This month’s guest blog will provide something different. I would like to introduce you to Merrill and Paul Bonarrigo of Messina Hof Winery.
Have you ever felt you were being led to do something that was not in your plan? Did you feel like it was pulling you out of your comfort zone? Have you ever looked around and wondered how you got where you are?
This was the Messina Hof story. How unlikely that a young man from the Bronx would settle in rural Bryan, Texas, where he finds the love of his life, Merrill. Who would have thought that a young man who saw his first tree when he was twelve would become a grape farmer and pioneer the Texas wine industry?
In 1977 after Merrill and I married, we found our little piece of heaven on Poor Farm Road, a dirt road in Brazos County, Texas. We named it after our heritages because my family was from Messina, Sicily and Merrill’s family originated in Hof, Germany. Our first cross-roads decision was what to do with these 100 acres. We decided to plant a Christmas tree farm. But 1977 was a drought year, and all the trees died.
At the same time, I “just so happened” to have a TAMU graduate student named Ron Perry as a patient in my Physical Therapy clinic. Ron “just so happened” to be working on his dissertation in grape feasibility in Texas and suggested that we plant grapes for his research. We did. Everyone – our friends, family, and experts – all discouraged us from this project. But the Lord gave us the conviction to move forward. We were rewarded. The vineyard prospered, and in 1981 our first wine won the gold medal at the Texas State Fair.
In 1982 we planted 7 additional acres. On the day of planting, it snowed 4″, which was unusual for our region. It was a blessing. The snow gave the needed moisture for the vines to grow. And in that year, our son was born. It was a very good year.
At that point, we were at another major crossroads, would we stay a grape grower or take the giant leap to become a licensed Texas winery. I had a full-time career as a successful physical therapist. Merrill was a mom, working in real estate and tending the vineyard. We took the leap of faith to become a winery – Messina Hof winery.
In the ’80s, the public had great skepticism and religious controversy about wine production. Patients and friends were so concerned for us that they wrote letters telling us that they were praying for us. Added to this, marketing experts advised us that no one would buy a wine that had Texas on the label and when we went to the bank for a loan to get started, the bank turned us down. Had the Lord closed the door? Had we made the wrong decision?
The Lord Provides
The next year, the state opened the Link Deposit program, which guaranteed loans to wineries and vineyards. We got our money and a safety net! Texas wine sales flourished because the new millennial wine drinkers embraced Texas wines as a world-class product. The result? It led more and more guests to visit the vineyard. The Lord provided us with an audience to share from the vineyard His story. We embraced the calling.
Through special tours in the vineyard, we have shared with our guests the John 15 experience first-hand. We prune and train the vines with them, harvest the fruit with them, and toast with wine to celebrate His abundant gifts and faithfulness.
Our Feast of Cana
The Feast of Cana is where the Lord turned water to wine. It was a celebration of love, marriage, new life, and family. There must have been much love and laughter shared that day. I can hear the clinking glasses of wine as toasts are offered.
As I look back on our marriage of forty-four years, it is easy to see the many lessons learned, the obstacles overcome, and God’s hand in guiding us.
This is our story. May it be a blessing to you.
Yvonne M. Morgan is a Christian author, blogger, and speaker.
Matthew 28:19 “Therefore, GO and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Click photo to purchase books