Last Updated on December 8, 2022 by
Paul Bonarrigo is the CEO of Messina Hof, a family-owned business built on the three cornerstones of family, tradition, and romance. Since its founding in 1977, it has become the most award-winning winery in the Lone Star State and one of the largest producers of 100% Texas wine.
Paul’s passion is wine, and his goal is to provide premium quality Texas Wine, an excellent hospitality experience, and education in wine and food to anyone from the most novice to the most adept wine drinker.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- Paul Bonarrigo shares what it was like growing up in the vineyard
- The passion that drew Paul into the industry
- The skills Paul acquired while serving in the military
- Why was it crucial for Messina Hof to open regional locations?
- What are the challenges of growing wine in Texas?
- Paul talks about managing the growth of Messina Hof
- Moving from a traditional winery to an urban winery
- How Paul sees Texas wine and grapes growing and evolving over the next decade
- What sets Texas wine apart in terms of flavor profiles and style
In this episode with Paul Bonarrigo
How do you build a strong foundation for a family-owned business? By keeping the core values intact. However, old practices eventually stop working, and it becomes necessary to develop new routines to keep the business afloat.
While it is crucial to establish a presence in the industry, a long-standing family business must also understand how to handle itself in connection with change. New trends and techniques arise, and as these come, you must also adapt to stay relevant and thrive.
In today’s episode of the Legends Behind the Craft podcast, Drew Thomas Hendricks welcomes Paul Bonarrigo, CEO of Messina Hof, as he talks about the challenges a family-owned business faces. Paul also talks about his military service, their success secret, and how hospitality is the core of Messina Hof.
Resources Mentioned in this episode
- Barrels Ahead
- Drew Thomas Hendricks on LinkedIn
- Paul Bonarrigo on LinkedIn
- Messina Hof
- Bill Wilson on Legends Behind the Craft podcast
Sponsor for this episode…
This episode is brought to you by Barrels Ahead.
At Barrels Ahead, we know that your business is unique. That’s why we work with you to create a one-of-a-kind marketing strategy that highlights your authenticity, tells your story, and makes your business stand out from your competitors.
Our team at Barrels Ahead helps you leverage your knowledge so you can enjoy the results and revenue your business deserves.
So, what are you waiting for? Unlock your results today!
Welcome to the Legends Behind the Craft podcast where we feature top leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry with your host Drew Hendricks. Now let’s get started with the show
Drew Thomas Hendricks 0:19
Drew Thomas Hendricks here I’m the host of the Legends Behind the Craft podcast where I talk with leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry. Today’s episode sponsored by Barrels Ahead. At Barrels Ahead, we work with you to implement a one of a kind marketing strategy. When that highlights your authenticity, tells your story and connects you with your ideal customers. In short, we help wineries and craft beverage producers unlock their story to unleash their revenue. Now, we recently came out with a with a new wine club, reengagement product. And if you’re interested, give us a call or hit us up on barrelsahead.com today to learn more. I am super excited today to talk with Paul Bonarrigo CEO of Messina Hof Paul, how’s it going?
Paul Bonarrigo 1:06
It’s going great. Nice and warm.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 1:08
Nice and warm, Paul. So thank you so much for joining us today. So you’re Messina Hof was the fourth winery in Texas, what was the like kind of growing up in the vineyard and being part of all that.
Paul Bonarrigo 1:20
So we seem to have started in 1977 is when my parents really got into the business. And their start was through an experimental vineyard. And so at the time there, there was obviously a long history of growing grapes in Texas, however, not really a belief that there was a potential for a strong wine industry. So there was a study going on, in multiple sites throughout the state and my parents, although not in the industry. At that time, we’re fortunate to come come across the path of the gentleman who was Ron Perry. And, um, so they, they planted the experimental vineyard. And then you know, I came around a little after that. So I actually came, I was born the same year that our second block was planted. So ever since I was a little kid, I worked in the vineyard, and I worked in the winery, I got a chance to see all elements of the business. So you could say that it’s in my blood to be in the wine business.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 2:17
Oh, for sure. Now, what was it? What was the like? I mean, it was a that was the was the dawn of the industry there. Yep, first one acre experimental block. And then the second block what? What was that?
