Did you know that Missouri boasts 111 wineries? Throughout May, we’re highlighting newcomers and hidden gems to plug into your GPS this summer.
Jowler Creek Vineyard & Winery
At Jowler Creek Vineyard & Winery just north of Kansas City, owners Jason and Colleen Gerke, ages 37 and 33 respectively, create quality wines utilizing sustainable, inventive and energy-saving practices from vine to bottle.
“We started making wine in our basement,” Colleen Gerke says. “We created a space entirely separate from our home, with its own entrance. We were permitted and bonded from the beginning, but we wanted a separate facility from our home.”
In July 2010, the couple built Missouri’s first green-certified winery. Because they installed solar energy panels and an Energy Star cool roof, they’ve benefited from a 33-percent reduction in energy costs.
“The solar installation should pay for itself in seven years,” she says.
They built with recycled steel and locally sourced, sustainably harvested wood. The winery’s drum-tight on air leaks because they sprayed in foam insulation.
Because the Gerkes’ home sits in the vineyard, green practices matter. “We installed bat houses in the vineyard first,” Colleen Gerke says. “I’m from California, and I grew up thinking about the environment.”
The two often think outside the box to solve weed and pest issues. A small herd of Olde English Babydoll Southdown sheep nibble weeds around Norton vines and “mow” between the rows as they graze. “The Norton grapes are on a higher trellis system, so they can’t eat the grapes,” Colleen Gerke says.
The Gerkes have even put a flock of chickens to work. Roaming chickens peck and pick, eating grape moths like candy. The couple compared the number of grape moths they caught in pheromone traps before and after the birds came to roost. “The number dropped by nearly 50-percent,” Colleen Gerke says. The cost? Chicken feed.
Grape skins and stems from pressings go into compost. They use a lighter, thinner glass for bottling vintages. “Wine drinkers sometimes equate the heavier weight and a deep punt with quality, but lighter-weight bottles are durable and cost less to make and transport. When a bottle maker transitions from dark green to clear bottles, the glass in between is transition glass. We’ll sometimes use that transition glass for our bottles.”
The wines, in whichever glass the Gerkes bottle them, are each crafted with a quality-first approach. They use traditional methods and careful blending to create wines that are fruit-forward, approachable and fun to drink.
They’ve spotted each of the hand-drawn critters on their wine labels in and around the vineyards. Critter tracks, butterflies, turtles, squirrels – each has a label. “We’ve added ‘Cock-a-Doodle-Do’ to honor the chickens this year,” Gerke says. Jowler Creek Winery’s Nortons feature a feisty raccoon on the labels.
“We named the winery Jowler Creek because the creek runs behind our farm. We adopted the raccoon identity early on when one of our friends, a graphic designer, doodled him on the side of a cardboard box. Later, we found out ‘Jowler’ was the name of a famous raccoon hunting dog.”
Visit the winery Wednesday through Sunday for an easy-going experience tasting quality wines.
“We’re pretty laid back,” Colleen Gerke says. “We’re not pretentious. We didn’t leave big jobs to fund the winery. We want to make quality wines.
“People hear about our green practices, and they seek us out. We have a great, friendly staff, so if you don’t know anything about wine, that’s okay.” They just might be playing reggae music in the tasting room, too.
Jowler Creek Vineyard & Winery, 16905 Jowler Creek Road; Platte City, Mo., 816.858.5528, jowlercreek.com
When you visit Vance Vineyards, be sure to try the late-harvest Chambourcin. In 2010, Roy Paris, the winemaker at Vance, collaborated with the growers at Fusion Wines to produce the only late harvest Chambourcin in the country. Chambourcin grapes normally harvested in early September ripened on the vines throughout the warm, dry fall that year.
By early November, flavors and sugars concentrated in the late-harvest grapes. Paris, a chemist by training and a lifelong winemaker, turned them into a flavorful and complex wine which debuted in March 2012. “It’s sold well,” Paris says. “It’s an expensive wine that’s only going to get better.”
