We had a chance to speak with Paul Bonarrigo, CEO of legendary Texas wine, Messina Hof, about the wine business and how his family business has led the state in starting and growing the wine industry.
Please excuse any typos in this hasty transcript.
Jay Curry: Hello Texas. Welcome to Texas Business Radio. We’ve got a great program for you today. This is a follow up to what’s been one of our most popular programs and that’s about wine. And in this case we’re doing wine with just a touch of cheese. It’s going to be a great program. Now for all you friends and listeners, sit back, relax. If you’re in the car, keep your hands on the wheels. And we’re just going to let you know that everything you’re going to hear, everything is available at Texasbusinessradio.com. You don’t need to take any notes. Just sit back, relax. This is going to be a real fun one. Okay. Let me, let you know that we’d like to get your calls. And you can reach us at 844-814-8144. I’m gonna say that again, 844-814-8144. We monitor our #TBR on Twitter. And of course, as I’ve already mentioned go to Texasbusinessradio.com and everything’s there, all of our sponsors, all of our guest. There’s videos of every minute that we’ve had on the program. So, now we’re ready to go. This is… I’m really looking forward to this George. So I’m Jay Curry and Matt’s out for this segment but George Walden, our old friend and buddy is in from Corporate Finance. George.
George Walden: I’m excited to be here. I rarely get to say something like this, experience the product. I have the privilege today of being part of the interview with Paul Bonarrigo, who is the CEO and wine maker of Messina Hof Winery’s. What an opportunity to learn more about wine.
Jay Curry: Yes and Texas wine particularly and it’s all fun. Paul we’re delighted to have you here. Tell us about Messina Hof. What can you tell us?
Paul Bonarrigo: So, Messina Hof is started 1977 and ultimately my parents were the founders. So, taking a step back, the Bonarrigo family has been making wine for actually seven generations, from Messina, Sicily. And my dad grew up in the Bronx, became a physical therapist, which ultimately brought him to Bryan, Texas. That’s where he meet my mom. And his visit… one of his patients at that time asked him to do a great feasibility study to see what would grow well in the state of Texas. And from that study grew our entire business.
Jay Curry: Very interesting story.
Paul Bonarrigo: Very interesting.
Jay Curry: Yeah. So, a little more about that though. So this was your father had property and a student?
Paul Bonarrigo: Right.
Jay Curry: Was doing work at Texas A&M.
Paul Bonarrigo: Right. And so the study at Texas A&M was to see what grapes were, what grapes would grow in the state, because at the time nobody believed that a grape industry was possible.
Jay Curry: And this is 40 years ago.
Paul Bonarrigo: That’s right.
Jay Curry: 40 years ago.
Paul Bonarrigo: 40 years ago. There’s only three wineries. And every time that my parents would go out and try to sell the wine, the initial response was “oh, there’s wine in Texas”. And so, it’s amazing how much that has changed over time. But after that first block of grapes were planted, there’s 50 varieties and only two showed well. And that same study was done throughout the state and actually a lot of that initial data was used even up to now in our industry, for what, what varieties have been planted. But from there they started making a little hobby wine. By 1981 they had actually entered some wine in a competition and won a blue ribbon at the State Fair.
Jay Curry: Really.
Paul Bonarrigo: And by 1983 they produced their first truly commercial wine and that was 1,300 gallons of wine in a used milk tank. So they, from there they realize that this has a huge amount of potential. They started bringing in fruit from all over the state. They saw this as more than just wine but a opportunity to get people involved in hospitality. They built a restaurant and a bed and breakfast, touring, the facility would do tours and all sorts of events and things. So all of that’s based around the wine and food culture. We opened our location in Fredericksburg in 2011 and now we have a location in Grapevine, we opened in 2014. So, it’s not just about the wine, it’s about the people. Our motto is join the family. We want people to feel like they’re a part of what we’re doing in our story. The name Messina Hof actually comes from the combination of my father’s heritage from Messina, Sicily and my mother’s heritage from Hof, Germany.
Jay Curry: Two great countries for old wine.
Paul Bonarrigo: Yes, absolutely.
Jay Curry: So, it’s all about the experience. Folks, Messina Hof’s is in Bryan, Texas. Want to make sure people understand that, particularly in Dallas, Fort Worth or just, you know, that’s pretty center for down here in this part of the state. It’s a great experience. You have a bed and breakfast. You better book it ahead, because this is a very popular eating experience. Right? And then there’s the wine. Tell us about your wine.
Paul Bonarrigo: So our wine portfolio today is very different than back in 1983. We actually produced, this year will produce just under 200,000 gallons of wine. And some of that wine, we actually do for other winneries throughout the state, as well as their own portfolio, will produce close to 80000 cases, more than likely this year. We make 90 products which is a very wide portfolio. The reason why we do that is, we want to create a product for every consumer, no matter what style of wine you like, when you walk through our doors you’ll find something that you love. And that’s what we’re all about, just wanna let people feel inclusive of the experience of drinking wine. So we make wine from 30 varieties of grapes and that’s everything from very dry, full body. Like today, I brought in an example of a special wine, our 40th anniversary heritage blend, that’s a full bodied red blend of eight varieties of grapes. And then I also brought a riesling which is a semi-dry. So a little bit of sweetness and that one shows off the type of wine that you find in the broad market. So that one’s available in Saltgrass Steakhouse nationwide. So we make everything from the products you find in your stores that you shop in every day, all the way up through some very exclusive products that you find only at the winery.
