Last Updated on May 25, 2023
The excitement was palpable from the moment I stepped inside the gates. The Messina Hof Wine and Roses Festival had just begun and I was about to experience the 39th annual celebration firsthand.
The all-day event of sipping, strolling, eating, and shopping has been a yearly tradition held in early May since 1984, shortly after vineyard owners Paul Vincent and Merrill Bonarrigo became experimental vintners.
Pioneering the Texas Wine Industry
What’s now considered a wine legacy across Texas had the humblest of beginnings. A group of students from Texas A&M had written a study on the feasibility of growing grapes in Texas, known for its intensely hot and often dry summers. In a bold attempt to either prove or disprove the study’s accuracy, the couple chose a one-acre parcel of their land and planted the fifty varieties of grapes highlighted in the college’s analysis.
As the grapes began to flourish, the couple quickly discovered they were on to something.
Digging into the earth begets digging into old-world winemaking skills, so Paul and Merrill spent the next four years learning as much as possible about cultivating grapes, wine cellar-storage practices, and fashioning some of the most delicious wines in Texas. Today, that once-little experiment has blossomed into a Texas agritourism niche like no other.
An Elevated Wine Festival Experience
The grounds of the original Messina Hof location in Bryan, TX, are immaculate. This destination in the Brazos Valley surrounded by farmland is now one of the largest producers of 100% Texas-grown wines and the fourth largest winery in Texas. The old-world Spanish charm mixed with Southern flair was apparent everywhere I looked.
Rows of grapes stood boldly in the hot Texas sun, proving once and for all that growing them in this climate can indeed be successful. A vibrant pink rose bush adorned the end of each row of vines, which I later understood had a much more important purpose than simply providing food for the bees.
Planting roses at the end of the rows of grapevines acts as an early warning system. Winegrowers can spot an aphid infestation or diseases such as black rot or mildew on roses earlier than on vines. This time of year, roses are in full bloom, creating the perfect branding – and backdrop – for such a festival.
Vendor tents lined the parking area near the main gate, making it easy to peruse rows of local handcrafted artwork, jewelry, and of course, wine-themed decor. Food trucks were on hand offering munchies like popcorn, snow cones, barbeque, and turkey legs. Multiple outdoor tasting tents adorned the property meaning there was no standing in long lines to grab your next pour.
Messina Hof Festival Traditions
It wasn’t long before my attention turned to a stage along the fence line at the Messina Hof Wine and Roses Festival. Groups of participants had just begun the annual festival tradition of the grape-stomping contest to see which team could persevere through the old-fashioned smashing process to produce the most liquid. It was much harder work than I had assumed!
As the crowd cheered each group of three, stompers appeared genuinely exhausted at the sound of the buzzer. It looked so fun, but ultimately, I prefer keeping my shoes on.
Approaching an enormous outdoor tent, I heard the sounds of live music, and I had to step inside. Lo and behold, Paul Vincent (co-founder of Messina Hof) and a few friends sat together on stage, playing classic rock hits. Sipping my wine, I sang along and glimpsed the larger-than-life soul of a true Texas pioneer. What a special moment to witness.
As the crowd dispersed after the last song, I wondered what strength and tenacity it took to create such a legacy. After watching him on stage wearing his bold attire and studded black boots, it was apparent that the word fear was not in Paul’s vocabulary.
Meandering through the tasting room led me to a small, back hallway where signs pointed toward the wine cellar. Rows of wine barrels, stacked six high, greeted me as I entered the interior storage room. A row of beautiful canvases displayed local artists’ handiwork, all vying for the opportunity to adorn an upcoming wine label.
Wine Pairing Lessons
A Messina Hof Wine and Roses Festival admission ticket includes a wine and food pairing held in a second wine barrel storage room. It was here that I learned that I do, indeed, love port wine. Rich and flavorful, with notes of dark chocolate and delicate fruit, I became an instant fan of the Papa Paulo Port.
Ordinarily, this would not have been a varietal I would have sampled, yet somehow, paired with a bite of chocolate cake, it quickly became my most memorable. Three other wines were paired with small bites, from sweet to savory, each having distinctive tasting notes, aromas, and flavors. Learning had never been more enjoyable!
Strolling the grounds, it was apparent that some attendees came well-prepared. From beach chairs to blankets, table clothes to seat cushions, and coolers to picnic gear, each group set-up seemed to speak to the love of Messina Hof wines. Looking around and taking it all in, I couldn’t agree more. I, too, love Messina Hof and its wines.
If you go:
- Parking on the property costs $5 per vehicle. You may have to walk about a half mile to the entrance depending on how early you get there. The terrain is mostly gravel and grass; be prepared for muddy spots if it rains the day before.
- Bring your ID. No one is given a wristband or drink tickets without a valid ID, no matter how old you appear.
- Outdoor seating is limited, so bring your own chairs or picnic blanket if you can. Seating inside the air-conditioned tasting room fills up fast.
- Luxury restroom trailers on site provide air conditioning, making for a much better experience than a traditional port-o-pot.
- Admission to the Mesina Hof Wine and Roses Festival begins with a Pairing Package starting at $50/per person. An upgraded Ultimate Package, including an Italian Feast experience, starts at $100/per person. A souvenir wine glass, an event t-shirt, drink tickets, a wine pairing ticket, and a canvas tote bag are all included in both packages.