Messina Hof is the most awarded and renowned Texas wine in national and international competitions. Despite its many awards, however, Messina Hof is best known for something else: their popular “wine on tap.”
Instead of distributing via the bottle, wine on tap is stored in stainless steel, high-end kegs that are hermetically sealed. Once the barreling stage is over, the wine is transferred to large kegs (each keg holds the equivalent to 26 bottles of wine). From there, the wine is pushed out (and served) using nitrogen or argon – two gases that actually protect the wine from oxidation.
We talked to Paul M. Bonarrigo, CEO of Messina Hof, to understand how wine on tap is becoming a social phenomenon and changing the way we see – and enjoy – wine.
Q: What’s your background in the brewing industry? How did you get started and how did you end up as CEO of Messina Hof?
PB: The Bonarrigo family has been making wine for seven generations. I am Paul Bonarrigo 7th, so I carry on the tradition of winemaking into Messina Hof. I grew up working in every aspect of the family business and learning from my father and mother in the art of wine.
After high school, I went to school at the U.S. Naval Academy and commissioned as a U.S. Marine Officer. After serving for five years in the Marine Corps, I decided to exit active service and come back home with my wife Karen. In 2010, we joined Messina Hof and in 2012, I became the CEO. It has been an amazing journey from when I was a kid to being back in the business during some of the most blessed years of our operation.
Q: What makes your wines special?
PB: Winemaking is art and science combined. It is said that more than 2,400 decisions are made from the vineyard to the bottle, and the winemaker is a part of every one of those decisions. We have a great winemaking team with not only Paul VI and Paul VII, but also a great team that works with us to make the wines.
We are also blessed to have a great group of vineyard growers that really love what they do and care about the quality of grapes they produce. You have to have good grapes in order to make good wine. There are many techniques that have been passed down through the generations and some new techniques that we have picked up along the way to make high quality, award-winning wines. We make more than 90 wines from 28 varieties of grapes, so there is something for every pallet.
Q: Can you tell our readers more about your “wine on tap” offering? How does this work and how is it stored/distributed so it maintains its original taste/texture?
PB: Wine on tap is an amazing trend that not only provides incredibly fresh wine, but also is a green initiative that helps the environment. Wine is transferred straight from the stainless steel tank or oak barrel directly into a five-gallon stainless steel keg, which is then served to guests through a nitrogen-driven tap system. This way, the wine is incredibly fresh and it gives a similar experience to a tank or barrel tasting.
Stainless steel kegs are incredibly clean and they are able to keep out light and oxygen that take away from the wines freshness. We sell most of our wines on tap through our three winery locations, but we also are starting to distribute to the quickly growing bar and restaurant wine on tap community.
Q: What makes wine on tap such a social and cultural phenomenon? How did you decide it was the right offering for your Grapevine location?
PB: Wine is all about celebration, tradition and family. In Sicily, most of the restaurants serve wine by the carafe, and in many cases that wine is made by the local winemaker from the community or village. Wine on tap is about breaking down barriers and creating a new way for consumers to connect with wine. It is incredibly fresh and we are able to serve unique wines in small batches with incredible taste.
It is also important to us that we will be keeping more than 6,500 bottles and packaging from going into the land fill every year from our Messina Hof Grapevine Winery alone. We call wine on tap as “Thinking Outside the Bottle.” The time is right for Texas to embrace wine on tap, and it should be Texas wine that leads the way. Drink Texas, and drink it fresh.