I made a new friend at a bar the other day who had just moved to Texas from Ohio. Throughout that evening he and I joked about Austin’s unexpected beauty, and how different this city is from the rest of the state. And although there is a kernel of truth to that sentiment, I left the conversation feeling like I’d sold Texas short.
Yes, Austin is beautiful. But I’d argue it’s not the oasis so many residents like to portray. Many parts of Texas boast gorgeous landscapes. In my travels I’ve found beauty in nearly every hill and plain of the state. I wish I had thought to talk more with my new friend about that, so perhaps he’d venture outside the city limits sooner rather than later.
One place I’d recommend first up is the Messina Hof Winery and Resort in Bryan, Texas. About 90 minutes outside Austin, this family-owned vineyard is one of the oldest in Texas. Messina Hof produces a wide variety of wines from their vineyards across the state, and they are a leader of the wine-on-tap movement for restaurants and bars in Texas.
The winery houses a vineyard, a winemaking facility, a tasting room, and a bed and breakfast. Owners Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo have family roots in the business, and Paul planted their first vineyard in Bryan in 1977. By 1983, they were producing wine commercially. These days Paul (pictured below) has passed the business on to his son and family to manage, but remains hands-on for harvest and other operations.
As with most wineries, harvest at Messina Hof is a big deal. The Bonarrigos plan a full month of activities, with everything from live music to wine dinners. I was there on the first night of harvest, with a small group of locals, family friends, and journalists who had been invited to share the celebration.
I wish you could have been there. It was twilight, and the summer heat had broken for the evening. All together we walked the rows of Messina Hof, gathering heavy clusters and sipping pinot as we went. Each bunch of grapes went into a yellow tote, to be gathered with the rest and crushed that evening.
The group stretched across several rows, and soon a murmur of gossip and laughter wafted across the vineyard. At once we were moving in concert, creating the rhythm of the harvest as we went. First was the the clip of shear against stem. Then the soft thump of grapes hitting bins. Finally, a whoosh of grapes tumbling into boxes at the end of each row.
We went on like that for an hour, until dusk settled over us and it was too dark to tell shadow from grape. Many of the visitors to the winery that night described harvest as an annual tradition, part of their family’s holiday schedule just like Christmas or Easter.
It was awesome– and humbling– to take part in a process that started before I was born and that will continue beyond my lifetime. I can’t think of any better way to describe the harvest at Messina Hof than as a deep, nourishing soak in the beauty of Texas.
As a native, it’s easy to take that kind of beauty for granted. And as an Austinite, it’s easy to get caught up in the city’s splendor and deny that of the rest of the state. I’m guilty of both more often that I’d like to admit.
I didn’t catch the number of my Ohio friend at the bar the other day. If I had, I’d call him up and tell him to get out of town this long weekend. To go to Bryan and explore. After all, there’s a whole beautiful state out there, if you know where to look.