Stomping the Grapes at the Messina Hof 2011 Harvest

I've been on countless winery tours, but it was not until last Friday that I attended a wine harvest, complete with grape picking, grape stomping, and a lot of wine tasting. If you've been saving up to experience this somewhere in California wine country, there's no need. For $45, the Texas version at Messina Hof is a little corny and a whole lot of fun.

The drive up to Bryan, Texas takes a bit more than an hour from central Houston. I spoke to several people from Austin and neighboring small towns who had driven out especially for the event as well. There were about 50 attendees on the day that I went, but Saturdays are more popular -- well over 100 people are already slated to attend tomorrow.

The Harvest Day activities start at 8 a.m., and when you arrive, you get a T-shirt and a curved knife to use for cutting the grapes. The owners of Messina Hof, the Bonarrigo family, then do a short presentation about their winery, introducing the entire family, and their third-generation wine-maker, adorable little Sophia Marie.

After that, the fun begins. Everyone goes down to the vineyard with their harvesting knives, and the grape-picking commences. There's a contest for people to name and submit a grape cluster for judging. For instance, if a cluster resembles a dog, you would submit it with a cute dog name. I only harvested a few clusters before I got bitten by some spider ants, the hazard of wearing flip flops, so be forewarned and wear close-toed shoes.

When the grape picking is complete, everyone convenes into the cool barrel storage room for a wine tasting. We tasted the Sophia Marie Rose, a lightly floral, slightly acidic and refreshing wine named after the Bonarrigos' granddaughter, Sophia Marie. The cool, refreshing rose-colored wine was a perfect foil for the hot humidity outside.

As we gathered near the vats where the stomping was to take place, everyone who submitted a named grape cluster was called to the front and asked not only to show their grape cluster, but also to reveal a talent. People were not shy about their talents, and soon we were regaled with displays of impressive whistling, a running-man dance, a cart-wheel, strange facial contortions and much more. Hilarious.

In my head, I had romantic visions of the sun setting in the background and large round wooden tubs like I'd seen in the movies, and while the reality wasn't quite so rustic or romantic, I couldn't have asked for more. There were two large square vats holding grapes, accommodating up to six stompers per vat at a time. The grapes felt cold and mushy, but soft on the feet. I can't really describe the sensation exactly, but it was exhilarating.

I whooped while I stomped, and during the stomping, everyone would break into song: "Pick pick pick your grapes gently down the row. Merrily merrily merrily merrily stomp them with your toes." As we got out of the big vat, we got our feet imprinted on the white T-shirts to commemorate the occasion. After the grape stomping, there was a tour through the fermentation room and more wine tastings, culminating in a delicious meal.

Messina Hof's Harvest Festival includes the harvest-day activities described here, as well as luncheon for the price of $45 per person. There are many other Harvest Festival activities, including food and wine pairing classes, Murder Mystery dinners, wine appreciation classes, dancing and much more. The harvest activities will go on for the next several weeks, and there are still six harvests you can attend on July 30-31, August 6-7, and possibly August 13-14. For information and reservations, contact Messina Hof 979-778-9463.

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