by Robin English-Bircher, Wine Travel Writer, Texas Wine and Trail May 09, 2014
At Messina Hof, the grape growing season is very important. As a winery, they respect grape growing and its crucial role in winemaking, and for many of their wines, the winery has worked for decades with the same Texas growers (the Cab Franc has always come from the same Texas vineyard). So it is no surprise that Messina Hof celebrates the grape growing season. This year’s celebration started on April 25 and 26 with the Spring Release Dinner and the 30th Annual Wine and Roses Festival. During these festivities, the winery gets geared up for the year; they wrap-up the year with the fall Harvest Festival. Messina Hof prepares for the growing season with the release of a fresh new selection of wines and a festival in honor of the blooming of the roses and the grape bud break found throughout the Bryan vineyard.
Tasting the New Year: Spring Release Dinner
The weekend begins with the Spring Release Dinner. This year, Paul Mitchell Bonarrigo (Paul VII) and Karen Bonariggo welcomed guests to the winery grounds to enjoy the newest Messina Hof wines thoughtfully paired with special dishes from the chef of the winery’s Vintage House Restaurant. At Messina Hof, they emphasize the importance of pairing wines with food; it is one of their passions that is celebrated at the dinner. In addition, the evening included a silent auction with numerous lots and a live auction of a three liter bottle of the new DRZ (which sold for $1000). Proceeds from the auction went to the Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History.
At dinner, Paul Bonariggo – who was celebrating his 32 birthday — spoke about the winery as well as the wines. Karen, who had been involved in the evening’s menu, provided insight on the foods and the pairings. Guests were also introduced to the evening’s guest: the Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History. Paul talked about his past with the 50+ old museum: his experiences as a child and its role in his own children’s future. Museum director Deborah Cowman told the gathered group about exhibits at the museum, including an up and coming Ice Age exhibit focused on fossils from the area, and various events the museum holds, such as an upcoming mini-marathon (6th Annual Buffalo Stampede), chuck wagon cook-off, and living history enactments scheduled for October 4.
The dinner started with an informal reception where guests enjoyed three choice wines: Private Reserve Shiraz, Private Reserve Pinot Gris, and Beau. During the reception, guests could place bids for items in the silent auction. Local singer Hayley Cole – who also appeared at the festival the next day – provided the entertainment.
The dinner provided an array of flavors and pairings. It started with a fresh locally sourced salad with fruit infused with Messina Hof wines and paired with the new vintage of Sophia Marie Rosé (a bright pairing). The next course was a mushroom ragu paired with the new Reserve Merlot. Also with this course was a cheese filled artichoke heart wrapped in parmesan bread crumbs and paired with a new Trebbiano (the Trebbiano growers, Bill and Gail Day, were also at the dinner). The main course was a tender and flavorful Osso Buco. The veal fell away with the slightest touch and also provided a bit of bone marrow; this paired with the new DRZ – Doletto and Red Zinfindel blend. The evening ended with the 2010 Papa Paulo Port paired with a rose infused gelato and chocolate spring cake. The gelato was light, and the rose added a soft touch that paired well with deep, sweet port. The cake was light and airy, allowing the chocolate to stand out and emphasize the mocha notes in the port.
Spring in Bloom: 30th Annual Wine and Roses Festival
On Saturday afternoon, the overcast skies threatened rain that never quite came. Despite the weather, a good crowd came out to Messina Hof from the 30th Annual Wine and Roses Festival. Like the night before, some of the day’s proceed benefitted the Bravos Valley Museum of Natural History, who were represented with an informative booth; they shared cool fossils and live butterflies, as well as participated in the grape stomp. People of all ages, including playful and excited children, filled the winery grounds for the same purpose: to have fun. And there was plenty of it to be had.
The day started with a celebrity grape stomp; the Merlot Mashers of the Bryan-College Station Convention and Visitors Bureau took the prize. This was followed with the proclamation of Messina Hof day and the eagerly anticipated general wine stomp competition hosted by KAGS news anchor Matthew LeBlanc. This stomp provided a lively backdrop for wine tastings, food trucks, and local vendors. Guests could also enjoy leisurely walks along the property or even nestle into the wine bar; many also got comfortable in the rose garden. Of course, there were plenty of wines to try at five different locations throughout the property, as well as some wine slushes to beat back the later day heat. And for those more active guests, they could complete their passport – encouraging them to take part in all possible activities – to gain entrance to the TweetSpot.
