Fruits of the Vine: Brazos Valley Wineries Make Grape Jobs & Getaways

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Area wineries will be hosting harvest celebrations on weekends during July and August.Texas and wineries aren’t a new combination – Texas is the site of the first vineyard established in North America by Franciscan priests around 1662. What is new is the rate the Texas, and Brazos Valley, wine industry is growing: Texas is America’s No. 5 grape and wine producer, according to the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association. Texas boasts some 190 wineries, with 112 of those operations starting up since 2004.

Area wineries will be hosting harvest celebrations on weekends during July and August.Texas and wineries aren’t a new combination – Texas is the site of the first vineyard established in North America by Franciscan priests around 1662. What is new is the rate the Texas, and Brazos Valley, wine industry is growing: Texas is America’s No. 5 grape and wine producer, according to the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association. Texas boasts some 190 wineries, with 112 of those operations starting up since 2004.

The Brazos Valley, like the rest of Texas, is finding fertile economic ground in the growing of grapes through both tourism and wine production.

Messina Hof Winery & Resort
The Barrel Room at Messina Hof Winery & ResortMessina Hof is one of the oldest wineries in Texas and driving through the iron gates you immediately feel an old-world charm. Opened in 1977 by Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo, among Brazos Valley xenophiles, Messina Hof has become a household name. Messina Hof prides itself on creating a family atmosphere, upholding the tradition of wine making, and the special element of romance, says Messina Hof marketing representative Brittany Hanagriff.

From the style and architecture of the three buildings that make up the resort to the sun setting over the vineyard, romance is clearly infused in the very surroundings. “You might come for the tour,” says Hanagriff, “but you’ll stay for the experience. There’s so much more to do and see than you would imagine.

Though the tour is breathtaking and packed full of information about wine and Messina Hof’s long, unique history, there certainly is more to do than just tour. The full experience includes tours, tastings, meals at the restaurant and nights at the enchanting rooms of the Messina Hof bed and breakfast. Murder mystery dinners to opportunities to cook with the Messina Hof chef and wine appreciation classes, the Messina Hof experience is about sharing the Bonarrigo’s wealth of knowledge and expertise with anyone who wants to learn. “You have to try a wine before you know if you like it or not,” says Hanagriff. “You can’t judge them by the first sip. It’s definitely an experience because every winemaker has a different way of doing things, so every wine is different.”

The 34th annual Messina Hof Harvest Festival is one of the many ways people can get involved with the entire wine making process. The festival is based around tradition and family, and is an opportunity for the community to pick and stomp their own grapes. “It’s a new and different experience than anything else we offer,” says Hanagriff. “You can have wine you picked and had a hand in making.” With new dinners and dances being included every year, the Harvest Festival is constantly changing to bring new activities to even veteran Messina Hof guests. This year’s Harvest Festival is July 22 through August 20, with a calendar of special events occurring the entire time.

The Messina Hof family is constantly looking for new ways to reach out to the community and spread the joy of wine. Be on the lookout for new wines and a new location opening in October, teases Hanagriff, reminding people that when they’re looking for a weekend getaway, Messina Hof isn’t far: “We’re really just in your backyard!”

Messina Hof is located in northeast Bryan off of Old Reliance Road. Visit www.MessinaHof.com for more information on the Harvest Festival, wine tastings and tours, and the special getaway they have in store.

Pleasant Hill Winery
Plessant Hill Winery in Brenham is on the Texas Bluebonnet Winery Trail.One of several Brazos Valley wineries located in Brenham, Pleasant Hill Winery lives up to its name. Walking up to the beautiful building that houses the wine cellar, gift shop and tasting room you can see for miles, and the view is phenomenal.

Bob and Jeanne Cottle bustle around talking to everyone who walks in the door. Their passion for wine is contagious, which is precisely the goal. Jeanne Cottle, having been a teacher for many years, takes it upon herself to educate anyone who wants to learn about how they came to settle in Brenham and how the winery came to be. Bob Cottle descends into the cellar with guests to show them his pride and joy, the barrels and tanks that act as home to maturing wine.  The cellar at Pleasant Hill Winery is a real treat and one of the only cellars used for its purpose in Texas.

The atmosphere is stunning and sipping wine while staring out over endless trees and a beautiful landscape you can see why Bob and Jeanne Cottle are passionate about what they do.  Wine can be intimidating to some people, but Bob Cottle insists it shouldn’t be. “Once you know what the crazy names on the bottle mean,” Cottle says, “wine makes so much more sense! There are really only three ways to name a wine. So those names you see on the bottle are either about the grape, where it came from, or absolutely nothing! Sometimes the names are just fun.”

Pleasant Hill Winery is currently celebrating its 10th Annual Crush for Fun event. A great way to get involved in the wine making process and take the intimidation out of wine, Crush for Fun allows guests to immerse themselves in the world of wine and the passion of the Cottle family. Crush for fun occurs over four weekends beginning July 23.