Paul Bonarrigo 2:27
So the first block was a bunch of different varieties to try to see what would grow well. From that study, they determined that Lenoir, which is also called Black Spanish, was the ideal grape variety for our site. There are multiple other varieties that performed in kind of different scales of positive. And so over time, the majority of our vineyard, almost all of them was planted out in Lenoir here at the estate here in Bryan, Texas. However, that same research that was done throughout the state helped stimulate what varieties really were planted for the next 20 30 years from that point. So, you know, me personally, a lot of that was being able to work alongside of my parents and watch that passion that when you when you watch any industry, in a pioneering phase, it’s so much struggle, and in some of that personal energy that really drives the business. And I don’t think I know two hardworking people than my parents. So to be able to work alongside of them growing up was an absolutely amazing experience. And really, you know, help set us up for where we are today, obviously. Yeah, what, um,
Drew Thomas Hendricks 3:40
like growing up, you talked about the passion. What, talk to me about that? What was, what was it the passion that drew you into it? That the great I mean, there is the struggle, there’s so much effort that it takes to plant the vineyard make the wine? What’s What was it like in the early days before you’re even, you know, an adult is a child, what was that? What was the lure?
Paul Bonarrigo 4:02
Oh, so you know, on the vineyard side, that any agriculture, you get that sensation of your hard work goes into the ground into the marking of the vines. And then in the end of that, that hard labor comes this beautiful fruit, they can, I guess, convert it into wine. And when I was young, obviously, like, I somewhat understood the wines. I like my I got the juice and stuff. But I obviously didn’t understand the wine until I was a teenager or later down the road. But the vineyard from very early on was very special to me. And that’s where I that’s where I spend most of my time, and that that idea of being a vine tender. We’re big about our faith as well. So obviously, when you’re in agriculture, you’re dependent on the weather, you’re dependent upon all the different elements you don’t necessarily control. So having that bearing and patience and understanding that you just have to kind of go with what God gives you in the vineyard was also a big piece. of my overall character growing up as well. And then as I got older and started understanding the winemaking side of things, you know winemaking is such a fascinating
political sure also combined science and art. Wine side, it seems to be just much more in your face, the science and art piece of it is you can understand all the chemistry and all the different things that go into making wine. But if you don’t have a palate, if you can’t understand kind of the potential of every lot as it comes through the winery, you’re really not going to be able to make great wine. And so my dad was able to he is an incredible artists as a winemaker. And so he was able to pass that on to me understanding the flavors that you’re you’re experiencing from the fruit, what you’re hoping to achieve in the in the wine before it even begins and understand how that correlates to decisions that are made in the vineyard way before we even get the fruit to the winery. So I think all those pieces were very special to the passion that was planted in me and really eventually came out whenever I came back to the business.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 6:07
Yeah, absolutely. I’d say you did take a you did take a break after high school for the for the wine industry and did a stint in the Marines.
Paul Bonarrigo 6:14
So I like to joke that I was so excited about the wine industry that I went off and joined the Marine Corps. But the funny story is that, you know, in the winery, you have all sorts of different characters that that work in a winery setting, especially in tech, where they’re really, especially for the first 20 years, there wasn’t like a a staffing source that was wine oriented unless they were coming from the west coast. Most people that are getting into dentistry, this is their first time getting into it. So I happened to be working alongside as a kid, a bunch of Marines formed. And so they kind of put it in my brain. And I was super excited about it from from age 13. That was what I was going to do. So I set out to do that I went to I went to the Naval Academy up in Maryland, and I commissioned as an officer in the Marine Corps. I met my wife when I was at the Naval Academy, and then also
deployed three times, and eventually kind of that that journey led me back here, though, even though my my intention was always to come back to the business, I think, you know, as a, as a young, I’m kind of late teens slash early 20s person, I think the idea of a 20 year career in my brain made sense that I could do that and still come back and my parents would still be involved. But only it was only on my second deployment when my dad called me and said, like, we’ve been doing this for 35 years. I mean, we can’t we can’t go another, you know, the 10 15 years at the current pace of growth that Messina Hof was experiencing. And so everything lined up. We may we were making family decisions at the time. And me and my wife, and so we decided to come back. It was actually perfect timing. So everything rolled together. And the transition time when we came back was very quick. Was it really between 2010 and 2013 is when we transitioned all elements of the business.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 8:11
So what it does when it when you came back from having having served in the military, what sort of I mean, there’s, I can only imagine how many transferable skills there were as far as leadership and operations. Talk to me about that.
