Messina Hof Moonlight Harvest Dinner: Everybody Sing – "Pick, Pick, Pick Your Grapes, Going Down the Row…"

Messina Hof Moonlight Harvest Dinner: Everybody Sing – “Pick, Pick, Pick Your Grapes, Going Down the Row…”

This time our Houston-based picking crew departed the I-610 West Loop embarkation point with the destination set for Messina Hof Winery and Resort ( in Bryan, Texas. The reason that I say this time is that we had an abortive attempt to do the same thing a few weeks ago, but the limo showed up at the winery by mistake, leaving the Houston pickers to fend for themselves for Friday evening entertainment.

That day, I decided to have “MY-Messina Hof Winery Harvest Dinner” ( solo in the comfort of my home in downtown Houston. I had Messina Hof wines and just needed a stop at Central Market for a few more provisions. It was fun, I had Italian tradition music playing and even harvested grapes strategically placed on the prickly pear cactus in my front yard, under my neighbors’ watchful and very suspicious eyes.

However, this time we were not to be denied our “Night in the Vines”; not to be confused with the better known “Knights of the Vine” (

My daughter/photographer Caroline Carruba, a Houston-contingent of media types, and I were ready for our obligations for the evening – Tasting, Harvesting, Stomping and Eating. The vehicle-of-choice was a limobus, well decked out with comfortable cushy bench seats, munchable morsels of cheese, hummus and crackers, and sumptuous slurps of Messina Hof wine aplenty. The Messina Hof wine offerings ranged from light and dry Pinot Grigio, off-dry Gewurztraminer, to delectably sweet late-harvest Riesling; then, on to the reds that included light-bodied Pinot Noir (Yes – from Texas), full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon and deep, rich, sweet Papa Paulo Port.

As we arrived at the winery, the sun was starting the dip low in the west and the sky was attaining the yellow glow of a late summer sunset accented with rosy pink whisps. During a brief after-trip refresher with the Messina Hof newly released 2009 Chardonnay, winery co-owners Paul and Merrill Bonnarrigo and son Paul (called Pauli by his parents) greeted us in the coolness and subdued light of their Vintage House Restaurant ( Paul the younger is from his stint in the Middle East with his company of Marines and has started to work in the family-business focusing on winery operations.

Well, it was now time for the harvest. We started with a waiver signing; after all, we were going to be wielding sharp knives: Sign the waiver; get a Tee shirt then dinner. That’s not a bad deal. Then, we attended a communal meeting of grape pickers with a whole host of people from many distant lands – Katy, Houston, Pearland, Bryan, Austin and San Antonio. The meeting also included presentations on grape growing, maturation and harvesting. It finished with an exciting round of the old time favorite song of grape pickers from around the world, “Pick, Pick, Pick Your Grapes”. Actually, the words were sung to the tune “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”. We finished with a safety moment in a effort to prevent a cut finger, or two, or three.

Once in the field, things were a whirl of excitement with the pickers scurrying between the rows of vines like a hoard of worker bees abuzz in their nest. It was at least ten years since my previous Messina Hof harvesting experience. However, this one was much better than what I recall previously to be an early Saturday morning ordeal. It required a pre-six AM awakening and departure shortly thereafter (with a coffee stop) for us to make it all the way up to Messina Hof in time for the start of morning harvesting.

The vines adjacent to the winery were lush with ripe, red Lenoir grapes. This grape variety is the Bonnarrigo-family grape of choice for their renowned Port-style wines. This year for the first time, the Bonnarrrigo family is going to make a rose’ wine from early harvested Lenoir grapes to commemorate the birth of their first grandchild. A remote speaker in the vineyard blared festive Italian and German songs that added a celebratory, old-world air to the grape harvesting. Where are my lederhosen anyway, when I really need them? I think that they were still at the cleaners.

From the vineyard, we made our way around to the winery where the recently harvested grapes were being dumped into a large white plastic bin. A ceremony was held to find the most unusual or large grape clusters. The picker finalists had to describe their cluster while the assembled mass of other pickers got to vote on their favorites. One cluster was the head of a poodle, another was a turkey, while still another was simply just large, another was held by a guy that sang like Bing Crosby and another was held in the mouth of a lady that did a quick half-dozen push-ups. Do you want to hear more? At last, B-Boy was awarded the Big Kahuna Award, but I can’t remember why.

Anyway, after the ritual presentation of the grape clusters and big kahuna award, the stomping began. Big feet and little feet alike treaded the grapes and pounded them to pulp and dark red juice while Paul lead the singing of his Italian stomping song, the Tarantella ( Upon leaving the bin, the stompers placed their grape-soaked feet on the back of their fresh white Messina Hof Tee shirts leaving two big purple foot prints to commemorate their grape stomping experience.

In retrospect, the evening was a buzz of non-stop activity. After stomping, we filed into the winery for a quick tour. Those that enjoy such things delighted in sniffing the insides of French and American oak barrels (they actually do smell different; but we sure looked pretty funny sticking our noses into the bung holes of the barrels). Paul lead a tasting of three Messina Hof wines (a dry Sauvignon Blanc, a semi-sweet Riesling and a very sweet Papa Paulo Port). From all this activity, “us pickers” worked up a healthy appetite. We made our way back to the Vintage House Restaurant and into an upstairs party room that was wall-to-wall white-clothed tables with a large buffet to the side ready for our taking. I spied the cuisine and decided to pair it with a glass of a deep, dark-purple Messina Hof Cabernet Franc. The volume of the talk over dinner increased as good conversation, a filling of fulfillment with a harvest well done, and the accompanying wine melded joined to complete the night’s festivities.

On the limobus with Houston as our return destination in its site, the action was still going. Although, I have to admit that I was starting to wind down after wining down. I am a morning person and, at that point, I was ready to hit the pillow and awaited visions of dancing grapes in the vineyard of my dreams.

For more information on grape harvesting and stomping at Messina Hof, go to:

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Coming Soon: I will post a pictorial on this blog with additional photos from the Messina Hof harvesting festivities later in the coming week. Stay tuned for more.

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