You can’t miss him. The man in the red beret. Nope, he’s not a Frenchman … he’s our Texas wine guy, a colorful gentleman who never shies away from a good time. When the mood is right, you might even spot him wearing a purple suit. If you’ve been following Texas wine, you probably know we are speaking of Paul Bonarrigo, highly knowledgeable Texas vintner and founder of Messina Hof Winery and Resort in Bryan. He and his wife Merrill also run a restaurant and B&B there. Never one to miss a Texas wine event, Bonarrigo will be pouring his award-winning wines at the highly anticipated Texas Reds Steak & Grape festival in Bryan this June 18-19. Taste buds will be tingling for samples from 21 Texas wineries and 30 steak teams vying for best of beef. We caught up with Bonarrigo before the event for the latest sipping scoop.
How’s the Texas grape crop looking this year? It will be one of the biggest crops in Texas history! After a freeze the next year really comes forward with an abundant crop.
What inspired you to start a winery in Texas? My family had been in the wine business in Sicily since the 1800s and in New York we had a wine making operation in our cellar. We started our vineyard operation in Bryan in 1977 with 100 acres because Texas A&M was looking for 13 vineyards in Texas Then, there were three Texas wineries. Now there are about 135 and Texas is the fifth largest wine producer in the U.S.
How was the Texas Reds Festival started? When the city of Bryan redeveloped downtown they needed more festivals and I was on the committee to get this wine fest started. We had 7000 guests the first year but this year the Texas Reds expects 35,000 people. It’s so centrally located from Austin , San Antonio and Dallas and the sweet town still looks like 1955 so it lends itself beautifully to a walk-able downtown festival. In addition to the wine tasting and steak judging there will be grape stomping and live music. It’s such a great time.
Which grape varietals grow best in Texas? North of Lubbuck is great for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Riesling—cooler weather grapes. South of Lubbuck is best for Bordeaux varietals and now Italian varietals are popping up. The Texoma viticulture appellation is a newer region between Oklahoma and Texas growing Bordeaux varietals because soil is deep and sandy—best for Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Bordeaux.
Which Messina Hof wines are your most popular? We are more known for the reds because they have garnered the biggest awards: Reserve Cabernet Saugvignon, Reserve Merlot, Paulo Bordeaux blend, and Paulo port . We also produce several whites including Chardonnay, un-oaked Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling—also popular and perfect for summer.
Where can we buy your wines in Texas? The majority is sold to liquor store chains and supermarkets. About 30 percent is sold in restaurants including Saltgrass Steakhouse and the Pappas chain. We are now producing 100,000 cases, the third largest in Texas.
Who stays at your B&B? Very international guests, many visiting the Bush Presidential Library and Museum. The current exhibit is The Culture of Wine and I highly recommend it. Each room in the B&B has a different theme. There’s the German room, the Italian Romeo & Juliet room, and also a Thomas Jefferson room saluting the first great winemaker in America.
What’s down the road for Messina Hof? We recently hosted a Royal Caribbean wine cruise to Jamaica and Cozumel. Our son, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2005, is now our winemaker in training and has begun the process of taking over the winery. Our daughter is in charge of Human Resources for Messina Hof and she just gave birth to our first grandchild, Sophia, the eighth generation exposed to the wine business. We are buying additional vineyards in west Texas and also expanding by adding the Paolo Winery building to the Messina Hof estate for our high-end wines and for major events. We’ll keep evolving. Messina Hof will offer a special Texas Reds Jazz Brunch after the festival on June 20 from 11am-1pm. For reservations, call 979-778-9463 x 234. The winery will also supply a shuttle service from the downtown festival to the winery. For ticket and information regarding the The Texas Reds Festival, visit www.bryantx.gov/texasredsfestival/. Go red. Remember, it’s good for your heart. And what a great color!