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The wine valleys of Missouri rival Napa’s famed wines and beauty

Missouri is the Napa of the Midwest

© 2007 by Bonnie McKenna
All Rights Reserved

When some one suggested that I take a trip to the wine country of Missouri, I thought they were nuts. Wine, Missouri. It just did not compute. I envisioned what I call ‘pancake syrup wines;’ not my favorite. After a five-day trip through the wine country of Missouri, to say I was surprised by what I found would be the understatement of the year.

Not only was I treated to some very fine wines, but wines that could easily stand with the Cabernets, Syrahs, Zinfandels, or Pinot Noirs of California, Australia and even France. The wineries, for the most part, were all founded by German settlers who thought the valleys along the Missouri River valley reminded them of Germany. Later, the Italians came into Missouri and founded their own wine production in the Ozark highlands. By the 1880s, wine connoisseurs in America and Europe were drinking more than two million gallons of Missouri wine each year. The wines won gold medals in world competitions until 1919. That was the year the Volstead Act was passed; the formal name for Prohibition.

American wineries were thriving until Prohibition. The Missouri wine centers, like all the wineries of that era, fell into economic ruin. From the time of Prohibition until the late 1960s, most of the Missouri wineries either lay fallow or were engaged in other agriculture production. The wine cellars of Stone Hill Winery were given over to mushroom production. Today, those same wineries, most now owned or managed by descendants of the early vintners, are back in full production. They have not forsaken their heritage; their wines run the gambit from the very dry to the very sweet, but their tastes have become much more sophisticated.

The signature grape of Missouri is the Norton or Cynthiana. Personally I favor the name Cynthiana; wines, to me, are feminine, smooth and full of body. The name Norton reminds me of the Honeymooners and does not conjure up a vision of beauty to me, but Norton is the name synonymous with this particular grape. The Norton is a native American grape. It produces a full bodied, rich and spicy, deep dark red wine.

European varietals like Chardonnay and Cabernet cannot stand the cold Missouri winters and hot summers. Other popular varietals grown today include the French-American hybrids Chambourcin, Sayval, Chardonnel, Vivant, Vignoles and Vidal Blanc.

One of the best ways to get a feel for Missouri wines is to take a trip along the Hermann Wine Trail, or Weinstrasse. The trail, not far from St. Louis, winds along the Missouri River through some of the most beautiful scenery in the state. There are seven family-owned wineries along the trail. One of the great opportunities about the Missouri wineries is that the owners are usually available to talk about their wines. The Adam Puchta Winery (www.adampuchtawine.com) is the oldest, continuously-owned family winery in the state. Established in 1855, it is now operated by the sixth generation of the Puchta family. The original Puchta home is now the tasting room and gift shop.

Stone Hill Winery (www.stonehillwinery.com) is one of the most popular attractions on the Herman Wine Trail. The winery sits atop a hill overlooking the town of Hermann. Established in 1947, Stone Hill was, until Prohibition, the second largest winery in the United States. In 1965, the Held family purchased the winery and began restoring it to once again produce award-winning wines.

Their signature wine is the Norton. Because of its historic value, the winery is listed on the National Historic Register. Tours of the production areas, ancient arched cellars and tasting room is a must. Next to the winery is the Vintage Restaurant, a restored stable and carriage house specializing in German cuisine. Adding to the ambiance of the restaurant, the tables are set among the old horse stalls.

Oak Glenn Winery (www.oakglenn.com) sits high on the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River. The winery was originally owned by George Husmann, the father of Missouri wine viticulture. The area above the tasting pavilion is dedicated to the history of Husmann and his contributions to winemaking in Missouri and California. The winery offers a large selection of premium wines, but they are noted for their white Port.

The Hermannhof Winery (www.hermanhoff.com) is also a National Historic Site. The winery is proud of its German heritage dating back to 1852. Hermannhof, like Stone Hill, has a labyrinth of century-old brick and stone cellars. Ghost-like orbs have been seen in both of these cellars. They have photographs to prove it. Hermannhof is also noted for its traditional smokehaus sausages made by third generation sausage-masters.
Usually, by the fourth winery of sipping and comparing the many fine wines of the region, it is time to slowdown, have dinner, and find a comfortable place for the evening. Hermann is the B&B capital of the Midwest (www.hermannmo.info/lodging). From the Acorn B&B to the Zimmer mit Fruehstueck there has to be a B&B that fits your needs. The town features a number of hotels as well. I can recommend the Heritage Lodging (www.heritagelodging.com) in Hermann. The B&B is located on the second floor of a restored mercantile building built in 1897. Each of the four comfortable rooms is furnished and decorated with carefully restored antiques. Linda and Olan Stemme will take good care of you and join you for a delicious breakfast.
After a good night's rest, you can either continue on to the other wineries in the Hermann area or, if you are so inclined, rent a bike and travel to some of the wineries that are along the KATY trail. The trail is built on the former corridor of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT) Railroad (better known as the Katy). It runs almost 200 miles across the state, offering opportunities to enjoy nature, discover the past or just a good place to get some exercise in between wine tasting.

There are many other wineries close to St. Louis as well as to the north and south of the city. Each area makes a great day trip and another reason to sample more great Missouri wines. To the north, Eagle’s Nest Winery (www.theeaglesnest-louisiana.com) in Louisiana boasts of having one of, if not the best, Norton wine in the state. The Eagle’s Nest Winery also has an excellent dining room and bistro; if you decide to explore the area and spend the night there is also a comfortable B&B upstairs.

To the south, is the Route du Vin of Sainte Genevieve County (www.saintegenevieve.org/routeduvin.htm). This is another great day trip. Five wineries can be found in this old French colonial outpost. The most impressive is the Crown Valley Winery. Vineyard tours of their 600 acres estate are available during the growing and harvest seasons. If you are thinking about taking trip to the wine country of California, think again. Missouri winemakers are once again bringing home gold medals from international competition. Missouri wine is back and it is time to visit their beautiful wine country. bmckenna@ourtribune.com