Paul Bonarrigo 8:27
Well, so my degree was in systems engineering. Of course, at the academy, they require you to take a lot of science to chemistry, biology and other things. For I was fortunate that I actually had a pretty decent back, foundational knowledge, I had done some UC Davis courses actually in high school as well. And I completed my certificate from UC Davis whenever I returned back. So like if you take some of the foundational educational pieces that I had, plus the leadership, operational management is such an important part of my role that I held, I was a commanding control officer. That did help me significantly to fill gaps whenever I first came back, because obviously I’m jumping into it. I’m jumping onto a moving train here, because if you look at that time period between 2005 and 2012, I would say industry had a lot of opportunities, we got the right to ship. The growth of direct consumer in Texas was absolutely massive during that time, the number of hours being planted during that time was huge. So there’s a ton of logistics and operations that that that go on on a daily basis that I was able to use a lot of the skills skill set that I had learned while I was in the Marine Corps with the business and implement systems to when you look at if anybody who’s a founder, lets you know, like when I came back the organizational structure that company was like my parents and then everybody laughed. I pretty much reported to my parents, founders, they, it was their baby, they didn’t, you know, they wanted to be involved with all the decision making and everything. You can’t do that beyond a certain point. So we had the opportunity to kind of put in a little bit more of a, a tiered structure may bring on some new managers within the company as we kind of teared out some different things. And that really helped us to go into our next phase of growth, which was the regional opening of new locations. Yeah, like since well, since you took on a CEO you double double the size of Messina Hof and at this point tripled the size. Oh, my Lord. Yeah, yeah. But yeah, that so that one of the first things that and my parents had already identified this before we came, which was distribution is such a cutthroat market. And we have been blessed since 1987, to have a presence in the distribution market. But when you look at Texas, as a overall wholesale market, Texas wine controls a very small portion of the distribution. It’s very heavily dominated by California, they, there’s obviously a lot of wine sales that happen here, they invest a ton of money here. So I would say that there is the road to try and to grow that pieces is pretty hard. However, the direct consumer market is huge. I mean, we have so many people in Texas that want to drink wine, want to love Texas wine, but the I would say the gap for us at the time was education, and trial. We identified immediately, hey, we need to open locations that we can touch people from different areas of the state. And so that doesn’t mean that we opened our great pops or our hill country location on highway 290. We opened in 2014, in Grapevine, Texas, which is up between Dallas Fort Worth. And then last year we opened down in Richmond, which is the west side of Houston. We call it it’s a harvest green development. But those regional nodes have allowed us and each one of them kind of has its own character and flavor in terms of the services and experiences that but it allowed us to be able to connect directly with the customer that ultimately pays dividends and the wholesale market to that personal connection is what we’re that’s that’s a big piece of our brand and what we like our motto is called join the family. So people do feel directly connected to us. And that has allowed us to be able to do that on a much bigger scale. Yeah.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 12:34
So your your family first started in Bryan, Texas, that’s where the original one is in your vineyard. So you’re telling me I was up in the high plains. Right? Give us a little for all of our listeners across the country give us like a little rundown of Bryan versus Fredericksburg Hill Country versus the high plains. So
Paul Bonarrigo 12:55
to kind of take any one step even further back then there’s ATVs currently in Texas, although there is a lot of effort right now to establish more because the size of our state and we are bigger than France and mass so and the terroir
spread across the state is significant. So we we believe that we can almost grow any variety in Texas somewhere. It’s just a matter of determining what those best sights are. The two biggest growing regions currently are the high plains which bears about 65% of the fruit 70% of fruit in Texas. And then the hill country which grows about 15 to 20% of the fruit in Texas, but is one because it’s a tourism destination. The whole country as a region is actually the second largest ABA in the United States is a huge land area. And high plains is also very large, but the High Plains area growing areas up near Lubbock, kind of over to the New Mexico border. It’s on the cap rock so it’s got 3000 feet of elevation, really good soil quality, good quote water quality, tremendous amount of sunlight ripening capability is is tremendous. So as a growing region is very strong. A huge agricultural community there so the infrastructure of being able to grow an agricultural community around the culture is has been very, very strong. And in fact most of our growers converted over from other crops whether it be cotton, or sorghum or anything like that. That’s the high plan so that’s where the majority of our fruit as a winery comes from. Country obviously a lot of people see pictures of the whole country it’s you know, the high plains is flat it’s almost desert like it’s very like Eastern Washington looking. Yeah. The whole country is a lot of rock and and sharp hills and very beautiful ground. However, sometimes like I said, we have a small vineyard there. When we planted it, we put it much had to planting with pickaxes because I did not anticipate the the level of rock that we’re getting into. But Bryan so Bryan falls in the Brazos River Valley basin, very fertile area of the state. So agriculture here is very strong. The biggest challenge that we face here in the Gulf of Texas is Pierce’s disease which you know, those that are not in the in the viticulture world is a is very limiting, because it requires a lot of management to the vine, the wise it can die. So, um, Lenoir is not susceptible PD, and neither is blanc de bois, which are their two varieties that have found the greatest amount of home here in the Gulf region of the state. However, some very interesting things that are happening right now, in partnership with UC Davis. There’s been a ton of research and development into new varieties that are hybrids of you know, Cabernet Sauvignon, serraj, Chardonnay, things like that. hybridized to be able to have similar characteristics to their parent, in terms of flavor, however, that are not susceptible to PD that can be planted in Texas and other other states that are heavily affected by PD. And actually PD is a growing concern in California right now. Yeah. So there’s a lot of research going into that but but as as a planting area, you know, our soils here are barely clay, which Lindwall actually loves. So it goes into the quality that we produce here. Hill Country is very rock and then high plains is very sandy but sandy loam and then you have kaka Karissa soils deep. So another growing area that we do pull from quite a bit is from Texoma, which is north of Dallas, Fort Worth, between Dallas Fort Worth and the Oklahoma border. Oh, really good growing soil there, too. And that area is being planted almost more currently in terms of growth, then the whole country has? Really?
