Vineyard Cuisine: Meals and Memories from Messina Hof is a delicious book that’s a joy to read, to view — and to use.
It’s the story of Merrill and Paul Bonarrigo, Texas Protestant gal and New York Catholic guy, who met, married and created one of Texas’s oldest wineries, tourist destinations and spas.
That Messina Hof would be one of the Lone Star State’s oldest wineries says a great deal in itself. The first vines were planted in Texas in 1659 near present-day El Paso. When France’s vineyards were virtually destroyed by phylloxera, a sap-sucking louse that feeds on the roots and leaves of grape vines, it was a Texas vintner, T.V. Munson, who grafted Texas root stock, which is immune to phylloxera, and shipped it back to France, saving the French wine industry. France awarded Munson the Legion of Honor for his work.
Stephen F. Austin, who is known as the Father of Texas for leading the second and ultimately successful colonization of the state with 300 families from the U.S., said in 1821 that “Nature seems to have intended Texas for a vineyard to supply America with wines.”
Austin would have been astounded had he lived 100 years later to see the damage Prohibition would cause. It wiped out the Texas wine industry. California survived because a few of its wineries supplied wine to the church.
In the late 1970s, a few families began to recreate the Texas wine industry. One of those was the Bonarrigos. Merrill was one of the first women to graduate from Texas A&M University; Paul was a physical therapist who had emigrated to Bryan from New York. His family had been winegrowers and vintners for generations in Messina, Sicily. Her family traced its roots to Hof, Germany.
The result was Messina Hof winery. Vineyard Cuisine is the story of the winery told in words and photos. The photos are stunning enough that the book could be yet another travel book, full of pictures of creeks, lakes, fields, statuary and the interior of grand houses.
But it is much more, as the title itself suggests. It’s a collection of around 200 recipes prepared and served at Messina Hof Winery’s Vintage House Restaurant. The recipes are a nice blend of traditional Sicilian, Texas Hill Country and American fare. Each is paired with a wine, and there is additional information about wine and cheese pairings and what wines go best with what foods.
The Villa at Messina Hof was named Texas’s most romantic inn. Until you can stay there, this book is a good glimpse at the romance of a Texas vineyard. And for those who do visit the restaurant or Villa, it’s a terrific souvenir.
Vineyard Cuisine is published by Bright Sky Press at $29.95.