Friday, September 5, 2008

Wine Country Texas

Texas is a country by itself. Amazingly diverse landscapes greet you at every town and it has long been our desire to explore Texas fully. Having lived in Houston for ages we complain about everything - it has none of the charm of the Southern cities, life of NYC, beaches of Florida, mountains of Seattle, Arches of SLC and the list goes on. In fact, I can write a whole book on why we hate Houston. But within Houston and the state of Texas there are tons of to-visit and to-do things which we keep putting off just because we live here. Often we plan great things for the weekends but end up canceling them due to commitments and priorities.

A couple of weekends back we visited another part of Texas - the wine country of Texas. It is no Napa Valley but a fun thing to do. Messina Hof, a family run wineyard is located just outside Bryan, Texas. A 100 mile drive from home.

Harvest season is a grand celebration is any winery. The main reason is you need as many hands as possible to pick the grapes at the right time and usually the right time is not more than a couple of weeks. So with many hands working and eating it becomes a huge party and it has been a tradition in most vineyards.

The foggy vineyard

At Messina Hof, they offer this experience and little bit of wine-making classes for a price. After a 30 minute orientation early in the morning around 8am we are in cutting grapes and tossing them into bins. Initially the whole thing is fun and we seemed to have boundless energy but as the sun rises and cutting grapes off the vines for what seems like hours the whole activity starts to seem boring and we are more than ready to stop cutting.

The Spanish grapes - lush and ripe

We picked grapes for around an hour and half and then headed for more excitement - the stomping. For some reason I had assumed we will be stomping grapes in big tanks (influence Bollywood, Kollywood no doubt) but unfortunately we were in small plastic bins in which they packed 4 people like sardines. Not the best but worth a try. It looked like getting your footprints on white tees as you got off the tank was a big event. The tees were overpriced (approximately $20) and totally not worth it imho.

Stomping and wine-print tees designed at site and dried

After this is the fun part, the working of the winery. The crushers, the storage drums, the yeast, the bottling line are all open to public and a wine-maker leads you through them. At the end of this session we went in for a wine tasting.

Grapes being dumped into the crusher and the fermenting wines in the storage room

And to wrap up we had a harvest lunch made with fresh herbs from the garden. Perfect way to enjoy an will-it-be-fall-weather-soon Saturday morning in Texas.

Harvest festivals typically fall in the last weekend in August at Messina Hof and get filled up early. So you need reservations. Wine tasting and tours are available all through the year. They also have a gift shop, restaurant and a bed and breakfast in the property.
The restaurant offers specialty dinners and cooking courses regularly. Check their website for more details.

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