Exploring Missouri Wine Country

Wine barrels aging in a dark cellar.

Photo &copy Roman Barelko/123rf.

Missouri’s wine country is a cherished getaway for St. Louisans looking to escape the noise and stress of city life. The rolling hills and bluffs of this picturesque region are less than an hour from the city, making a wine-country jaunt the ideal day trip. Visitors wishing to spend a weekend in this pastoral paradise certainly can, as there are many quaint and affordable bed-and-breakfasts. Augusta and Hermann, the small towns nestled among the wineries, boast a handful of lovely inns. There are also plenty of restaurants and antiques shops.

Winemakers throughout the region are friendly, knowledgeable, and unfailingly generous—tastings are free at all wineries.Visitors to Augusta and Hermann will find old-world charm in spades. Hermann centers around a Main Street that’s straight out of a Norman Rockefeller print, but be advised that there’s little in the way of grocery-shopping or entertainment (outside of drinking wine, of course). But it’s precisely this lack of hubbub that makes Hermann so appealing; pack a picnic and capitalize on the opportunity to enjoy true serenity. The views here are outstanding, and sweeping vistas can be enjoyed from many vantage points throughout the region.

The wine-making operations here are still young (which explains why some people do a double-take at the mention of “Missouri wine”). The area was established as a wine region in the 1850s, but progress was halted by Prohibition and then stymied by economic depression for a full 40 years after that. Despite this late start, Missouri winemakers have made some notable achievements. The zinfandel-style reds made from the region’s own Norton grapes have earned acclaim in international competitions. The Missouri Vignole, a lovely dry white with notes of gardenias and peach pits, has been garnering praise as well. Winemakers throughout the region are friendly, knowledgeable, and unfailingly generous—tastings are free at all wineries.

Wineries

Augusta Winery

Augusta Winery (5601 High St., Augusta, 888/667-9463, Mon.-Fri. 10am-5:30pm, Sat. 10am-6pm, Sun. noon-6pm) may not have the old-world elegance of other area wineries, but it offers some fantastic wines at the lowest per-bottle price in the region. There’s not much more to the place than a small tasting room, bottling facilities, and a narrow patio, but the tasting counter is always packed. The award-winning wines start at $7 per bottle and peak around $20 (Augusta’s luscious pinot noir-style Chambourcin is a real bargain at just $12 a bottle). Visitors may notice some similarities between the wines sold here and those sold at the Montelle Winery, and with good reason: Augusta’s owner purchased Montelle in 1998 and oversees both operations.

Hermannhof Winery

As its name suggests, the Hermannhof Winery (330 E. 1st. St., Hermann, 800/393-0100, Mon.-Sat. 10am-5pm, Sun. 11am-5pm) is in the historic small town of Hermann and has a German lineage. The winery’s cozy red-brick manor, Bavarian-style guest houses, and stone cellars were built in the 1850s and are a testament to the craftsmanship of Hermannhof’s founders. Picnickers can sit beneath the grape arbor near the main house or snag a shady spot on the winery’s rolling lawn. Beneath this lawn are 10 stone cellars, which produce 15,000 cases of wine each year. Hermannhof ’s casks are made from white oak harvested in France and Missouri, and the winery is a two-time winner of the Brown-Forman trophy for “Best New World White,” but buyers should always taste first. Vintages vary greatly in quality, and at upwards of $25 a bottle, you don’t want to get a bum year. In addition to a host of reds, whites, and sparkling wines, Hermannhof sells a selection of cheeses and locally made German-style sausages.

Montelle Winery

Montelle Winery (201 Montelle Dr., Augusta, 636/228-4464, Mon.- Thurs. 10am-5:30pm, Sat. 10am-10pm, Sun. 11am-6pm), off of Highway 94, offers some of the area’s absolute best views. Visitors can see all the way to the Missouri River from the winery’s expansive, multi-level deck. Coolers and picnic baskets are prohibited beyond the parking lot, but the gift shop sells a nice selection of domestic cheeses, sausages, sandwiches, and pizzas. Fruit and sandwich trays can be ordered in advance, and a three-course dinner is offered on weekend evenings (just be sure to reserve a spot at least 48 hours prior to arrival). Montelle was opened in 1970 by Clayton Byers, one of the pioneers responsible for revitalizing the entire Missouri wine region. In addition to making some great Vignoles and a number of fruit wines, Montelle distills grappa and a brandy made from Golden Delicious apples. These, too, are available for tasting—although at a small additional charge.

Mount Pleasant Estates

Mount Pleasant Estates (5634 High St., Augusta, 636/482-9463, Mon.-Fri. 11am-5pm, Sat.-Sun. 11am-5:30pm) is the oldest operating winery in Augusta and the most popular winery in the region. Manicured grounds and stone paths weave their way through an assemblage of quaint cottages, which house a tasting room, banquet facilities, a market, and a grill. Drinking at Mount Pleasant is no bargain, as visitors must pay restaurant-markup prices to enjoy a bottle of house wine on the grotto-like patio. Don’t even try to buy a bottle at the retail counter and drink it on the patio, as that is strictly prohibited. The rule seems a bit unfair, but the view from the bluffs is worth the extra bucks. Grapes grown at Mount Pleasant include cabernet, merlot, and chardonnay, and the winery’s ports have won several awards in recent years. Tours of the winery’s cellar and bottling facility are offered at noon and 1pm on Saturdays and Sundays (April-October).

