OK, conjure up your visions of the state of Texas. There's cowboys on horses; Stetson hats; six shooters; rodeos; longhorn cattle, sage brush, and of course, world-class wine.
Are you kidding me? Actually, I'm not. From Waco, Texas, the home of the Texas Rangers museum, Dr. Pepper, and the site of The Early Show's Friday, July 21, Bryan, Texas, for the harvest weekend held at the family-owned Messina Hof Winery and Resort.
And what an extraordinary family and winery it is. Merrill and Paul Vincent Bonarrigo founded Messina Hof in 1977. Recently married, the miniseries "Roots" was a television sensation at the time and the idea of exploring their own family roots led to their respective ancestral homelands and the creation of the name Messina Hof.
Paul's family is from Messina, Sicily, and his family has been making wine in there since 1800. Today, more than 200 years later, the Bonarrigos of Sicily continue to produce wine to the same exacting standards that have become family tradition. Born and raised in Bryan, Texas, Merrill Bonarrigo can trace her family roots back to Hof, Germany. Hence, as they merged their lives together in matrimony, they also merged the names Messina and Hof to create Messina Hof.
A sixth-generation winemaker, Paul Bonarrigo's passion for wine stems from his family's rich winemaking tradition. According to that tradition, the first-born son of each Bonarrigo generation is named Paul and he is designated as the winemaker for that generation.
Since Messina Hof's formation, the winery has received numerous awards for excellence in regional, national and international competitions, making it the most-honored winery in Texas.
So just what is a harvest weekend? Well, it's an opportunity to take part in harvesting the Lenoir grapes that are grown on this site's 40 acres. We arrived at 8 a.m. and sat through an enjoyable and entertaining orientation. Afterwards, we headed out to the vineyards and under the direction of staff members and in teams, we picked the grapes from the vines to the accompaniment of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin playing from a portable CD player atop a flatbed truck. It was an experience I will remember for a very long time. It was a microcosm of my last two months on the road. As diverse yet surprisingly the same as this great land of ours is, so too where the wonderful folks that all took part in the first weekend of the harvest.