Paris and owner Robin Vance both seem to think outside-the-bottle when it comes to the total wine experience. Vance converted a three-story historic concrete silo from the 1800s to a charmingly painted working clock that chimes out over a lake and the landscaped grounds. The new winery building, constructed of stone with a wattle and daub facade hearkens to the German roots of the Fredericktown community.
“Robin grew up in the Fredericktown area; he owns Filtration Systems Products, which operates a plant in downtown Fredericktown. He thought it would be fun to grow grapes,” Paris says. “We met when I worked at Chaumette [in Ste. Genevieve] and I ended up in Fredericktown.” Both men share a passion for good wine. Each has a keen head for business, too.
“We’ve steadily grown since we opened in 2006. We added the Twisting V Grille in 2008. We introduce menu specials every few weeks.” The Grille, which serves both lunch and dinner, is open Wednesday through Sunday. Reservations are encouraged, and required for parties of eight or more.
In addition to the late-harvest Chambourcin, be sure to try Simply Karen, a Chardonel, and a best-seller at Vance. “It goes so well with food,” he says. "If you like sweet wines, try Sweetie Pie or blackberry wine.”
Enjoy live music each Sunday noon to 3pm. Special events include a bang-up Fourth of July weekend celebration. Weddings, receptions, corporate parties, private parties and meetings – the winery hosts them all. Mark Fri., July 6, on your calendar for the fireworks. The winery celebrates with a Harvest Dinner in the fall, but the date isn’t yet set. Check the website early in August for details.
Vance Vineyards, 1522 Madison, 212 Fredericktown, Mo., 573.783.8800, vancevineyards.com
When Phyllis Meagher purchased the property in St. James that now houses Meramec Vineyards, the land was already planted in Concord grapes. “We bought one of the Welch’s vineyards,” she says. Today, newer vineyards of Norton, Chambourcin, Catawba and Cayuga grapes dot the property. Their top-selling wine, Silvio’s Red, owes its distinctive character to an old grape they found on the property, Stark’s Star.
Developed in the 1880s by Professor Bachman of Altus, Ark., the grape is a cross of Norton and Catawba. Bachman sold the commercial rights to Stark Brothers Nursery in Louisiana, Mo. Stark Brothers introduced it at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.
History came into play when Meramec Vineyards produces its first wines, too. “We opened the winery in January of 2000 - the first new winery of this millennium in Missouri.” Since 2000, the winery has expanded to include new spaces, events and entertainment, but they mix old and new seamlessly, as in Silvio’s Red.
“We blend the Norton grape with Stark’s Star, which results in a lighter wine than a Norton. It’s not a tannic red,” Meagher says. “The Norton gives the wine a structure and a complexity while the Catawba parent in Stark’s Star imparts a fruitiness to the wine.”
Other wines of note at Meramec include Nortons and Vignoles, sweet and semi-sweet wine blends and varietals made from Concord, Catawba, Cayuga and Seyval grapes. All wines may be purchased by the glass or by the bottle, the perfect accompaniment to lunch at the winery’s Bistro d’Vine restaurant.
“We make everything from scratch, often with locally grown produce. Our quiche menu changes each day; we’re known for our quiche. We have chicken, tilapia, and pork, also a vegetarian choice. Entrees come with a salad of organic lettuces with our housemade dressings. We make our soups,” Meagher says. Don’t forget to order dessert and, of course, dessert wines.
Guests may dine in the intimate garden room, the spacious atrium or on the outdoor patio. The Bistro is open late each Friday night when the winery hosts musicians for Wine Down Fridays. Menus and schedules post online.
Plan now to attend the Harvest Moon Festival Sept. 29. “We have a hayride on a big hay-wagon, where you ride nearly 3 miles, under the full harvest moon. We put up an outdoor stage for music, build a big bonfire with hay bales you can sit on or lean against. Last year, we sold out,” Meagher says. “Tickets go on sale in early August. When people can call or email us for reservations.”
