When you hear Texas your mind conjures up images of longhorn cattle, wide-open spaces, and Texas Barbecue but never could have this Sonoma County gal ever have imagined that some of the best wines in the world come from deep in the heart of Texas at the Messina Hof Winery and Villa.
Recently I had the unique opportunity to become a part of the Messina Hof family when I went to stay right there at the Messina Hof Winery and Resort, centrally located in Bryan, Texas, just a short and picturesque ride from either Houston or Dallas. Coming from the heart of the Wine Country, I am no stranger to wineries but Messina Hof is a step above all the rest.
From the moment you drive through the gates and step onto the property, its as if you’ve been transported back in time not only by the gorgeous and breathtaking setting but by the way you are greeted with open arms as if you were a long-lost family member because to Paul and Merrill , the founders and owners of Messina Hof and everyone that works there, you are just that, a part of their family.
This is the winery that love built and the chance to sit and talk with Paul and hear him tell the story of how the winery came to be and how he won the heart of Merrill will stay with you long after your visit is over. Theirs is a story of hard work, determination and a love and passion for doing the impossible, but more importantly, it is a story of family and of giving back.
The Messina Hof legacy began 40 years ago, with an experimental vineyard and fifty varietals of grapes. In 1977 neither Paul Vincent nor Merrill Bonarrigo anticipated becoming the power couple that would help pioneer a growing Texas wine industry. At that time, there were few commercial vineyards in Texas and the idea that it would become the 5th largest grape producing state was nothing short of a dream.
With the encouragement of a Texas A&M graduate student studying grape feasibility in Texas, Paul and Merrill planted Messina Hof’s first vineyard in Bryan, Texas. The one-acre experimental vineyard consisted of fifty varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, and Lenoir.
Over the next few years, the Bonarrigos dedicated themselves to the vineyard lifestyle practicing the tricks of the winemaking trade. In 1981, Messina Hof’s award-winning legacy unexpectedly began with a medal at the Texas State Fair for a Black Spanish-Cabernet blend. To the Bonarrigos, this was the first of many victories that reinforced their mantra of “anything is possible.”
The 1980s brought rapid growth for Messina Hof and the Bonarrigo family. A new winemaking generation was born when Paul Vincent and Merrill welcomed their son Paul Mitchell Bonarrigo. The planting of two additional vineyards allowed Paul Vincent and Merrill to produce 1,300 gallons of wine in 1983 – enough to release Messina Hof’s first commercial vintage including Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Papa Paulo Port.
In 1987, Messina Hof’s expansion continued by entering Texas distribution and in 1989 they expanded into Japan. What began as a young couple’s project was now Texas winemaking history.
In 2010, after serving 5 years as a United States Marine Corps Officer, a generational transition began when Paul Mitchell and his wife Karen returned home to Bryan, Texas to continue his parent’s legacy.
As a family, the Bonarrigos successfully opened Messina Hof Hill Country Winery in 2011. Paul Mitchell’s experience growing up on the vineyard prepared him for the next major step in Messina Hof’s history. In 2012, the winery was officially passed down to the next generation with Paul Mitchell becoming the Chief Executive Officer and Karen, the Director of Administration. Paul Mitchell and Karen opened Messina Hof Grapevine Winery in 2014 at the end of a record-breaking year. They continue to lead Messina Hof in the direction of international recognition.
And now nearly 40 years later, the two generations of Bonarrigos work side-by-side with the grandchildren often seen getting into the act as well.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was when we got to actually go out into the vineyards where we got a chance to actually help with the harvest and cut the grapes right from the vines, and then jump into a wine barrel and yes, I got to crush the grapes.
It was absolutely right out of an episode of “I Love Lucy”, especially with being on crutches at the time but they knew I was determined and they made sure I was able to live out my dreams of helping to crush the grapes.
But even more memorable was the pride in their eyes and the love in their heart that stayed with me whether it was watching Merrill’s face and seeing her eyes tear up just a bit as her son talked to the group of us gathered there as he explained about this year’s harvest.
But the best was watching Paul out in the field with the grandkids in tow handing down the family traditions from grandfather to grandchildren because Messina Hof is not just another winery, but a family and these are the moments that stay with you long after the stay is over, and reconfirm that not only are the Messina Hof wineries the best of the best, but each is bottled with love.
Now you can absolutely head to the Messina Hof winery and make an afternoon or even an entire day of it.
From visiting the tasting room to eating in their award-winning Vintage House restaurant there is more than enough to fill your day especially if you indulge the Vintage House Restaurant.
I highly recommend the experiencing the Chef’s Table where you are guided through an exquisite five-course menu created especially for you and of naturally each course is perfectly paired with their award-winning wines.
The menu can also be adjusted to compliment a special wine. Diners at the chef’s table are treated to an experience like none other, tasting dishes presented by the chefs themselves.
But why just spend a day when you can spend the night or an entire weekend at the beautiful Messina Hof Villa.
Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway or a girlfriend’s weekend, or just want a quiet place to relax and unwind, The Villa Bed & Breakfast offers a unique experience while taking in a little piece of Texas wine country.
Named, “Best Romantic Getaway”, The Villa embodies the values of Messina Hof with timeless heirlooms, such as the Great Room, which features beautiful stained glass windows from The Louvre in Paris as well as stained glass from one of the original Spanish missions in Texas.
Each of the 11 spacious suites are individually furnished and pay tribute to romantic and historical icons such as Romeo & Juliet or D’Artagnan.
Other amenities include private patios with lakeside views, balconies, oversized tubs, wifi access and all-inclusive packages.
Each stay at the villa includes a complimentary champagne breakfast spread with some of the most mouth-watering made from scratch delights that I have ever experienced, and of course mimosas to wash them down with and in the afternoon, your invited to partake in a Wine and Cheese reception located in the Wine Bar right next door to the Villa where you’ll find a wine and cheese reception with more wonderful drink specials awaiting you.
Staying at the Villa also means that you’ll learn first hand of the history of Messina Hof and Texas wine while you explore the vineyard and see behind the scenes the craft that goes into winemaking.
Each tour is followed by a special tasting where your guide will take you through four different wines and cover tasting techniques, pairings and what makes each wine unique.
And yes it is all just as heavenly as it sounds and then some. But I think my favorite part of staying at the Villa was sitting on the patio outside of my room and gazing out over the beauty that is the Messina Hof Winery and taking a leisurely stroll around the lake. You come away from your stay at Messina Hof with a new found sense of serenity and a calm and a feeling in your heart that you are truly are a part of the family. What more could you ask for!
Whether you’re looking for that fun day trip or that unique, special and memorable weekend, it’s worth a trip to Texas just to visit the exquisite and incomparable Messina Hof Winery and Villa, the winery built on love and where everyone is treated like family.
DIsclosure: I received a hosted visit to the Messina Hof Winery and Villa for the purposes of this review, however, the thoughts and opinions expressed here are 100% my own.