Drew Thomas Hendricks 17:09
Yeah, who is what’s so the is the demand for all this wine coming from Texas is most of it sold within the state.
Paul Bonarrigo 17:18
Oh, but I would say 98% of the wine is sold within state. And we so we’re sold in nine states wholesale. And then we shipped 42 states and our business we sell about 92 to 95% within Texas and the rest is outside. So it’s minimal outside.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 17:39
And that was most that within the three tier within Texas are a lot of direct consumer.
Paul Bonarrigo 17:44
So we are now to the point where about 75% of our business is direct to consumer. Oh, wow. And we produce about 60,000 cases a year. And now we make about 200,000 gallons of wine. So if you know, you know that that that leaves quite a bit of bulk we do make bulk for other wineries. geographically speaking, if you look at the comparison between Bryan in the high plains, it’s about a two and a half hour drive. So when we truck that fruit, you know, we use cold trucks to be able to keep fruit stable addition, we also process some of it in the High Plains too before we bring it down. But a lot of the smaller wineries in our area. That’s a that’s a fairly challenging thing. So we help them to be able to provide some additional bull. But we only use Texas fruit at our winery. But if you look at the who kind of answered the question holistically, the number of Texas wineries that are in distribution is really only about maybe 40 30 or 40. And maybe plus a few that self distributes a few of the stores that are directly around them. But at this point, the number of winery permits in the state is over 700. Now, I believe I personally believe that we’re probably somewhere around 600 visible wineries. But to have only 40 wineries sold in any type of size and the OSA market out of 600 is pretty small.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 19:20
Yeah, that is a shockingly small percentage I wouldn’t have I wouldn’t have expected that. So as your as your as you grew, I mean to four locations. How did you it’s brilliant to hit all the geographic areas. How did you manage this growth? I mean, there’s there has to be growing pains going on there.
Paul Bonarrigo 19:38
Absolutely. Well, it kind of goes back to that. That operational experience between my time in the Marine Corps kind of learning how to be able to have an operational organization and kind of build it out that way and having a good solid mission plan and operations plan. I would say that helped a lot my wife at she was a she, she is like turning really smart. She also was a paralegal before and so like she, she really has helped us kept us organized. But she also happens to be really strong in terms of food and wine. And so all of our food and wine programs, she has really kind of carried that development. But probably the biggest reason why we’ve been able to be successful is every time we’ve opened a location are a lot of our focus has been finding, you know, really strong candidates and in each one of those areas and bringing them into the family and making them feel connected to the core brands. And so we’ve got great management, a great management team that was really challenged during COVID. You know, the state, unfortunately designated wineries as bars and so we got shut down for quite a bit of a four months. But the management team held it together. And we were able to shift a lot of the curbside we did a lot of ecommerce and we kept to get the ship float.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 21:06
Well, that’s great because either is then that was why I want to talk about there is like a common thread of hospitality in all your locations, which and I was talking to Bill Wilson of Wilson Creek a week or two ago and they’re in the Temecula area in San Diego in Temecula is also that wine industry has also really has a huge hospitality slant to it. Versus you go up to you know, some of the Napa Sonoma where you’re you’re there’s a winery, you can’t have a wedding, there can’t be a glass of wine there. You’re just there to maybe have a sip and leave. Talk. I mean, that hospitality I think is it’s really it really helps to the average consumer really helped them introduce the wine, they come in for the wedding, they have their wedding there, suddenly 150 People are at the winery, having a great time and they’re introduced to the wine.