Meramec Vineyards, 600 State Route B, St. James, Mo., 573.265.7847, meramecvineyards.com
Westphalia Vineyards and Winery
When Terry and Mary Neuner bought the property in 1991 that is now Westphalia Vineyards and Winery, free-range pigs rooted around the foundation of the old farmhouse. The historic home, built in 1840s, hadn’t been occupied in over a century. The Neuners, who lived in Belgium at the time, bought the property sight unseen. In 1995, they produced their first wines.
Today, the old farmhouse has been renovated as their private residence. Fields which once produced barley, corn and milo [grain sorghum] now produce grapes. In a scant 20-plus years, the Neuner family wrested the farm from decay. They planted vineyards, opened a winery and renovated the Westphalia Inn in town to house their restaurant and the tasting room for their sulfite-free wines.
“We’re unique in that we ferment our wines in wood,” Terry Neuner says. “Ninety-nine-percent of red wines go through the fermentation in stainless steel.” The process, which is labor-intensive, eliminates the need to add sulfites to the wines. Neuner’s master’s degree in biochemistry and his work as an researcher in fermentation brings high-level expertise to the wine-making at Westphalia.
He’s behind the chemistry that produced Westphalia’s true chocolate wine, Naughty But Nice. “Water and cocoa fat don’t mix,” Neuner explains, “but the chemist at Bissinger’s suggested creating an alcohol extract from cocoa beans might be the answer. It’s a unique wine with the essence of chocolate.” Although the wine tastes slightly sweet, there’s no sugar added.
Neuner suggested couples choose several Westphalia wines to take back the the inns. “Our Anna Rose, a blend of Sweet Reisling and Cabernet Franc, is a nice afternoon wine. Choose a good red, either a Norton or our Cabernet Franc, and a Riesling, semi-dry or sweet.”
Mary Neuner’s the culinary wizard at the Westphalia Inn, a 1930s hotel the couple renovated as a gift-shop, tasting room and restaurant. Open just Friday through Sunday, the restaurant features home-style fried chicken, German pot roast and country ham dinners served family style. Single serving plates are available, too. “We pan-fry fresh chickens that have never been frozen in cast iron skillets,” Terry Neuner says. “We have appetizers, sandwiches, pizzas and desserts in the Norton room, which is our tasting room.”
Chocolate, wine, a small town, charming bed and breakfast accomodations – Westphalia has the makings of a romantic weekend. There’s even a little something for baseball and history fans. “Stan Musial, Joe Garagiola, Red Schoendist – they all visited Joe’s Tavern, now Trudy’s bed and breakfast,” Neuner says. “Huber’s Ferry B & B, built in 1881, sits above the Osage River where farmers brought their pigs, chickens and cattle to ferry them to market.” Check out nearby Nostalgia Place bed and breakfast inn, too.
The winery and vineyards aren’t open except by appointment. The farmhouse is the Neuner’s private home, and the single-lane road leading to the vineyards doesn’t lend itself to traffic. If circumstances allow, Terry Neuner schedules visits if you email him ahead of time.
Be sure to read the winemaker’s notes on their site. Here’s how Terry Neuner describes Anna Rose: "If this wine were a human (stay with me here) she would be that young lady everyone knows and likes. She’s not aggressive and she’s not a wallflower; she is comfortable in an intimate tête-à-tête as well as at a large shindig. She is a product of the blissful marriage of Monsieur Cabernet Franc and Mademoiselle Sweet Riesling, and she reflects both parts of her noble upbringing."
The town of Westphalia, population 389, makes a visit to this Osage County winery and town a blue highway moment. The Westphalia Historical Society is open Sundays from 1 to 3pm. St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, built in 1835 of limestone quarried on the Neuner’s property, maintains a parish events calendar. “We’ll probably host a German Fest in the fall,” Neuner says. It’s all very informal, old fashioned and worth the trip.
The Norton Room at the Westphalia Inn (tasting room), 106 East Main St., Westphalia, Mo., 573.455.2000, westphaliavineyards.com
Located in the historic Odd Fellows Home district near Liberty, Mo., Belvoir Winery opened for business in January 2011.
