Following a bountiful Moonlit Harvest, Messina Hof announces expansion to Grapevine

It’s a bit cliché to start off a post with a nod to mild, balmy temperatures and fine Spring-like weather—but anytime you find yourself in cool breezes and pearly skies in South Central Texas in August, it’s news. Of course, imbibing a few glasses of award-winning Sophia Marie Rosé and Paulo Cabernet Sauvignon probably added to my enjoyment of Messina Hof’s Moonlit Harvest last Friday evening as well.

For the past 37 years, Messina Hof has kicked off its month-long series of Harvest Festival events with the Moonlit Harvest, a work party at the vineyards where guests from all over pick grapes, learn a little more about the wine-making process, and literally get their feet wet stomping away on a portion of the harvest. In the process, grape pickers are challenged to find their “Big Kahuna”—that special bunch of grapes that speaks to them personally. It might be a cluster that resembles a bowler hat or even a bird of paradise.

But a few weeks ago. Messina Hof revealed the biggest kahuna of all—their forthcoming venture into the urban winery business as they move into the Wallis Hotel in downtown Grapevine, Texas this November.

Driving down to Bryan, I was already tingling with excitement at getting a behind-the-scenes look at one of Texas’ oldest and most successful wineries. And maybe I’m just a happy-go-lucky oenophile without a care beyond my next glass of scarlet bliss, but I admit, I hadn’t heard the big news about the Grapevine winery coming.

And big news it is — the next chapter in a long, beneficial partnership between the Bonarrigos and the city of Grapevine.

Michael Woody, Assistant Executive Director of the Grapevine Convention and Visitors Bureau, put it this way:

“Grapevine has the fourth largest convention bureau in the state. We’re able to do a lot for our business and hotel partners, and we offer a diversity of experiences for visitors. It’s not a bar environment—it’s an experiential environment. Families might come here for Great Wolf Lodge, but they can also visit the wineries and enjoy that setting.”

When Grapevine leaders were contemplating what to do with the rebuilt Wallis Hotel, they turned to Messina Hof, their longtime Grapefest partner and co-founders of the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association.

It’s a partnership that has worked together for years, like, well— wine and cheese.

Paul Mitchell Bonarrigo is carrying on the family tradition of wine innovation as the head vintner and CEO. At the Harvest, Bonarrigo showcased new wine-on-tap technology that, combined with the high quality of Messina Hof vintages, will allow Messina Hof to serve wines by the glass that stay as fresh as newly opened bottles.

Even while all this talk of big ventures was going around, I was continually struck by the total commitment to immersive hospitality and the personal touches by the Bonarrigos and the Messina Hof staff in general. In fact, it went beyond “personal touches”—it was if all the guests were being invited into a home and treated as part of the family.

Early the next morning over coffee, I talked to “Paul VII” and observed that it seemed Messina Hof was positioning itself to take the next great leap into national recognition and widespread distribution. I wondered aloud how this would impact the focus on hospitality and community that was evident everywhere.

“Our cornerstone and primary focus is hospitality,” Paul said. “We make about 50,000 cases a year, and most those are sold in the wholesale market. But we bring a different mentality to the sales experience. We are family-oriented, and it’s so ingrained that the corporate wine mentality isn’t an option. When we opened the Fredericksburg facility, we brought the staff here (to Bryan) so that they would feel connected to the family and operate under our overall mission. We’ll do the same with the Grapevine employees, and send a portion of our staff from the Hill Country to Grapevine so that we’ll have a mix of employees that are established and that are new.”

Merrill Bonarrigo, Paul’s mother and the matriarch of the Messina Hof enterprise, put it another way.

“Texas wine is taking wine making back to its Old World roots,” she said. “Before there was all the elitism and intimidation surrounding wine, there were families in small villages making their own wines to enjoy at the dinner table. What we are doing is making world-class wines that people can drink in the way they did for hundreds of years.”

As a native Texan, I subscribe to the vision of Texans making wines that are fun and approachable while gathering recognition as a notable wine-making region. With a prominent Texas winery positioning itself in a convention city that is home to one of the world’s busiest airports, you’ve got the perfect blend of fine wine, Texas hospitality, and easy access to both.

Move over cold beer and smoked brisket—make room for Messina Hof Zinfandel. There’s about to be a new sheriff in town.