Another important part of the festival was the art competition. For years, the winery had local artists create a work embodying the current festival’s theme. This work of art would later be used on a bottle; however, in the past, the winery stopped this part of the festival due to issues with labels. Problems with the TTB created a long wait for labels, making it problematic to use the winning art on a label. Paul had explained that by the time the label would be approved, it would already be time for the next festival. In these last few years, the label application process has improved; therefore, the winery decided to bring back the competition. This year the theme was locavore and six artists took part. Guests to the festival were able to cast their vote their favorite work.
For those looking for a bit more excitement, there were a few events. The Austin Screen Printing Cooperative (ASPCO) provided screen printing demonstrations. Abbey and Jess from ASPCO taught guests about screen printing, from making the paint (in this case wine paint with Messina Hof Pinot Noir) to creating the “screens” used in the printing process and applying the ink. They were very knowledgeable and friendly, happily answering the crowd’s questions. In the end, guests attending the demonstration received a tasting of the Pinot Noir and a screen printed recipe for the wine paint.
Also, there were two chances to take part in the wine and chocolate pairing class. Karen Bonariggo led the class and explained the ins and outs to wine pairing, especially pairing with chocolate. Truman Chocolates provided three hand-painted truffles: Champagne chocolate (made entirely with white chocolate), a dark chocolate raspberry truffle, and a dark chocolate espresso truffle. These were paired with Glory (a late harvest Moscato), the new Sophia Marie Rosé, and the new port.
And for those who love music, there was plenty. The first two performers took the stage at the lakeside patio. Hayley Cole, who played at the dinner, drew a good crowd, and so did Joe Teichman. This location provided a nice intimate setting for these individual performers. The day ended with The Rock-A-Fellas who played from 4-8 (when the festival ended) in the rose garden. The band played rock and roll hits from the 60s onward; they even took some requests. During their performance, some of the crowd danced despite the heat while others lounged, enjoying the music and the wine.
Social media played a big role in the day. I myself shared a lot of tweets and Facebook posts, but so did many others. There was a “selfie” station where guests could take a selfie to post online. Next door was the brand new TweetSpot. Guests could pay for a pass for the TweetSpot or complete their free passport for entry. Inside, guests could sample the new wines from the Spring Release Dinner (and enjoy some light snacks to pair with the wines). Also in the TweetSpot, Paul Bonariggo chatted with guests and answered their many Messina Hof questions. Karen also came by to meet with guests. In addition, one of the winemakers, Randy, joined the guests to share his thoughts about the new wines and his time with Messina Hof. And of course, guests were encouraged to take to social media while sampling the wines in the TweetSpot.
The weekend proved to be full of fun and friendly people. It was a great example of everything wonderful about the Texas wine industry. There was great wine to celebrate the grape and the hard working Texas grape growers. There was a family atmosphere that brought Messina Hof friends and fans together. This single weekend is only the beginning; in the fall, people will gather again to celebrate harvest. And if this first celebration is any indication, this year will be a bright one for Messina Hof.
All wines served at the Spring Release Dinner were Texas wines.
- 2013 Sophia Marie Rosé: Named for Paul Mitchell and Karen’s daughter, this is the third rosé made from Lenior; this wine provides a lightly sweet front of soft, red fruits.
- 2013 Trebbiano Private Reserve: Made from High Plains grapes, this crisp wine is lightly acidic and bright with soft citrus notes (specifically notes of lemon and grapefruit).
- Paulo Merlot: Strong cherry and oak notes dominate the nose and taste, but there is a subtle move towards a more herbaceous and dark cherry flavor towards the middle and end.
- DRZ (referred to as Doctor Z): A rich fruit nose opens into jammy bright fruit and moves smoothly into richer notes of oak and plum.
- Papa Paulo Port Private Reserve 2010: Another wine made from Lenoir, this port is rich and thick with a fruity sweetness that has underlying tones of mocha.
Note: I was a guest of Messian Hof; they graciously provided me dinner reservations and some passes to the festival. I paid for my chocolate tasting.