Winemaker: Stone Hill

Stone Hill is one of the region's most famous wineries.

Stone Hill Winery was voted the runner up for best destination winery in mid-Missouri in the 2015 Feast 50. This Q&A was conducted with senior winemaker Dave Johnson.

Tell us about a few of the winery’s signature wines. Norton is almost synonymous with Stone Hill Winery. Our Nortons are deeply colored, full-flavored, robust, dry red wines that have gained national attention. We won the last two Governor’s Cups as Missouri’s best wine of the year [in the Missouri Wine Competition]. While Norton has been named Missouri’s State Grape, Vignoles has become the state’s most unique and awarded white wine. We produce a semi-sweet Germanic-style Vignoles, an unctuous sweet Late Harvest Vignoles, both of which have won Governor’s Cups, and most recently, a dry Alsatian-style Reserve Vignoles.

What have been some milestones in your career so far? I became the winemaker at Stone Hill in 1978. It is impossible to separate a winemaker’s achievements from those of the vineyard and cellar staff, whose efforts cannot be overstated. As winemaker, I played a part in advancing Stone Hill, and in turn, the entire Missouri wine industry, from curiosity to producer of world-class wines. Stone Hill was instrumental in re-establishing Norton as the premium dry red wine it was prior to Prohibition. I was named “Winemaker of the Year” in 1994 by Vineyard and Winery Management magazine, and received the “Pioneer Award” from the Missouri Grape and Wine Program in 2002. While at Stone Hill, we have won over 4,000 awards including nine Governor’s Cups. In July 2013, I officially turned over the day-to-day winemaking (and long hours) to the capable hands of winemaker Shaun Turnbull and enologist Tavis Harris.

Clearly your wines have resonated with wine enthusiasts – what would you attribute this to, and what does it mean to you? My lifelong love of wine as a natural product of the sun and soil has always played a part in my efforts to produce the best possible wines from local Missouri grapes, rather than taking the easy way and importing product from California.

What do you hope to see happen next in the local wine scene, and why? I’m confident that young winemakers, like Shaun Turnbull here at Stone Hill, will continue the quest for quality so that Stone Hill and other Missouri wineries are not only fun destinations, but sources for unique and exciting local wines. These wines should be an integral part of the ever-growing “eat and drink local” movement.

Where do you get your inspiration when developing new wines? What inspires you and motivates you to do the work that you do? Wines are not like a lot of products that are created from a list of readily available ingredients. The saying, “Wine is made in the vineyard” has a lot of truth to it. I don’t feel it is as important with wine to constantly introduce new products like in many consumer areas; every vintage brings new wines. That being said, we are introducing a couple new products, Kick’n Kolada and Kick’n Kosmo, which are grape wines with natural flavors that are inspired by cocktails that have found renewed popularity.

What’s next for you and your work? Given my semi-retirement, that is a question better asked of our winemaker Shaun Turnbull. I can say, however, that everyone at Stone Hill is excited about the startup of our new distillery now under construction here at the winery in Hermann. Prior to Prohibition, Stone Hill was famous for distilled products and we are looking forward to continuing that tradition.

Stone Hill Winery, multiple locations including 1110 Stone Hill Highway, Hermann, Missouri, 573.486.2221, stonehillwinery.com