Jay Curry: Okay, I have to tell you folks, you got to go see the video because we have the bottles right here. This one that I’m holding up is special, this year only, 40th anniversary. This is a full bodied red. Right? I mean it’s going to compete with the best.
Paul Bonarrigo: Absolutely.
Jay Curry: And then, you’re kind of famous for your riesling. Tell us a little bit about that. That’s the other bottle I’m holding up here.
Paul Bonarrigo: So, Riesling is a variety that I would say most Texans don’t realize grows pretty well in the state. Messina Hof has been making riesling since 1984. Our Angel riesling, which is the blue bottle desert style Riesling, actually got a 90 in a wine spectator in 1992. It was the first Texas wine to gain that recognition.
Jay Curry: So when you say you got a reputation, that, that’s pretty good. I mean that was your first one and you, you continued that on.
Paul Bonarrigo: Absolutely and Messina Hof is the most awarded winery in the state. We’ve claimed recognition internationally, international competitions. In fact this year we won best of class in our, in the merlot category in San Francisco Chronicle. Which means we have the best Merlot out of all the wineries that entered into that competition. And Texas wine, actually won seven best of classes as a whole, which was a phenomenal showing. Pound for pound winery, we submitted, 30 wineries submitted wines and we beat every other state except for California in the number of best of classes that we won.
Jay Curry: That has to be thousands, a thousand wineries, that are competing.
Paul Bonarrigo: I think it was, I think there was seven thousand entries in the competition.
Jay Curry: Really and Texas won seven best of class against everybody in the country including Napa, Washington you name it.
Paul Bonarrigo: Absolutely.
Jay Curry: And then yours was Merlot.
Paul Bonarrigo: Yep.
Jay Curry: Now you don’t think of Texas Merlot to compete with California but that just changes everything.
Paul Bonarrigo: Right. And you know that’s, that’s the thing, I encourage people to, when they’re out, ask for Texas wine at the restaurants you dine in. It, it matters, people, those restaurant buyers will then look for Texas products. When you’re in the store look for the Texas wine set. Try it out. There’s a lot of great Texas wines out there, especially Messina Hof. And if you get a chance to come to the winery, that’s, that’s just the added benefit. To get a chance to try all the different wines that we make and find the one that suits what you like best.
Jay Curry: This is great. And we’re talking about, in Bryan, most everybody ought to be able to get there, book a room, have a wonderful dinner and just enjoy the great wine. Texas is really coming around isn’t it?
Paul Bonarrigo: Absolutely. And we also do events, like we have a major festival coming up in end of July. And the first three weekends in August it’s a harvest festival. We give people a chance to experience what harvest is all about. They get, they get to be educated on the harvest process, the fermentation process. We do dinners and like murder mystery and we kind of release some new wines and let people experience the full process and give them a better prospect.
Jay Curry: Now, that’s when, in June.
Paul Bonarrigo: No, it’s the end of July and August.
Jay Curry: End of July and August, folks.
George Walden: Can you talk a little bit about your distribution process and where you can find you?
Paul Bonarrigo: Absolutely. So in the state of Texas, we’re, we’re blessed to have great presence. We’re in HEB, Kroger, Specs, Total Wine, many restaurants, like I said, Saltgrass Steakhouse. And just about every store in the state carries Messina Hof. We’re also sold in eight states in the U.S. through distribution. And then we sell direct, so we ship to 30 states. So like our wine club, our program, you can either, if you’re in the state of Texas you can come by the winery to pick up. We do pick up parties and then we also ship, if you’re looking for that too.
Jay Curry: There you go folks. Texas. I’m telling you wine is big business in Texas and we’re coming along really fine. You’re going to have to go out to Messina Hof, enjoy their wine and just have a good time. So folks this is just the first of four segments on wine and cheese. We’re going to have to take a break here, pay a few bills. But don’t go anywhere at all, before, don’t go anywhere. Before we leave, Paul, how, how do, how does someone get a hold of you, if they want to know more about Messina Hof?
Paul Bonarrigo: So, www.MessinaHof.com is the best way to find out more information. We list all of our events, products and everything right there.
Jay Curry: I can also tell you just google good Texas wine, it will be right at the top. So, this is… George and I, we’re going to be with you for this entire program and we’re going to take a short break. We’re going to be right back. Don’t go anywhere.
Sponsored in part by:
Jay W. Curry
Along with hosting “Texas Business Radio”, Jay is a Professional Certified Coach and Master Chair facilitating four Houston-based Vistage peer groups. In addition to being a best selling non-fiction author, the 2015 release of his award winning novel, Nixon and Dovey: the Legend Returns, adds novelist to his title. Jay holds a BS in Mathematics from Oklahoma State and an MS in Computer Science from Kansas State. You can learn more about Jay HERE.