St. James Winery

St. James Winery (540 State Route B, St. James, 800/280-9463, Mon.-Sat. 8am-7pm, Sun. 9am-7pm) is in the Ozark Highlands, which makes it a little out of the way for visitors doing a tour of Missouri’s wine country. It’s off of Highway 44, between the towns of Cuba and Rolla, and is about an hour’s drive from Hermann. An early Italian settlement left behind a strong Italian heritage and an equally strong winemaking tradition. St. James Winery’s “School House”-label wines are named for the one-room schoolhouse built by the town’s original settlers. Complimentary wine tastings and tours are offered daily, and the expansive gift shop boasts an array of gourmet gift items, baskets, and juices. Most of the wines produced here are on the light-bodied side, and the catawba-grape dessert wine is one of St. James’s best sellers.

Sugar Creek Winery

The tasting room at Sugar Creek Winery (125 Boone Country Ln., Defiance, 636/987-2400, Mon.-Sat. 10am- 5:30pm, Sun. noon-5:30pm) is nestled inside a charming turn-of-the-20th-century Victorian home. On cold days, visitors are invited to enjoy the hospitality of the home’s cozy parlor. When the weather turns warm, wine-drinkers head to the terrace patio, which overlooks the vineyards and the Katy Trail below. Sugar Creek produces a handful of estate wines but is most well-known for its unique blends of the four popular Missouri varietals grown on the premises: Chambourcin, Chardonel, Cynthiana, and Vidal. French and American hybrid grapes are grown here and blended to coax out each varietal’s best qualities and brightest notes. The results have been praised by some of the industry’s toughest critics. On weekends between April and October, the winery hosts live music, and picnic baskets are welcome.

Sights

Deutschheim State Historic Site

The Deutschheim State Historic Site (109 W. 2nd St., Hermann, 573/486-2200, April-Oct. daily 10am-4pm, Nov.-March Thurs.-Sun. 10am-4pm, free) is dedicated to the preservation of Missouri’s rich German heritage. An on-site gallery explores the lives of early German immigrants, who came to Missouri by the thousands between 1820 and 1850. Visitors can also check out a half-timbered barn, a print shop, a faithful recreation of an 1830s kitchen garden, and two typical 19th-century German-style homes. The park is open during all seasons and hosts some great festivals throughout the year. Among these is Hermann’s popular Weihnachtfest, an outdoor winter festival and market that celebrates the Christmas season. Guided tours of the Deutschheim State Historic Site are available daily and depart from the park’s main office at 10am, 12:30pm, and 2:30pm.

Katy Trail

This 225-mile recreational trail, encompassed by Katy Trail State Park and built on the bed of a former railroad track, is one of the longest of its kind in the nation. The Katy Trail hugs the Missouri River and leads hikers and cyclists through some of the state’s most beautiful rural corners. Trailheads are located in St. Charles and in the tiny town of Clinton. The trail is made of crushed limestone, and bike-friendly bridges allow one to cross the Missouri River into Hermann, Washington, or Jefferson City for lunch or a night’s respite. The trail’s outstanding website offers downloadable maps, trail FAQs, up-todate information on trail conditions, and links to several Katy Trail trip-planning services. To get to St. Charles from St. Louis, take I-70 west to the 5th Street exit. Make a slight right on Boone’s Lick Road. Follow Boone’s Lick until it turns into Riverside Road. Trailhead parking lots are on the right.

Practicalities

Tourist Office

Information about Missouri wine country can be found in the Central region of the Missouri Division of Tourism website. The Hermann Chamber of Commerce (312 Market St., 573/486-2744) maintains a tourism web presence. You’ll find the Augusta Chamber of Commerce (636/228-4005) on the web at www.augusta-missouri.com.

Media

Keep up-to-date on Hermann happenings with the town’s weekly newspaper, the Hermann Advertiser-Courier. Augusta distributes a bimonthly community newspaper, the Augusta Neighborhood News (636/228-4821).

Getting There and Around

Highway 94 is the route to take. This scenic two-lane stretch south of US-40/64 is nicknamed the Weinstrasse, or “Wine Street.” There are four family wineries along this road and eight more within a 10-mile radius. Simply take US-40/64 to I-94 and travel south. Numerous signs are posted to point visitors in the right direction.

It is recommended that travelers rent a car and drive, but train service is available as well. Amtrak provides train service to Hermann from the historic Kirkwood station and back again, via the Kansas City Mule and Ann Rutledge. The fare is approximately $20 each way. Visit www.amtrak.com for a complete timetable.

Cyclists should check out the Katy Trail, as a 30-mile stretch of this bike route runs directly alongside the Weinstrasse.


Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon St. Louis.

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