As one of the oldest wineries in the Lone Star State, Messina Hof Winery has earned its reputation as a leading producer of 100% Texas wine.
Messina Hof continues to sweep multiple major award wine competitions, including the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, TEXSOM International Wine Awards, and the San Francisco International Wine Competition. They were deservedly named the Top Texas Winery. Cheers to that!
And, they’re ready to share as the much-lauded winery is underway with the not-to-be-missed 44th Annual Harvest Festival where you can pick and stomp the very grapes that go into making the award-winning Ports. Festivities run through August 28th.
A Family Dynasty
Born into the Texas wine industry, Paul Mitchell Bonarrigo grew up working alongside Paul Vincent Bonarrigo and Merrill Bonarrigo, his parents and founders of Messina Hof. Paul graduated in 2005 with a Bachelor of Science in Systems Engineering from the United States Naval Academy and was commissioned as a United States Marine Corps Officer. Since 2012, he has been the CEO and Winemaker of the family firm.
Karen Bonarrigo met her (now) husband, Paul, more than 15 years ago, after growing up in Pennsylvania. Paul and Karen moved back to Texas in 2010 for Paul to begin the ownership and wine program transition with his parents. Today, as Chief Administration Officer, Karen is also a key member of the leadership team.
We caught up with this power duo to discuss the winery and life in business together
How did you meet?
Karen: We met in Washington DC in 2005 while Paul was a Midshipman at the United States Naval Academy and I was a student at The George Washington University. Paul’s polite Texas manners lead to a dinner date at a teahouse in Georgetown. We traveled down to Texas to get married at Messina Hof in 2006 while Paul was finishing his United States Marine Corps officer training in Northern Virginia.
Why did you go into the family business together?
Karen: We felt it was very important to carry on the legacy of Messina Hof, and it was at the forefront of our vision to continue the hard work, high quality hospitality, and pioneering spirit in the Texas wine industry that Paul V. and Merrill had started decades earlier. We still feel strongly that it is our responsibility to steward, grow, push the business, and eventually pass it on to our children.
What have you learned about each other?
Karen: We have always known that we have different strengths that complement one another, and there is a great deal of respect that we have always had for each other because of those natural skills and abilities. But it is a fascinating process to see your partner truly showcase their God-given talents and accomplish great things in business. There are things like logic and leadership that Paul excels at that resulted in him taking pivotal roles in the Texas wine industry during complex legislative years, and his steady mindset and analytical skills have helped redefine the company structure and culture over the years.
Paul: Karen harnessed a life-long love for food and cooking and developed it into an expanded food and wine program at the wineries, which eventually led to opportunities such as serving dinner at the James Beard House in New York City. Our personal relationship has also evolved over the years as we have faced business challenges yet shown grace, empathy, tenacity, and determination to change circumstances to positive outcomes.
Any tips for making a husband/wife business a success?
Karen: Pro tip for testing whether or not a couple should go into business together – attempt to tackle a somewhat complicated room remodeling project. How a couple plans, problem solves, works, and finishes the task is a great mini-experiment into what working side-by-side is on a regular basis.
We had a comical experience remodeling various parts of our house in North Carolina when Paul was in the Marines, and our fiascos regarding kitchen tiling, painting, and backyard landscaping were not only memorable but revealing on how we would ultimately react when challenged in unexpected ways in business later.
Paul: We always saw each other as best friends, close confidants, and partners in life, so sharing our professional life alongside our personal life aligns naturally. We look to each other for advice constantly, and we talk through struggles both at home and at work both from the angle of being peers and as a pair.
It does mean that there is no separation of “home life” and “work life” (which we are okay with). But it also means we can experience more as a couple together, which in turn has been very rewarding, a huge opportunity for growth for us (personally and as a couple), and a great way to admire and respect each other on a whole new level. We truly see each other as a team, and it has led us to have our kids involved even in the business at a young age. There is a mutual respect that is built and admired when working alongside one another that is a true blessing to experience.
Would you go into business together again?
Both: Yes, of course.
Cover photo courtesy Messina Hof
Leean Vargas is an Editorial Assistant at Texas Lifestyle Magazine and an honors graduate of Texas State University with a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations. She is a concert enthusiast who loves traveling, photography, good food, and discovering new hangout spots in her beloved city, Austin, Texas.