How the Bonarrigo Family Became the First Family of Texas Wine
In 1977, neither Paul Vincent nor Merrill Bonarrigo anticipated becoming the power couple who would pioneer the growth of the Texas wine industry. At that time, Texas possessed few commercial vineyards, and the idea that it would become the 5th largest grape-producing state was nothing short of a dream.
It all changed when Paul and Merrill received a study on grape feasibility in Texas from a Texas A&M graduate student. Armed with that data, the Bonarrigos planted the first Messina Hof vineyard at their home in Bryan, TX. The one-acre experimental location consisted of fifty varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, and Lenoir.
In fact, the Bonarrigos didn’t intend to open a tasting room initially. However, after their neighbors kept knocking on the door and asking to try the wine and then buy the wine, it became quickly obvious that Messina Hof needed to begin a hospitality program.
For the first four years, the Bonarrigos dedicated themselves to the vineyard lifestyle by honing the time-tested methods and practices of the winemaking trade. In 1981, Messina Hof began its award-winning legacy with a medal in the Texas State Fair for a Black Spanish-Cabernet blend. With this first victory, the Messina Hof mantra came to life: “Anything is Possible.”
Messina Hof Grows to Become a Recognized Leader in the Texas Wine Industry
As the 1980s progressed, Messina Hof and the Bonarrigo Family experienced rapid growth.
- A new winemaking generation was born when Paul Vincent and Merrill welcomed their son Paul Mitchell Bonarrigo into the world in 1982.
- The planting of two additional vineyards allowed Paul Vincent and Merrill to produce 1,300 gallons of wine in 1983. This increase in production enabled the release of Messina Hof’s first commercial vintage, including Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Papa Paulo Port.
- Messina Hof’s expansion continued by entering Texas distribution in 1987 and Japan in 1989.
Over the next two decades, Paul Vincent and Merrill continued to pave the way for Texas winemakers. Their string of successes began in 1990 when Angel Late Harvest Riesling became the first Texas wine to score a 90 in the Wine Spectator – still one of the only three Texas wines to earn this score. It continued through 2013 when Messina Hof became the first Texas winery to win Top Overall at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
What began as a young couple’s pet project was now Texas winemaking history. By following the “Anything is Possible” mantra, Messina Hof had solidified its status as a pioneer in the industry.
A Generational Transition Begins at Messina Hof
After serving five years as an officer in the United States Marine Corps, Paul Mitchell and his wife Karen returned home to Bryan in 2010 to continue his parent’s legacy. Paul Mitchell’s experience growing up in the vineyard prepared him for the next significant steps in Messina Hof’s history.
- 2011 – The united Bonarrigo Family successfully opened Messina Hof Hill Country Winery.
- 2012 – Winery operations officially passed to the next generation when Paul Mitchell became the Chief Executive Officer and Head Winemaker, while Karen took on the role of Director of Administration.
- 2014 – Paul Mitchell and Karen opened Messina Hof Grapevine Winery at the end of a record-breaking year.
Today, more than 40 years later, the two generations of Bonarrigos work side-by-side, with production expanded to over 200,000 gallons per year. Messina Hof continues its diligent pursuit of international recognition while also remaining at the forefront of the Texas wine industry.
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