HOUSTON (CW39) – Roaming through fields of Blanc du Bois, I made the trip out to Richmond, Texas to spend a beautiful afternoon with Paul Bonarrigo, CEO & head winemaker at Messina Hof winery.
Growing season for the grapes started back in March and early April. Harvest for this location is normally late July or early August.
“It might be a little later this year because of some of the colder weather we had this season,” Paul says.
Messina Hof also has an estate in the high plains, near Lubbock this is where most of the wine making grapes are grown in the state of Texas.
“That season will go all the way into September, even into October,” he adds.
What do these grapes need to thrive?
“This region is very wet, there is a lot of moisture, that helps the vine to grow well. Sunlight is something that Texas has a lot of. Sunlight helps the vine to be healthy. Heat is okay up to a point, once you get to about 105 degrees the plant starts to shut down,” says Paul.
This can hurt the plant’s ability to fully ripen the fruit. But moisture can help with that.
Paul says, “It is not incredibly detrimental, but it defiantly plays a factor.”
June is the rainiest month in Houston. Then we see another spike of precipitation in September and October. Water management is an incredibly complex thing in vineyards. Grapevines are pretty durable when it comes to water. They don’t need nearly as much water as other crops such as corn or cotton. You don’t want too much rain during ripening season.
“You must make sure that they have just enough water to grow well, but not too much that it dilutes the quality of the fruit,” says Paul.
So, about the grapes that grow here…
“Blanc du Bois is a cross between some native grapes and some classic varieties like muscat”, Paul informs us.
Although it’s not as cold-tolerant as varieties you see in the northern states, it does have some inherent strength. Thankfully, the trees were in dormancy during February’s winter storm keeping impacts at a minimum. Hail storms, however, wreak havoc on crops across the country.
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, Texas leads the country in in hail claims. This really impacts the agricultural scene.
Paul adds, “Hail is definitely something we are on the lookout for.”
They work these vineyards entirely by hand.
“That allows us to pick the best fruit for the wine making process,” he states.
Soon, Paul says, he wants to allow the community to get involved with picking and crushing the grapes here.
“It is really eye opening as to how wine becomes what it is,” Paul explains.
Teaching them the full process from farm to fermentation.
He adds: “It really harkens back to the tradition in Italy, where the whole community would take part in picking the grapes.”