The impressive complex, built in 1900, features four intact Jacobethan Revival structures, one designed by noted architect William B. Ittner. Once a refuge for orphans and indigents, the home now boasts a winery, five event rooms, a wedding gazebo and a lush landscape.
“My father-in-law, Dr. John Bean, is our winemaker,” says CEO Jesse Leimkuehler. “He planted the vineyards in the 1990. Winemaking was once a hobby for him. Now, it’s business.”
The winery currently offers six wines, a Norton varietal, a Chardonel and four blends. Of the dessert wines, Lucky Pierre uses Concord and Sorrel Dolci uses Muscat as the primary grape. The winery offers a red and a white semi-dry wine, Plumeria, a blend of Traminette, Vignole and Seyval grapes, and Casanova, made from Chambourcin, St. Vincent and Syrah grapes, respectively.
The business of the winery goes beyond the grape, however. “This year, we have booked 45 weddings. We’ll also host showers, private parties, corporate events.
“We’ve renovated the first floor of one building to date,” Leimkuehler says. “The wood and tile floors, doors, jambs and trim are all original. This was a home for the poor and the indigent, so it wasn’t extravagant. We installed antique light fixtures from an old Benedictine monastery. We’re currently renovating the second floor for more event rooms and a 10-room bed and breakfast.”
People come to the winery for other reasons, too. “We’ll have visitors whose parents lived here as orphan children who want to see the place. People interested in history tour the home and the cemetery. Some come for the architecture.”
Some come for the ghosts. If you want to hang out with other-worldly spirits, sign up to join scientific ghost-hunters flitting from room to room with cameras and sound equipment one Saturday each month. Paranormal night fills up quickly, so be sure to sign up in advance.
“We limit paranormal night to 35 guests. We sell out two weeks before. In October, because of Halloween, we’ll do three investigations.
“The third flour is active. That’s where the children lived,” Leimkuehler says. “We’ll hear laughter, voices. We’ve seen a few apparitions. Pulling on pants, tugging on a shirt; they’re playful, not frightening.”
Belvoir Winery, 1325 Odd Fellows Road, Liberty, Mo., 816.200.1811, belvoirwinery.com
With tastings at the Weingarten Brewhaus, too, the Weingarten Vineyard in Ste. Genevieve, Mo., is a winery even a beer drinker can love.
When you visit, be sure to sample the fine Nortons. Try Vivant, a semi-dry/sweet white wine, or taste the dessert reds, Princess Sweet and St. Vincent. Don’t leave without a visit to the Weingarten Brewhaus to taste their small-batch craft beers. The winery offers a selection of wines from Italy, Germany, France and California, too, for oenophiles who like to taste wines beyond Missouri varietals.
When owners Randy and Connie Hamann bought the property nine years ago, they planted 5 acres in grapes. “We probably should have planted maybe an acre,” Randy Hamann says. “We’ve planted every year. Now we have 18 acres under cultivation.”
The vineyards wrap around the 20,000-square-foot building the Hamann’s finished in the summer of 2011. It houses the winery, the brewery and the tasting room in addition to spaces for small parties of 20 guests to rooms large reception to hold 300 people at a reception.
Randy Hamann designed the building. He’d been in the construction business in St. Louis prior to moving to Ste. Genevieve. “Connie and I knew we needed to do more than bottle and sell wine to make a place this size work,” he says.
They did research and found couples want to marry at wineries. “Brides choose our patio for the wedding. They like that they can walk right into the reception afterwards. We’re becoming a destination winery for weddings.”
Don’t wait for a wedding, though. The tasting room is open Thursday to Saturday, but know that this trip is for adults only; the winery isn’t open to children under age 16.
Arrive hungry. The deli offers sandwiches, wraps and paninis, wood-fired pizzas and calzones. Choose cheese and fruits to pair with house-baked breads, available by the loaf, like sundried tomato and a mild jalapeno bread. Indulge with sweets rich enough to make an stalwart man – or woman – swoon. Choose your pleasures from cheesecakes, carrot cake, trifles and tarts. With choices so plentiful, the winery doesn’t allow outside food and drinks.
