I like wine. I don’t love wine; I love my wife and kids – but I do appreciate good wine and spending a relaxing afternoon at a pleasant winery or two, with (as you might guess) my wife. No, I’m not a wino, just an aficionado. That said; let me point out some distinctive wineries in the central section of Missouri.
Missouri’s long history of producing fine wines dates to the 1830s, when German immigrants established the town of Hermann on the banks of the Missouri River.
By 1890, Missouri was the largest wine producing state in America. By 1900, Stone Hill Winery in Hermann was the third largest winery in the world. Today, Stone Hill (with three locations), is the most award-winning winery in Missouri; one of America’s top award winners. Take a guided tour of the original underground cellars before sampling their products in one of three tasting rooms.
In 1920, the wine industry was wiped out by Prohibition. A handful of Missouri wineries continued production out of caves and hidden cellars, with distribution limited to family and trusted neighbors – one of those is now operated by the family’s seventh generation of winemakers. Adam Puchta Winery, established in 1855, is thought to be the longest continuously owned and operated family winery in the United States. The original stone residence, restored and remodeled, serves as a tasting and sales room. Ok, I know I shouldn’t name a favorite, but just in case you are wondering, Puchta is it. The quiet solitude beside Frene Creek, seven miles west of Hermann, is incredibly relaxing.
In 1980, the area around Augusta, Missouri, became America’s first federally designated American Viticultural Area (AVA). More recently, three additional AVAs have been designated in Missouri. Within Augusta AVA, Montelle Winery, on a hilltop 400 feet above the countryside two miles outside of Augusta, is the first winery in Missouri to operate its own distillery, producing four kinds of brandy. Ok, again I should keep my opinions to myself, but . . . Montelle is my second favorite; from the multi-level, tree shaded deck the views are mesmerizing.
Today, Missouri’s wine industry prospers. As of January 2014, the Missouri Wine & Grape Board listed more than 120 member wineries and vineyards; that list grows almost monthly. In addition to many award-winning grape wines, several Missouri wineries offer a variety of fruit wines, as well as mead. (Mead is wine made from honey and water; it is the oldest form of fermented beverage on earth, dating to around 7,000 B.C.) Pirtle Winery, housed in a circa 1867 German Lutheran Church building in Weston, is renowned for their multi international gold medal winning mead. (It is not as sweet as it sounds.)
Established in 1970, St. James Winery has become Missouri’s top producer, bottling more than 200,000 cases annually (± 472,000 gallons). Two of their best sellers are named for State Parks: Montauk White (a Seyval) and Johnson’s Shut-Ins Red (a Norton).
In Augusta, Mount Pleasant Estates (established 1859) has a very large, tree-shaded patio with sweeping vistas. Their wines and ports are aged in the original limestone cellars. Guided tours are offered, seasonally.
Hermannhof Winery in Hermann opened in 1852 as part of a brewery/winery operation. Hermannhof was the first two-time winner of the Brown-Foreman Trophy for “Best New World White Wine.” The stone cellars and brick facilities are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
I could go on, but space is limited. Let me mention just one more. Bias Winery and Gruhlke’s Microbrewery in Berger, eight miles east of Hermann, overlooks the river valley. In addition to a fine selection of wines, they have an award-winning microbrewery.
But, don’t overlook Missouri’s other 120ish wineries, more than 100 of which are listed on VisitMO. All offer an outstanding experience and calming atmosphere, many with music and special events. Note: Missouri law prohibits taking outside beverages (of any kind) into a winery; leave beverages in your car.