Paul Bonarrigo 21:57
Well, so I mean, you hit the nail on the head, hospitality is really the core of who we are. You know, it’s the, the foundation of kind of why my parents started the way that they did. When they first started, they they were in a mobile home with a couple of us milk tanks and a couple of us whiskey barrels. I mean, it was a super humble beginning and and they were having these people knock on their door to come sit in their living room and their mobile home to taste this wine. I mean, what they experienced in the beginning was this absolute hunger, and people wanted to support this industry. And they wanted to be able to see it and one of the first harvest that they had at the estate and this was a great reminder for my dad because he had actually experienced this with his family my grandfather immigrated here from Italy, the tradition in Messina so we came from the Messina region that what that is to come in on was the name of where our village was, and the bond was made the family wine made the village wine there for six generations. So you know that that was a core piece of of the family history. But, um, my parents go to pick the the one of the first vintages off of our st vineyard and these group of international students comes from an EM and talks about how like, they, they miss that feeling of being, you know, because because in Europe, it’s very much of a community thing, like a lot of people out to participate with a pig, a lot of people participate with helping around the winery, and obviously drinking the wine and everything, it’s, it’s a lot more than just the winery, it’s it’s really a piece of the community and my parents got a chance to see in effect, what we have an opportunity to be here is a lot more than just a winery. And so as they grew, they really focused on making hospitality the core to a lot of the programs, making sure that they created a destination to have a bed and breakfast, to have a restaurant to have food options to really never, never say no to the customer and from the what they wanted to learn. Like we still let people pick with us in the vineyard, you know, we just see that side of it. We don’t kind of block them out. The mentality behind the portfolio since the very early days to was being approachable. We didn’t want people to be intimidated by the wine. Unfortunately, wine does have a somewhat of a reputation of turning their nose up and people and that can happen especially in the morning some of our more prestigious tasting rooms. Feeling in general that like if you don’t know anything, you’re not welcome here or wanted anybody to feel that way. We want wine to be fun. It’s one of celebration when you when you come and you don’t know anything. We’re here to teach you. That’s the whole point. So they started with that idea and that’s what we try to continue on now. So every one of our locations has that mentality.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 24:56
I love it. I mean, I think I went one One thing I’ve seen, I’ve been in selling wine involved in the industry for probably 30 32 years or so. But it’s in the last like at least the last eight, nine years. It’s there’s almost been a democratization of wine and the experience that I see. And I firmly believe that has to do with a lot of the craft brews craft craft brewing and the breweries that really made it fun. You go any taste your six, seven beers and get some cornhole you’ve got, it becomes an actual just a community event. And I’m so happy to see that in wineries, especially as I interview people across the country and wineries across the country. I definitely see you guys doing it. Right.
Paul Bonarrigo 25:40
Thank you. Yeah,
Drew Thomas Hendricks 25:42
so you got Bryan Hill Country, then grapevine and harvest green is that the end? Service screen.
Paul Bonarrigo 25:52
So um, and to talk a little bit about grape vine, and then I’ll jump to harvest screen because they’re somewhat connected. So we, when we open till country that one was part of a much bigger project, we eventually saw ourselves opening a large winemaking operation and no country. Since that time, we’ve changed our mentality a little bit. So we we do have for Bed and Breakfast rooms in our country. We have a tasting room, we do events, we have a small vineyard on site. When we opened in grapevine that was our first urban location. So yeah, kind of a little bit of what you’re talking about, like with the craft brewers have done a great job of doing was create that, like we’re, we’re part of the core of the town. If you’ve never been to great fest, which is a festival that they throw in September, they get like 200,000 attendees to this wine festival, it’s absolutely huge festival. They built that. And we were very early participants in that that was one of the reasons why we went there. So when we opened there on Main Street, we actually moved into a historic replica building that the CVB had previously had as their headquarters. And so we have kind of an urban feel. So we have in the back, we have our barrel and tank room, that we allow people to do barrel tastings from, see some of that element. There’s, there’s not like great processing on site we do on site. And then we have events, a lot of events that happen there. And we try to participate very heavily with the town because the town does a ton of of wine trails and things with all the wineries that are on Main Street. The some of the lessons that we learned there really inspired us that that we wanted to be a part of a community. And so as we looked at Houston area for where we would open there, we had the opportunity to be introduced to this development company called Johnson development. And they were doing a community called Harvest green in the west side of Houston that was kind of like a farm centric neighborhood. So having like a golf course, they have a farm attached to their community, where the residents can have little plots of land where they grow things. kind of help them to be able to learn how to 10 that well and grow their own produce. And then the farmers have another plot that they grow a bunch of produce on. So Johnson wanted to do a, a teaching kitchen on this one piece of property. We have our vintage House Restaurant here at the estate that we’ve been opened back in 1996. And so we told him, you know, food and wine is our core tenant. I mean, like we do this stuff. And so instead, as branching off and trying to do a teaching kitchen, let us just let us come in there was already actually a vineyard on site. We can help to manage the vineyard, we can help to create this food program that you’re looking to create as an amenity for your residents there. And, and it just turned out to be the perfect opportunity. So when we open there, we do have a there’s a restaurant tasting room, there is actually a much larger production space. As we grow the vineyard there our hope is to be able to produce about 3000 gallons on site, which is obviously still pretty small, but we want that kind of that craft feel. Sure. Yeah.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 29:16
So what was it? I mean, moving from like the, you know, a traditional winery to like an urban urban winery. What were the challenges?
