A few years ago I had the great fortune to meet Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo at the International Wine Tourism Conference in Umbria, Italy. The owners of Messina Hof Winery in Bryan, Texas, we hit it off instantly and have been close friends ever since. I’ve celebrated two different harvests with them and this year I returned to visit their Hill Country location as well as the winery itself in Bryan. We arrived in the middle of the night, flying into Austin and then driving an hour and a half to their Manor House B & B in Fredericksburg. Each of the four rooms is named. We stayed in the Messina house, honoring Paul’s Sicilian heritage. Each room is very comfortably appointed and has high-speed wi-fi, a flat screen TV and a coffee maker and fridge.
After getting some well-needed rest, we felt some BBQ was in order, so we headed to Spicewood for Opie’s BBQ. We tried a bit of everything; brisket, ribs, sausage, spicy corn, tater tot casserole and of course the butterbeans. Everything was divine. We stopped at Spicewood Winery, which was unfortunately closed for the day, but we enjoyed wandering around and peeking in the windows. He headed back to Hill Country, drove through Fredericksburg and paid a return visit to Chisholm Trail Winery. The winery is nine miles west of town and truly out in the country. It’s fun and funky and Paula is producing some very nice wines.
We paid a visit to William Chris Winery, where we had a chance to visit with Chris Brundrett and then toured the facility and did some barrel tasting with cellar master Tyler Wolz. William Chris is producing exceptional wines. Other stops included Pedernales Cellars, Rancho Ponte, Hye Meadow Winery and Four Point O. Paul Bonarrigo recommended a visit to Luckenbach. Only familiar with it from the song, we paid a visit and I’m so glad we did. In the middle of nowhere, it’s rustic, funky and fun. We took in the sights and sounds, including cats sleeping on the bar and a chicken wandering out back while we were serenaded by a troubadour. It’s a stop well worth making if you’re in Texas Hill Country.
We were craving barbecue again the next day, so we stopped at Cranky Frank’s in Fredericksburg and enjoyed truly delicious food. They know barbecue in Texas! We took off for Bryan to meet Merrill and Paul and stay at Messina Hof’s Villa B & B. After a mandatory beef jerky stop at the legendary Buc-cee’s, we arrived. It felt a lot like a homecoming. After checking into our room, we stopped to taste some of Paul’s excellent wine’s in their tasting room before heading over to Paul and Merrill’s home for steaks on the grill and plenty of wine. We reminisced about our trips together to Italy, Croatia and Georgia, enjoyed a splash of Limoncello and Chacha (Georgian grappa) before calling it a night.
The next morning, after breakfast, we walked across the street to Joy Pottery. Bob and Rachel Norris own this charming shop and you see unique pottery pieces throughout the studio. They also offer classes. We headed to the Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History and explored the fascinating exhibit focusing on the history of photography. The Dixie Chicken restaurant had caught my eye on previous visits. On this day we made it our lunch stop. The food’s good and the beer’s cold and if you’re in the area I recommend it. It’s easy to see why it’s an Aggie tradition. He headed back to Messina Hof, and after a relaxing afternoon, we met friends for a glass of wine and then had dinner at their Vintage House restaurant.
My visits to Texas always pass too quickly. If you’re someone who raises an eyebrow when you hear about Texas wine, do yourself a favor and visit Texas Hill Country and make sure you visit Messina Hof in Bryan, too. The Bonarrigos are the definition of Texas Hospitality.
Tom Plant launched WINEormous in 2009 and is a member of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association. Based in Temecula, California, he offers intimate winery tours for no more than seven people. Tour details and pricing are available at www.temecula-tours.com. Call now to book your Temecula Winery Tour at (951) 907-9701. Ask about special discounts.