by Melba Allen
Originally called Zancle, somewhere around the 8th Century, today Messina, Italy is one of the 3 largest cities on the island of Sicily. Known more for its food than its wine, Hof, Germany is located in the northeastern part of Germany in Bavaria. Why am I mentioning so abstractly these two cities? Because they are where we have the origins of Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo of Messina Hof Winery & Resort in Bryan, Texas.
Paul, who’s family is originally from Messina, created with his wife Merrill, Messina Hof in 1977. This was the period where the Texas wine scene started to become active, and Paul and Merrill were a part of that scene. With the discovery of using the Texas root stock to save the European vines from the Phylloxera by T.V. Munson in the late 1800’s, almost a hundred years later we find this new set of pioneers who believed that Texas could also make quality wines.
We met Merrill and Paul in 2002, the days when I was working as the Director of the Wine Institute at the Culinary Institute, Alain & Marie Lenotre in Houston, Texas. For the Grand opening of the short lived wine classes, I organized an Event which was the first Texas Wine Shoot Out in which they presented their wines with 20 other Texas winemakers. The O.K. Corral-style shoot out was between wines from France and those of Texas. Here the participants got to taste and vote on the wines they preferred. That was a lot of fun.
After coming back to Europe, I met Merrill and Paul again end of January 2011 during the International Wine Tourism Conference in Portugal. We were Speakers during the Conference and got a chance to chat in between Speaking events. They gave a Conference speech highlighting the energy of the people working to make Texas wines known from the up and coming Texas Wine Industry using their winery as an Example. It was here that I learned about the many exciting things that they are doing at their winery. So this summer, we made it a point to visit them and participate in the activities of the Winery & Resort by presenting a Wine and Food pairing class using the profiling method. Their 100 acres Estate host not only a winery of 42 acres, but also a bed and breakfast called the “Villa”; a wine bar known as the Wine Master’s Room; and there is the Vintage House restaurant ” with the great chef Dwight Sherman from New Orleans, and where you dine amongst barrel-ageing wines. People come there from all over the world to visit and to participate in the activities organized by this very active family. While we were there, we fell upon a group of Chinese from Hong Kong visiting the vineyards and the winery. They were enchanted with their visit and wanted us to photos of them with their cameras, which we did gladly…
As I mentioned earlier, we presented a wine and food pairing with the theme on local cheeses. We paired the Messina Hof wines with these cheeses and came away with some really nice discoveries. Discoveries such as the Messina Hof private Reserve Chardonnay was delicious with the gruyere; the Barrel Reserve Cabernet went well with the Wateroak Farm Herb de Provence goat cheese, while the Wateroak Farm pepper Ricotta went well not only with the Barrel Reserve Cabernet, but also the Private Reserve Shiraz. What really knocked the sock off of everyone , is the Bleu with the Messina Hof Reserve Private Port which was sublime.
Afterwards, we got to stay at the Villa Resort with its 10 themed rooms, each decorated with authentic period furniture to put you in the ambiance. Our room, the Lancelot & Guinevere, much to our liking, was a simple yet very elegant Gothic style, a 17th-century hand-carved bed complete with sideboard and cupboard, a period stain-glass window near the ceiling and spacious whirlpool tub and separate shower in the bathroom. The Champagne breakfast was Texas-styled with very generous portions of everything. We later dined at the Vintage House restaurant where the towering 6 feet 10 inch chef Dwight Sherman, reign. We got to taste dishes authentic from Merrill’s home region in Germany and savor more of Messina Hof wines as well.
With their son (Paul VII) and their son’s wife Karen, Messina Hof is well into the seventh generation of winemaking. The younger Paul currently looks after the operational duties at Messina Hof Winery and Resort, as well as participates in the winemaking process, with his father, while Karen, is integrated by participating in Human Resources and general administration of the winery. Being a family owned business, the Bonarrigo Messina Hof’s philosophy is based on three ideas: family, tradition, and romance. This is very much evident when you’re there visiting. We were there this summer and arrived just in time for the traditional grape stomping event. Those who participated in the stomping also got to pick the grapes. Unfortunately, we didn’t get there in time for the picking of the grapes which some the participating members that we talked with told us that they learned a lot and had great fun. I tried to film the stumping of the grapes but didn’t really get satisfactory result. So here is a little something from YouTube that’s much better!