Paul Bonarrigo 29:29
Well, I mean, you know, I would say that probably the biggest challenges for us we’re just the learning curve of understanding kind of what the best ways to market to that type of environment. You know, when a lot of people think of wine tourism, like like if you look at Fredericksburg, for example, they have as a town to pull a lot of tourists from Austin, San Antonio, other areas, and then up there in the mid drive to the different wineries and you have the tour buses that go all over the place and everything thing when you’re in an urban market. So in Hill Country about 90% of our of our business, there is tourism. In grapevine, about 75% of our business, there is locals. So, um, I would say, which is a little bit more like our Estate Winery, because Bryan in College Station, we do have quite a few locals that are regulars there. But great find the elements of really being able to integrate well, community without having a vineyard, because the obviously you have to kind of explain that whole piece of it was a little bit of a learning curve. But we had so much support from the CVB and from the local government, and from local community because of that relationship we had had with them for so long that it actually made that process a whole lot easier.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 30:57
Yeah. Now you’re on the board, and you have served as the president of the Texas wine and grape growers association. So as far as being on this kind of over overarching kind of committee or you know, governmental body, how do you? How do you see Texas wine and grape growing, evolving over the next decade or so?
Paul Bonarrigo 31:19
So, yeah, I was I was on the board for about eight years, including my time when I was the president. And I’m still very involved legislatively. I think that the biggest thing that we focused on while I was on the board was really being able to create a unified direction for where within the industry and try to limit the splintering of kind of, for lack of a better term, some factions. When you look at, I would say the wine industry in general is not at a loss for passionate people that have an opinion about things. Yeah. So obviously, like, you’ve got all these different groups that want to do things certain way, which is fine. And I think that’s important to the ecosystem of our industry. But at the end of the day, we’re all Texas wineries. And I think we have to be supportive of each other in our direction for and I feel like we did a pretty good job of that we navigated a few major challenges, we were able to get some marketing funds from the state, we were able to really to solidify a few major like for example, or Viticulture and Enology advisors that come from Texas a&m, and Texas Tech, which had been really helpful to the growth of both vineyards and wineries direction, I would say a lot of the energy right now is getting buy in from the state of like, if you look at Washington State, one of the reasons why they had a very quick growth was they had a lot of support legislatively and financially from the educational bodies there. Washington State and other that helped to propel the research and growth. For Washington wines, we’re in that phase right now of of having some success and being able to establish some funds to to fund research projects that we really need. And I think in order for Texas to really go to its next plateau or next growth point, I have to accomplish two things. One is outside the state, we need to get some recognition in terms of the quality that’s being produced here, which is on my mind over the last like 10 years, you see Texas wines winning all these massive major awards in San Francisco. And and European competition. You really don’t get a lot of focus on that from from the national media, some we get some. But, um, you know, I think that the recognition of the quality that’s that’s happening here from a national level is not quite there. So I think that we as an industry have to be better about telling our story. Individual wineries, I think do a pretty good job. But we as a industry, like if you look at Washington State once again, when their voice is so strong, and marketing wise, they’re they’re really good at that. And then the second piece to that is internally, we have to leverage. So in the growth of craft distilleries and craft breweries in Texas, when they exploded. They did a great job of getting buy in from from Texans, all that play all the way down to the grocery store, like he started seeing these massive 300 SKU sets of craft beer go in. You don’t see that from Texas wine. And I think part of that is because once again we as an industry have not done Great job of uniting together. But I think partially because of the fact that so many wineries are so focused on the direct to consumer piece. But I think in order to get to that next phase, we got to, we have to get behind a initiative to be able to establish a much larger presence in the distribution of Texas wines through grocery or restaurant.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 35:21
And then actually getting that national thing out. Because until I did that started this podcast a year or so ago, I had very little, very little knowledge of Texas wines, some knowledge of Arizona wines, but after that I was I was purely either European, or Oregon, Washington, California centric even as even as a wine buyer. So I think you’re onto something there for sure. The other thing, I guess, when you see Oregon in Washington is there’s an even in California, there’s a lot of international alignments, and investments going on. Like you’ve got, you know, Oregon, all the burgundy winemakers, all the burgundy wineries want to get their get their share of a piece of Oregon property and get a lot of Bordeaux people up in Washington.
