Wine Country Getaways Not far from Houston

200wineBy Amy Gross –

Earlier this year, I visited a thriving winery, helped prune the vines and was home just about two hours later.

Did I hop a jet to California? New York’s Finger Lakes? Of course not! I drove to Industry, Texas to Paradox House Vineyards, which grows grapes for Pleasant Hill Winery and Haak Vineyards and Winery in Santa Fe, Texas.

Before my visit, I had absolutely no pruning or gardening experience of any kind. But, when I got there, I was given some clippers and basic instructions. Off I went, clipping away the extra parts of the vines so that the vineyard team would have an easier job doing the more specific pruning later. I joined a group of about 30 other volunteers in the vineyards, many of whom had volunteered vintage after vintage. I was definitely the newbie.

I loved knowing that I was helping contribute to the wines that would be produced one day. I also enjoyed chatting with everyone, listening to their stories. We talked about wine, of course, but we also talked about travel, childrearing, farming, politics and pretty much everything as we clipped and clipped down each row.

Once we were finished with one block, we moved on to another, until all the vines were pruned. We headed to the house for delicious Texas chili and wine made from the Blanc du Bois grapes from another vintage as well as some other wines, our reward for a morning of work. A few of my fellow pruners also brought homemade wines to share, and there was plenty more visiting.

I might have started out as the lone stranger in the bunch, but I ended up feeling almost like family. You might think you need to be in California, Oregon, Washington or New York to experience the wine country or that you need to be a wine writer. But, living here in Houston puts us so close to some wineries that produce delicious wines and can give anyone who wants it a full winery experience just a few hours away from home.

Don’t believe me? Just ask Houston’s own Russ Kane, who has been discovering Texas wines for years and reporting on his impressions through his website,, and in his book, The Wine Slinger Chronicles. The Wine Slinger Chronicles shares the stories of Texas wineries, winemakers and winery owners in a way that any lover of Texas or wine would enjoy. I promise this book is not just for wine geeks – it is for anyone who likes to read interesting stories. We all know that Texas holds countless great stories! Reading Russ’s blog or his book will open your eyes to so many winery experiences and wines that are very close to home. You can get your own copy of The Wine Slinger Chronicles at Brazos Books, Barnes and Noble or online at Amazon, or order an autographed version at Russ’s website.

If you’re looking for a quick winery trip with a little bit of luxury and a great variety of award-winning wines, hop in the car and cruise on up to Mesina Hof in Bryan. Mesina Hof hosts weekly events including wine appreciation classes and pairings at their Wine Bar, as well as all of their Texas-made wines, many of which won many accolades at this year’s Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s International Wine Competition. The Vintage House Restaurant there offers fine dining in a winery setting as well as monthly cooking parties with the chef. For those who prefer to make an overnight stay of the experience, book a room at the AAA 4 Diamond rated bed and breakfast right on the property.

Need another excuse to visit? On April 20th, Messina Hof is hosting its annual Wine and Roses Festival when the winery’s roses and bluebonnets will be in full bloom. There will be a grape-stomping competition, wine seminars, live music and more.

I’ve just shared just a taste of what you can find so close to Houston. Check out Russ’s book, the Messina Hof website or my own site,, for more ideas of wineries, wine events and wines to explore in Texas’ very own wine country.