with it. You know, we have some people who get that little bit of the tippy toes when they start to get in there, like oh, this is a little bit different, but mostly everybody, they’ll jump in and just have a fun time,” Bonnarigo said.
This old school way of making spirits takes you back to European way of wine making, but all in the heart of Aggieland.
Then it was time to experience the wine. That’s when we met Michael Broussard, the man who knows his wine. After a few lessons, it was time to toast to Texas.
The evening is closed out with diner, drinks, and a chance to talk life with follow lovers of the vine. To connect with something that’s been bringing people together long before the wedding in Cana.
“There’s something that just makes it so magical to know that when the next bottle when the crop comes up, like that could be your pick, what you picked off the vine,” said Jellica Thomassen, Bryan-College station resident.
Whether you’re here for a drink and relaxation or to be a part of the winemaking process, Messina Hof makes for a great stop on The Texas Bucket List.
“We think that letting people be involved not only gives you a new viewpoint, but also lets you experience something that you can’t experience anywhere else,” said Bonnarigo. “No matter where you go in the world, a Texan is proud of Texas. They still understand and appreciate the value of Texas Ag, and Texas wine.”