Last week, a two-for-one coupon for a half day of touring, picking grapes, stomping grapes, wine tasting, and dining at Messina Hof, a vineyard and winery in Bryan, Texas, appeared in my Google Reader. Hmmm. Totally fun or totally lame? I sheepishly emailed J to test the waters. When he responded enthusiastically, I jumped on the deal. And you know what? It was really fun!
Our day began indoors with a little history and geography lesson. Did you know that prior to prohibition, Missouri was the number one wine producing state in the U.S.? California was number five! But because California maintained their vineyards through prohibition, they emerged as number one after the ban was lifted. Here in Texas, vineyards were converted to more profitable crops during the same time period. Now, however, we have 170 wineries in Texas, and with the local foods movement, they just might have a chance. More and more restaurants are getting on board with serving local wines. In fact, a contingent from Morton’s was there with us this weekend, and they seemed very impressed by Messina Hof’s port.
I was also shocked to learn that, broadly speaking, Texas is too cold, rather than too hot, for many grapes. Who would’ve guessed? As far south as we are in the areas surrounding Houston, though, reds do quite well, and Messina Hof’s signature wine is their port. Traditionally, port is made by adding brandy to red wine to increase its alcohol level. This was originally done to preserve wine being shipped from Portugal to England during the Revolutionary War when England and France were at odds. The higher alcohol levels helped to preserve the wine. But adding brandy to wine creates a sharp taste that can take years to mellow. (This is all according to what we learned on Sunday. I don’t know a thing about wine myself.) Messina Hof decided to create their own port made without bourbon. Instead, they use a painstaking, excruciatingly long and precise fermentation method to produce the same alocholic content (18% to 22%) as traditional port but without the sharp taste. They were the first people in the world to do this, and they claim that their port tastes as great after only 1 year of aging as traditional ports taste after 7 years of aging. It seems the experts agree, as they have received numerous international awards for this wine.
After the lectures, the owners led us in a boisterous round of “Pick, Pick, Pick Your Grapes” to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” before sending us out to ferret out the gorgeous, dark clusters nestled in the vines. Tragically, I started reacting to the grape leaves and broke out in a rash all over one of my legs. I quickly washed my hands and attempted to use gloves, but my forearms were still exposed, and eventually I gave up. But not before I got a few good ones:
My nutty husband had a good time among the leaves too:
Sometimes I’m not sure whether to laugh or to hide my face in shame. Mostly I laugh. I’m not sure about our future children, though. How will they cope?
(You can’t really see it in the photo, but J and are are facing off with our grape cutting knives.)
A contest later pitted me against my dear friend Susan in what I thought was a grape cluster contest, but it actually turned out to be a talent contest:
I didn’t stand a chance. She danced a jig, people. A jig. I lamely said “Mi chiamo Alison.” Sigh.
I didn’t get any shots of us stomping the grapes (channeling Lucille Ball), but here’s a peek at our purple feet afterwards:
After a wine tasting — with copious tips on visual examination, aeration technique, puckering, etc — we devoured a fabulous lunch of cold cuts, port cheese, salad with garlic-port dressing, sausages marinated in crushed grapes, chicken, hummus, pita chips, and vegetables. The folks around me also tucked into some amazing cakes while I looked on forlornly.
If you live in Texas, I highly recommend visiting Messina Hof. Harvest season isn’t over yet, so if you want try everything we did, just visit their website for dates and pricing. They also boast a restaurant and a beautiful bed and breakfast crammed with antiques (some as old as the 15th century). Go Texan!