Paul Bonarrigo 36:08
We’ve never seen, yeah.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 36:13
Have you seen some international kind of involvement or alliances going on?
Paul Bonarrigo 36:18
So I’m international none. But and part of that is also because of the structure in Texas of in order to own a winery, you have to be a Texas resident.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 36:30
Paul Bonarrigo 36:32
that hasn’t stopped some. What I would say we’ve seen a lot more of recently has been we’re starting to see a lot more West Coast investment moving. Which, you know, I think that is a double edged sword. I think that there’s some positives to that, because with that comes some infrastructure and knowledge. I mean, half of my production team is from the west coast. So like, obviously, that is a great benefit to us to be able to leverage that, that experience. But we also have to make sure that we don’t lose our identity. And not seeing any specific white large winery names. But you know, some that gobble up a lot of the little guys, I hope that that doesn’t happen here. Because one of our greatest strengths as an industry is that almost probably every if not every, almost every winery is some sort of family owned, or at least closely owned winery. So we don’t have any like major winery groups that have started buying wineries yet.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 37:34
That’s probably a good thing. Because I’m a little, I’m a little scared of the consolidation going on right now, hearing some of the stuff going on, and I was talking to another Temecula. I live in San Diego, and it’s just the closest wine region towards us. And a lot of Northern California wineries are trying to buy are buying places or wineries in Temecula. And a couple of them are ripping out the vineyards and bringing down their northern California fruit and just bottling it there. And that’s that’s a big no, no. I mean, they at least they have the law set up where 75% of the wine has to come from the Temecula region. So you guys are preparing for that type of, and that’s probably inevitable growth.
Paul Bonarrigo 38:15
Well, and and that also kind of goes back to what my second comment about getting people on board, you know, I don’t think it necessarily has so much to do with, you know, the whole labeling, regulation and everything like that. That’s a whole nother topic, but one of the mindsets that, you know, being Texas loyal, I think does lower the chances that you get somebody because I personally believe that if you get a West Coast winery that is interested in buying, when they do come in, they’re going to do the same thing. They’re going to just bring in product from outside of the state itself, like that would be my guess.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 38:57
Or they’re just their own kind of way of doing things. So Texas wine itself, type lens, we’re kind of wrapping down here. Give me your top synopsis of what sets Texas wine apart as far as flavor profiles and style.
Paul Bonarrigo 39:16
So I think a couple things. The selection of different varieties that grow well in Texas is incredibly diverse. And there’s some very unique things. I mean, like for example,
the variety that we have, since 2012 invested a lot of energy into segments you know. And so you don’t see a lot of that in the US we actually make events you know in Texas than then is made on the West Coast.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 39:44
I love that parietal I’ve had drink a lot of that not had a domestic one. It’s always from Italy.
Paul Bonarrigo 39:54
So so that isn’t that is one example but um you know We have no problem ripening here. So,
Drew Thomas Hendricks 40:03
yeah, you’re telling me you’re just harvested. We’re actually recording this and end of July here.
