It may have been raining in St. Louis, but in the rolling hills of Ste. Genevieve County, the sun was shining as Missouri winemakers, restaurateurs and wine shop owners gathered at Chaumette Winery and Vineyards to discuss strategies to spotlight Missouri wines in The Gateway City.

Jennifer Johnson, marketing director at Chaumette and Missouri-wine advocate, organized this afternoon event to continue the conversation that began at last year’s A Day On The Farm, hosted by Dan and Connie Burkhardt at their vineyard, Bethlehem Valley.

When attendees arrived at newly opened The Barn at Chaumette, they were invited to taste the wines that each winemaker brought. Offerings from St. James Winery, Stone Hill Winery, Les Bourgeois Vineyards, Montelle Winery, Augusta Winery and, of course, Chaumette Winery and Vineyards were tasted as guests enjoyed an array of cheeses from Baetje Farms and flatbreads baked by chef Adam Lambay in the barn’s outdoor kitchen.

After the informal tasting, all were ushered into the barn for lunch and conversation. Served family style, chef Lambay’s lunch featured ingredients sourced locally, most from within 35 miles of the winery. Grilled chicken with barbecue sauce made from the winery’s Assemblage, a dry red blend. Roasted root veggies were served with herbs from Chaumette’s garden, grilled squash was topped with walnut butter and tomatoes were stuffed with beef brisket and roasted. Wines were served casually as well, bottles placed on each table and guests told to help themselves to whatever they’d like.

Once everyone was well into their meal, the group discussion commenced. Before the event, winemakers submitted questions they had for the culinarians in attendance. Concerns ranged from consumers’ knowledge of our local gape varieties to how to offer our local wines to customers. Education, by-the-glass programs, strategies for integrating Missouri wine suggestions into menus and how to tie drinking local wines into the trend of eating local foods were all topics of discussion. Like it or not, many consumers have the (incorrect) idea that Missouri wines are low quality and sweet, maybe suited for a day “at the wineries” but not at the center of the dinner table. That perception needs to change, not only because it's not true, but also because people are missing out on experiencing the delicious wines our region can produce.

Missouri’s wine industry is a major source of tourism, employment and tax revenue, but beyond that, we are one of the few metro regions in the country with a thriving wine industry a short drive from the city. It’s a valuable and enviable asset to the exploding food scene in St. Louis. As craft beer and locally distilled spirits capture attention, it’s important for local wines to be in the spotlight as well. The industry produces a wide range of high-quality, food-friendly wines. The challenge the industry faces is how to get those top vintages into the hands, and the mouths, of food- and wine-savvy consumers. This afternoon’s meeting of the minds brought leaders together to meet each other, exchange ideas and begin relationships that will support our local wine industry in the years to come.

Chaumette Vineyards & Winery, 24345 State Route WW, Ste. Genevieve, 573.747.1000, chaumette.com