Wine has been popular for centuries — it’s even been called the nectar of the Gods. Not surprisingly, the wine industry got off to a good start in the U.S. as the country was settled. In fact, the Department of Agriculture reported in 1880 that the state of California produced more than 13.5 million gallons of wine annually.
While that may not surprise you, the fact that the number 2 wine producer in the U.S. was Missouri, at nearly two million gallons produced a year, likely will. Sadly though, while in 2012 California still held top spot (542+ million gallons!) — Missouri was a long ways from #2.
Early History of Missouri’s Wine Industry
Missouri’s early rise as a wine-producer came from two factors.
- Areas of Menfro silt loam soil left by glaciers.
- Large numbers of immigrants from Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy.
As more farmers arrived, more grapes were cultivated. More fine wines were bottled. Everything was going so well that 48 Missouri counties with 100+ wineries produced wine by 1920.
And in 1920, of course, the flow of spirits and beer and wine halted. Prohibition stopped alcohol producers in their tracks. All those bottles of wine ended up flowing downstream in rivers as government agents closed down the industry.
Only one Missouri winery survived producing alcoholic wine. Which one? The St. Louis winery, St. Stanislaus Novitiate, owned by the Jesuits. Under prohibition laws, they continued to produce sacramental wine legally.
Rebirth of Missouri’s Wine Industry
My tour of Missouri wineries introduced me to a number of amazing communities and businesses. To say they’re passionate about their wine making is an understatement.
And if it’s passion and dedication to wine growing, you’re looking for, I’d suggest you make your first stop, Hermann, Missouri. This small community currently sells 200,000 gallons of wine yearly. That’s about one-third of the state’s total production!
Settled by German farmers, the town of Hermann held its first Weinfest in 1848. Indeed, by the end of the 1800s, Hermann was one of the world’s largest wine producing areas. In 1904 the area produced nearly three million gallons of wine from the 11,000 acres of hilly vineyards.
Indeed, Stone Hill Winery, at that time the second largest winery in the U.S., had already won World’s Fair Gold Medals for its wines in Vienna. But Stone Hill, like other wineries around the country, watched as government agents dumped its wines and ripped out its vines when prohibition hit.
While it took awhile, Stone Hill Winery eventually led the way into a wine-making renaissance. Today’s owners, Jim and Betty Held, began making wine at Stone Hill again 30 years after the repeal of Prohibition. Today, Missouri has nearly 90 wineries and a state-funded Grape and Wine program at the University of Missouri.
Hermann Wine Trail
Of all the communities I visited on my wine tour, Hermann readily emerged as my favorite. From the historic main street (100 buildings on the National Record of Historic Places) to its historic bed & breakfast places to stay, there was just so much to experience. And of course, wine to taste!
The great thing about Hermann’s wineries is that seven family-owned wineries have all got together to create the Hermann Wine Trail. It follows the Missouri River for 20 miles between Hermann and New Haven, taking you through that rich Menfro silt loam soil with its acres and acres of vines.
And following the wine trail couldn’t be easier, since a number of low-cost trolleys take you from place to place. As they say on the Hermann Trolley website, fun is just a trolley away.
I loved my trolley rides and appreciated the opportunity to enjoy the wine tasting rooms without worrying about the drive!
Stone Hill Winery
If you only get time for one tour, make it Stone Hill. As noted earlier, Stone Hill has the longest tradition as a winery. Luckily for visitors, they’ve preserved that history so we get a real taste of the past from both the food and wines. They’ve also made use of the original buildings. In fact, the carriage house is now their restaurant! You can read about it in this article I did earlier on the best chocolate cake I had in the past year.
You’ll also find the Stone Hill vineyards beautiful. They’re featured in the photo at the top of this article.
On the other hand, if you’re more interested in the winery tour and wine-making process, I highly recommend you visit the Hermanhoff Winery built in 1852. While Stone Hill used the premises for growing mushrooms after prohibition, at Hermanhoff they operated as a boarding house. In the 1970s, when they turned again to wine-making there was lots to do.
But it’s easy to see they were up to the task as you can see from the beautifully restored (once covered with layers of paint) bricks in the photo below. In fact, 10 of the stone cellars have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Adam Puchta Winery
The Adam Puchta Winery opened in 1885. However, unlike most Missouri wineries, it didn’t shut down during Prohibition. Instead, they made fruit wines and dandelion wines without alcohol.
Here, I found a favorite red wine, which is odd for me as I generally prefer white. Or maybe the name captured my interest — Cat’s Meow. Best served cold, this semi-sweet red wine reminded me of home-made jam with its flavors of plum, dark cherry, and currant.
If you’re looking for wide-open vistas and a river running by, then a visit to OakGlenn should be on your list. I certainly enjoyed the scenery!
Here, my fav was a white wine, Niagara. But then again, I love apricot jam and this sweet wine really reminded me of it! It’s made, of course, with the Niagara grape. Moonbeam Medody with its essence of peach was runner-up for me.
Cindy and Tony Montelle, owners of Montelle Winery, shared a lot of the history of Missouri’s wine industry with me. There, I learned that on June 20, 1980, Missouri was the first area recognized as a federally designated American Viticultural Area with the Augusta AVA.
While viticultural area sounds confusing, the term simply means it’s a designated wine grape-growing region in the United States distinguishable by geographic features. And that, of course, takes us back to the Menfro silt loam soil found in Missouri.
In fact, Montelle Winery has 100 acres of grapevines, along with organic gardens, when I visited. My favorite wines there? The Vidal Blanc Ice Wine and River Country White.
From Montelle, it was off to Mount Pleasant, also in Augusta. Mount Pleasant’s history goes all the way back to 1859, like many others in the state. After their vineyards were burned out in 1920, during prohibition, the business ended until 1966 when the current owners’ relatives purchased it and started out again.
When you’re ready to try the wine in their spacious 4,000 square foot tasting room, I’d suggest their award-winning Merlot Augusta and 2009 Vignoles Augusta, Missouri.
And finally for the last stop on my amazing tour — Canterbury Hill Winery in the state capital, Jefferson City. When you visit, make sure you take time to enjoy a meal in their restaurant as well as some of their fine wines. I always love creative names and Canterbury Hill kept theirs in line with the winery name. Their wine list includes Canterbury’s Tale, Excalibur, and Red Tower.
I found their wines as fine as their names suggested!
Missouri Winery Tour
Here’s a Google map of all of the wineries I visited. Have fun exploring and tasting Missouri’s best!
I visited these wineries on a trip hosted by the State of Missouri for a week of traveling along the Katy Trail in Missouri–-thank you, it was amazing! I’d also like to thank the Beenders-Walker group for organizing the trip and taking such awesome care of my needs along the way.
Historical statistics on Hermann’s wine production are from the Hermann Official Visitor Information at: http://visithermann.com/taste-tour/wine-history/
About the Photo
The photo in the header above was taken at the Stone Hill Winery in Hermann, Missouri.