Paul Bonarrigo 40:09
Yeah. So this year is a little bit odd, I would say, because of the drought conditions that we’re currently in and heat. A lot of people look at the heat map this year, we have a lot have had quite a few days above 100. That’s not exactly normal. So we are in drier than normal. But the high plains is normally very dry so that they rely heavily on irrigation. But that also creates a great ripening region, that harvest normally starts the beginning of August, the Gulf Coast normally starts as early as the end of June slash, middle to early July. So we are a little bit earlier than we anticipated, because we did have a late budbreak this year, but because of the drought, and here we are, it’s looking like it’s going to come very quickly to harvest across the state. So that is a little bit unique. But in terms of the special characteristics of Texas wine, you know, I would say that a lot of it does come to the fruit characteristics of the wine. You know, we you get those really intense, ripe fruit flavors, and it brings out the bridle characteristics, no matter what rattle that you’re growing, we also can get really good extraction, so great tannin structure, richness, a lot of flavors like that, you know, we we focus a lot on our kind of fine tuning each Friday in terms of like the oak profiles that ages in different toasts that we use in the winery, the different techniques that we use in terms of maturation times, what type of yeast that we use. So I think every variety kind of handles that differently. So I would say that we’re still, you know, we have found a lot of success in the types of varieties that we are successful with. But I feel like we’re kind of still in the beginnings of solidifying that. Because like one variety that I mean, Cabernet has very consistently grown well in Texas. And it didn’t you know, it’s a unique characteristic in Texas, I would say that you do get less kind of of that herbaceous note. It’s classic with Cabernet, more ripe flavors. But I think that Texas wine has really a deep soul. And we have a lot to explore to really bring out more and more of kind of different varieties that do well here. Oh, absolutely.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 42:37
So I’m putting me a little bit on the spot here outside of Messina, Hof. In Texas, what are some of the projects you’re most excited about
Paul Bonarrigo 42:46
right now? Well, you know, I would say that this also touches back on your previous question to a little bit. So right now, I would say the last five to eight years, maybe a little bit more than that. I’ve been very focused on Italian varietals. Um, they do seem to do perform very well as well as like any Mediterranean varietals seem to perform well here in Texas. But um, there’s been a few growth projects, especially in the High Plains from
the growers out there, as well as seeing that flow through to some of the wineries producing the sense of ACE a multiplet. Shawn segment, Tino.
I’m really excited to see kind of that starting to take root. I’m so mean in terms of specific wineries that are doing some some cool things. I’m not thinking of anything specifically off the top of my head. I mean, I know that in the past like we’ve worked with Jana staccato on a few projects that they’ve done very well with.
But really, it’s more than vineyard development, like lay vineyards and leopard vineyards and young family vineyards are three of the biggest ones that we work
Drew Thomas Hendricks 44:06
with. Okay. Yeah. And what are the that are those and those are all high plains all high points. Okay.
Paul Bonarrigo 44:13
And so we’re starting to see some some experimental varieties like Cortes a and Fionna. John, oh, some some other Italian varietals that had not been planted here before that are being planted now as experiments. So I’m excited to see what that plays out with.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 44:32
Yeah, that would be Yeah, that’s super exciting. So Paul, is we’re kind of wrapping down here. Where can people find out more about you and Messina? Hof
Paul Bonarrigo 44:40
probably the best best place is our website, which is www.messinahof.com. That branches off into all of our locations as well as our portfolio. You can buy our wines online, you can look at our events. You can look at our our press information about previous projects and things that we’ve done and that’s kind of the heart I have information, of course, social media, we’re very active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, other other social avenues, where we love and all that,
Drew Thomas Hendricks 45:11
I do have to compliment you on your website. It’s one of the better winery websites I’ve seen. And we do websites for as a business. And man here guys is one of the better ones I’ve seen this year. And I especially love that timeline in your about us page. That was, that’s really cool. Just from a techie geek standpoint.
Paul Bonarrigo 45:31
They did like telling this story is so important. And I think that sometimes we take for granted, being being around since 1977. And so that’s, that’s the many years of blood, sweat and tears that went into growing the business and the industry. So
we, when we celebrated our 40th anniversary, we kind of took a moment to take a step back and try to find historical pictures and, and things because over that time, my parents had been going so quickly that a lot of that stuff had been put in boxes and attics and things. So
Drew Thomas Hendricks 46:04
when I saw you guys have just got a book come out.
Paul Bonarrigo 46:07
So my parents just launched a book. So my parents had actually release three cookbooks before Oh, that was featuring instead of the food first. And then the wine is if you’re drinking this wine, this is the food that you should have. But then the most recent book that they launched was all about the kind of their thought about joining the family. And it gave the history of their journey, not just Messina hof, but also kind of as in parallel the Texas wine industry along with it. Because they they’re kind of in that mode now. So they’ve been technically retired since 2015. But they still like to be involved is still a baby. I like the social aspects of it. They my dad still loves making wine beside me, especially for our Palantir. But they also want to they don’t want that story to be forgotten. Our industry now is going through a really cool second generation phase where a lot of our early pioneers have either transitioned or are in the process of transitioning to either the younger generation or new owners. And you know, and you especially know this, but um, a lot of times that that knowledge is lost. Yeah. They want to make sure that they captured that. So that’s what the book is about.
Drew Thomas Hendricks 47:25
That’s fantastic. And people can find the book website, www.messinahof.com. Paul, thank you so much for joining us today.
Paul Bonarrigo 47:34
Thank you. Have a great day.
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