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An Interview with Paul Bonarrigo

Last month at the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association’s annual conference I had the chance to sit down with Paul Bonarrigo, Founder of Messina Hof Winery in Grapevine. Paul has been making wine in Texas since 1977 and Messina Hof is one of the most awarded and renowned Texas Wineries.  

I asked Paul about the “state” of Texas wine as well as its future and the importance of the work that TWGGA is doing.

One of the things that struck me about the environment at the TWGGA conference was the willingness to share best practices and techniques with competitors.  Paul had an interesting and important view of competition in the Texas wine industry.

“I think you self-actualize that what creates success in the wine business is this: I am not competing with any of my Texas wineries. That is because we represent currently about 4% of the wine industry in the state of Texas. We represent 4% of the market!  So 96% of the market is a grower and a winery in some other state. And as long as you understand that perspective, you realize that my main competitor is a California winery, it’s not a Texas winery. “

Yet recognition, awards, and retail success has Texas Wine surging and Paul sees a path to sustaining this momentum.

“In the early 80’s we had some Texas wines that won double gold in San Francisco and as a result of that we were like ‘Texas is the new great place to make wine.’ But we had no critical mass, we had no infrastructure, we were just lucky. We were lucky and we got some double gold awards and everyone expected follow through. Well there was no follow through because there was no substantive industry. Well now we’re winning double golds again but now we have infrastructure, we have an organization like TWWGA, we’ve got 370 wineries, we’ve got 7,500 acres of grapes, so it’s not a little cottage industry anymore you know. We’re for real!”

So where does Texas wine go from here?  Paul had fantastic insights into how Texas can win big in the years ahead.

“We are going to continue to face the obstacle of the big California winery and we have to overcome that and the way we will overcome that is through, I believe, the Millennial. The Millennial is going to be the one that is going to take our industry to a much larger level.  My belief, as a baby boomer, is you always remember the wines that you drank when you were 21-25 yrs old. I do a lot of wine education and I had a class of 50 Millennials and I asked them about Château Lafite who is one of the finest and biggest names of wine in the world and none of them even knew what I was talking about. I asked then about Silver Oak, a tremendous winery in California, none of them ever had Silver Oak. So as they are in their formative years, Texas wine is the place and they can visit 360 of us any weekend!  It’s creating a lasting impression for folks that as they get older they can afford even more expensive wines. These are the folks that are actually going to be buying our private reserves, are going to be buying our very special wines.”

Spending a few moments with Paul was a real treat. He is passionate about the Texas Wine industry and rightfully proud of the impact that he and Messina Hof have had on it.  But Paul is hardly done. The picture at the top of this blog was taken of Paul at one of the wine clinics at this year’s TWGGA conference. Plus he was front and center at our Social Media workshop. He is ever hard at work making his Texas Winery and the wine he makes the best it can be.
– Guest Blogger Travis Matheny from Digital Brand Makeover


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