Pleasant Hill Winery is located in Brenham off of Salem Road. For more information on visiting Pleasant Hill Winery and the Crush for Fun experience, visit www.pleasanthillwinery.com.

Retreat Hill Cellars
Texans are notoriously proud of their heritage, and Billy S. Cox Jr. is no different. When he began Retreat Hill Cellars he wanted not only to show Texans that Texas wine could be elegant, he wanted to infuse his wine with a sense of Texas history.

Billy S. Cox combines Texas history with wine at Retreat Hill Cellars.With locations in Navasota and Montgomery, Cox has done just that. The Texas Declaration of Independence was written in the area and then taken to Washington-on-the-Brazos to be signed. The building in Montgomery that houses Retreat Hill Cellars is the oldest building still standing in this historic area. These little bits of history are part of the special ambiance Retreat Hill Cellars offers.Although Retreat Hill Cellars opened just two years ago in August of 2009, Cox is confident that they are well on their way to reaching their goal. “I wanted a rural rustic winery,” says Cox. “The goal when we opened was to create the standard wine types that people were comfortable and familiar with, but make them elegant and taste amazing.” A down-to-earth man, Cox tells people to throw caution to the wind when it comes to wine. “Don’t listen to anyone about the type of wine you should be drinking,” says Cox. “Drink what you like. People say don’t pair certain wines with certain foods, but if it’s what you like, you should do it!  It’s all about enjoying wine and enjoying food; drink what you like and eat what you like with it.”

For those excited about new adventures with wine, keep an eye on Retreat Hill Cellars. Cox says he’s looking forward to playing with some new grapes to create new wines. Retreat Hill has two locations. The Navasota location is open for the Bluebonnet Wine Trail; the Montgomery location is open for wine tastings. For more information on Retreat Hill Cellars, the two locations and the history behind the bottle, visit www.RetreatHill.com.

Windy Winery
Tasting Room at Windy Winery.The wind isn’t the only thing that can blow a person away at the winery. August Meitzen, the winemaker, takes great pains to research each wine and to ensure he’s giving people the best of the best. The wine speaks for itself, but the tastings are entertaining and full of laughter. “It takes the fear out of trying something new,” Linda Meitzen says. “If you’re shocked by the wine, you’re not going to like it. If you’re at ease and really allow yourself to taste the wine, then you’ll find something to fall in love with.”

The relaxed atmosphere at Windy Winery makes it easy to ask questions and learn the most about each wine they have to offer. It’s easy to sit down and listen to August and Linda Meitzen gush over their wines like proud parents. “Try everything! More than once and as often as you can,” says Linda Meitzen. “There really isn’t a bad wine, but there are wines that aren’t right for your palate. You just have to give them all a chance before you know what wine is right for you.”

The Harvest Grape Stomp, beginning on the weekend of July 23 and continuing for the next four weekends, is just one more way to listen, learn, and have fun with August and Linda Meitzen. Windy Winery is located in Brenham on Clover Road. Visit www.windywinery.com for more information about Windy Winery, the Harvest Grape Stomp and exciting new wines.
August and Linda Meitzen take the fear out of learning about wine. Offering any and all their wines to customers, you instantly feel like family, and you know they really do care about your happiness. The Meitzen’s moved to Brenham from Austin and before they had even finished unpacking, they were in the fields planting their first grapevines. The first thing they noticed was the wind, and that’s how Windy Winery was named. “You come up here and it’s beautiful,” says Linda Meitzen, “but you’ll literally get blown away!”

Saddlehorn Winery
At Saddlehorn Winery, a renovated barn encompasses both a tasting room and the large tanks where wine matures. Guests are surprised when they walk in and see through the glass behind the tasting bar into the world of wine making. “There’s nothing behind the curtain,” says owner and winemaker Stephen Morgan, “mainly because there is no curtain.”

Saddlehorn Winery pays tribute to the horse breeding and training grounds that occupied the land before it. After purchasing the property in Burton, Morgan decided to combine the Western style of horseback riding and the joy of wine into one outstanding winery. The wood-paneled tasting room makes guests feel they have stepped out of the 21st century and into the old world where good wine and horses reign supreme.

“You get to see the uniqueness of a boutique winery,” Morgan says. “It’s familiar wine, but not all familiar. We try to create an adventure in the comfort of a safe place.” With evenings of music and wine tasting, Saddlehorn Winery corrals the idea of comfortable adventure.

“Forget about how you should taste the wine,” Morgan says. “Concentrate on if you like what’s in your glass. If you don’t like it, try to understand why. The first wine may not be your favorite, but that’s why there are so many more to try.”

It’s the season for expansion at Saddlehorn Winery. Be on the lookout for new red wines, a new port wine, and an exciting new addition in the renovated barn. A brand new event room is currently under construction and Morgan is excited about its unveiling this fall.Saddlehorn Winery is located in Burton off of FM 1948. For more information on Saddlehorn Winery, events, and new wines, visit www.SaddlehornWinery.com.
                                                                                                                                 – by Tessa K. Moore