Friday and Saturday nights, enjoy fine dining in the Chambourcin Room. Reservations are preferred. When you call, they’ll ask which entree you prefer, so visit the website to view the offerings each weekend. The descriptions alone will make your mouth water.
Weingarten Brewhaus,12323 Rottler Lane, Ste. Genevieve, Mo., 573.883.2505, weingartenvineyard.com
Owners Marty and Mary Jo Strussion hadn’t planned to open a winery when they retired to Ste. Genevieve, Mo. Luckily for wine-lovers, Marty’s retirement only lasted two months.
In 11 short years, the Strussions planted vineyards with Chardonel, Traminette, Chambourcin and Cynthiana/Norton grapes, built a winery, and turned a saltpeter cave on the property into a remarkable venue for picnics, parties and special events.
Daughter Laura Oliver, who manages the tasting room and books special events, says, “Ours is a one-of-a-kind wine experience because of the cave. The opening is 35-feet high and 100-feet across. We can seat 150 people. You experience our wines in a unique, friendly environment.”
When you visit, pack a picnic to enjoy in the cave. Bring a light sweater or jacket because the cave’s cool. When you visit the tasting room, try pairing wines with house-made biscotti or freshly-baked bread, served only on Saturdays. “Dad’s the winemaker; Mom’s the baker,” says Oliver.
Notable wines include the Norton 2007, Cave Rock Red, Chardonel Off Dry 2005 and Traminette 2008. Oliver encourages tastings and advises guests to relax. “Don’t feel intimidated by the wine-tasting process. Enjoy the day.”
Looking for a unique party idea? Book a Movie Night at the cave for forty or more guests. You’ll need to buy a case of wine and pay $12 for each guest. Cave Vineyards provides the screen, projector, the movie of your choice and freshly popped popcorn. The price includes a complimentary wine tasting and souvenir wine glass and shuttle service to and from the cave.
Mark your calendar for the Route de Vin Progressive Dinner Sat., May 19, and Sun., May 20. You’ll visit six wineries with wine pairings and courses at each stop. Cave Vineyard hosts the appetizer course, Chardonel Off Dry paired with Sedano Ripieno di Gorgonzola (celery with gorgonzola) To view the complete menu and to make reservations, visit www.rdvwinetrail.com, or call 800.398.1298.
Cave Vineyard, 21124 Cave Road, Ste. Genevieve, Mo., 573.543.5284, cavevineyard.com
River Ridge Vineyard
Jerry and Joannie Smith hopes you’ll come as a customer and leave as a friend when you visit their winery in Commerce, Mo., 100 miles or so south of St. Louis. “We make an effort to greet everyone who comes to visit us,” Jerry Smith says.
The Smiths opened the winery in 1994, but Jerry Smith planted his first vineyard in 1981. He learned he could grow vitis vinifera grapes commonly grown in Europe. The vines aren’t suited to Missouri’s cold temperatures. The vineyard’s elevation 700 feet above a river and its southern Missouri location allows, however, him to grow Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes.
“It’s unusual to grow these grapes in Missouri,” Smith says. “We specialize in the dry white and dry red wines. It sets us apart.”
The winery opens 364 days a year. “We close for Christmas,” Smith says. When you visit, plan to hike the trails or simply sit by the pond. Sip wine on the terrace and listen to music at the pavilions most Sundays.
Five Notable Dry Red Wines:
- 2006 Joie de Riviere, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec
- 2006 Cabernet Franc
- 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
- 2006 Refosco
- 2006 Cynthiana, aged in French oak
What to eat: Plan to stop for lunch at the Fermentation Room Cafe. Like the winery, the cafe’s open every day except Christmas. “Food is a major thing for us,” Jerry Smith says. “Everything’s made from scratch.” Check the menu online for the week’s special offerings.
Book a log cabin: At the Little Log Cabin, located in the woods 4 miles from the winery, you won’t find a television or telephone, by design. Modern amenities include indoor bathroom and shower, kitchen, air conditioning and morning heat. Firewood and flashlights furnished, too. Sleeps up to six people comfortably.
Holiday fun: Christmas aficionados, plan a holiday shopping trip to the Yule Cabin at River Ridge where you can view 110 decorated trees. Choose from 130,000 different ornaments. Watch as a machine churns out wreaths from freshly cut greens on the spot for eager customers. Plus, you can pick up your holiday wines. Opens Sat., Sept. 1, and runs through the end of December.
River Ridge Vineyard, 850 County Road 321, Scott City, Mo., 573.264.3712, riverridgewinery.com
Edg-Clif Farm and Vineyard
Tucked away in the town of Potosi, Edg-Clif Farm and Vineyard is one to put on your must-visit list. Wander through the gardens, tour the vineyards, bring your own picnic basket and sample the vineyard’s first Chambourcin wines. For owners Steffie Littlefield and her sister Cyndy Keesee, opening the winery in June 2011 realized a long-held dream: to return their family farm to a valuable asset for their children and the surrounding community.
With the help of their husbands, Stephen Littlefield and Girard Keesee, they planted their first vineyard in 2008, restored farm buildings, landscaped the property, built the winery, and bottled their first six Chambourcin wines in just three short years.
Steffie Littlefield exudes enthusiasm when she talks wine and grapes: “I knew we could grow grapes, so we studied, consulted with professionals and made a quality product because we worked at it,” she says. “We got it right.”
New and notable wines: Showbarn Red and Chambourcin Sunset Rosé. The labels celebrate historic buildings on the farm; one features the showbarn that once housed the farm’s acclaimed Hereford Show Herd. The Sunset label depicts the granary.
Great excuse to get out there: The Home Grown Farm Tour and Harvest Field Dinner on Sat., Aug. 25, and Sun., Aug. 26. Tour 10 Washington County farms and ranches both dates. On Aug. 26, enjoy a Harvest Field Dinner at SayersBrook Bison Farm featuring locally raised bison, rabbit and trout served with fresh, local fruits and vegetables prepared by chef Gregory Mosberger and his team. Each course will be paired with Edg-Clif wines.
The self-guided family friendly farm tour is free; the Harvest Field Dinner costs $60 per person. For more information and reservations, call Debbie Bust at 573.438.8555 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Edg-Clif Farm and Vineyard, 10035 Edg-Clif Drive, Potosi, Mo., 573.438.4741, edg-clif.com
Jeff and Trish Voss bought the Leasburg property that houses Belmont Vineyards and Winery in 2006 when Jeff was still in the Army, at the time stationed in Iraq. He’d been planting vineyards with Marechal Foch, St. Vincent, Traminette and Norton vines on his father’s farm near Sullivan since 2003. When he retired from active military service, he built and opened the winery in 2008.
He and Trish add features each season: a pavilion for music, picnic grounds, new gardens. Trish, who works off-farm during the week, returns to Leasburg each weekend. “On Sunday, she goes back to work to get a break,” Jeff Voss says.
Notable estate wines: Barrel-aged Norton, stainless-steel Norton and Chardonel. Look for Belmont’s newest estate wine, Bello Rosso, to debut within the next few months. Brave Heart, a wine Jeff Voss developed to honor the men and women who have served in the military, is scheduled for release this year as well.
Be sure to make reservations at Brix on 66 for dinner on a Saturday or Sunday. The restaurant’s only been open a few weeks, but veteran chef Gary Goad draws a crowd pairing good food with Belmont’s wines. Brix serves lunches, too, Thursday to Monday.
Where to stay: The Wagon Wheel in Cuba, Mo. The recently restored iconic Route 66 motel with its stone-work cabins and neon sign channels retro-chic and cool.
Belmont Vineyards, 5870 Old Route 66, Leasburg, Mo., 573.885.7156, belmont vineyards.com
More to Come!
Check back every week in May for more new and newly discovered Missouri wineries to put on your radar.