Missouri Wine: Hermann and Ste. Genevieve

The Hermann, Missouri Wine Trail: America’s First Wine District

America’s fascinating wine making history is rooted in the efforts of European immigrants, who brought their skills to America throughout the 1800s. Long before California and other West Coast wine-producing states were settled, other areas of the country were busy producing wines from native grape vines growing in the wild.

In the 1830s, a group of German immigrants settled in the Missouri river valley, about an hour west of St. Louis near the present historic town of Hermann.

Hermann’s founding fathers and town leaders noted the prolific growth of wild grapes in the nearby hillsides, and encouraged new immigrants to grow grapes by providing low cost land grants. Having brought their winemaking skills from Germany, settlers gladly began tending grape vines and producing wine. Within a few years, the area around Hermann became known for wine production, and American’s very first wine district was born.

For the most part, winemaking has continued in this area since the 1830s. Now, the Hermann Wine Trail and the historic villages in the area comprise a beckoning destination for wine travel. From the town of New Haven, Mo., on the east to historic Hermann on the west, this 20-mile stretch of beautiful Missouri river valley scenery boasts of seven wineries accounting for more than 30% of Missouri’s wine production.

Missouri has long been known for deep, rich red wines typically produced from traditional grape varieties such as Norton and Chambourcin. Wineries in this area use these native grapes to develop award winning varieties of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignons and Burgundy styles. But these wineries aren’t all about reds, as winemakers on this wine trail also produce clean and delightfully crisp styles like Rieslings and Chardonels.

A visit to the central Missouri wine trail usually begins with a visit to St. Louis. St. Louis, the famed “Gateway to the West,” is a thriving, vibrant city. Historic districts like Soulard, Laclede’s Landing and Central West End help define a city that embraces its past while forging ahead. Let’s talk about St. Louis for a while before we head west to Missouri wine country.

One of our first stops is O’Connell’s Pub (phone: 314-773-6600), just a few minutes west of downtown. O’Connell’s sits at the intersection of Shaw Boulevard and is just 1/2 block south of I-44 at the Kingshighway exit. Since 1962, O’Connell’s has served the same great burgers and french dip sandwiches in a quaint, friendly atmosphere. Easy on the wallet, O’Connell’s is the perfect stop for lunch. Just don’t ask for a tomato at O’Connell’s … they don’t serve them!

The building housing O’Connell’s was actually built in 1905 by Anheuser Busch, and history lingers inside. You’ll notice the two beautiful chandeliers in the bar area — they’re from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, having originally decorated the Belgian exhibition hall. O’Connell’s is a bustling and friendly destination, and a great place to rub shoulders with the locals and learn more about St. Louis.

Just up the street on Shaw Boulevard is the locally treasured The Hill District. Steeped in Italian tradition, The Hill is nationally recognized for its historic architecture and acclaimed Italian restaurants. You’ll feel like you’re in Italy as you wander the compact streets and hear Italian spoken amongst the residents.

The Hill is a perfect afternoon destination, perfect for wandering in and out of whatever local businesses call to you. Specialty shops, bakeries, restaurants and taverns abound. Suffice it to say you really can’t go wrong wherever you stop in on The Hill. Stock up on traditional Italian baked goods, meats and sausages, and end your day at one of The Hill’s almost two dozen locally-owned eateries. Our favorites include: Amighetti’s Bakery, a traditional Italian bakery; Rigazzi’s, inexpensive Italian cuisine and fishbowls of beer; Favazza’s, Italian cuisine in a relaxed, comfortable setting; and Volpi Deli, serving homemade traditional style Italian meats and deli.

There are plenty of traditional sightseeing attractions in St. Louis, almost all of which are extremely affordable and perfect for any age. The famed Gateway Arch sits along the St. Louis riverfront and offers an historical overview of western expansion as well as a tram ride to the 630-foot-level observation deck.

Just a few blocks away from the Gateway Arch is historic Laclede’s Landing, complete with shops, bars, restaurants and lively entertainment into the wee hours. For another slice of history, drive down Broadway about one mile south of downtown, where you’ll enter historic Soulard, known as St. Louis’ oldest neighborhood.

Soulard is a diverse historic community sprinkled with a bit of Mardi Gras all year around. Soulard’s centerpiece is the historic Soulard Market, complete with fresh produce and food vendors. Walking the streets in this area, you’ll notice a sense of restoration and pride, particularly in the ever-present red brick architecture.

This is a great place to start and end your day. Pick up some fresh bakery from a Soulard Market vendor for breakfast, and enjoy dinner, drinks and music at one of Soulard’s many restaurants and night spots.

While we can only touch upon all the things to do in St. Louis, a must-stop is St. Louis’ premier wine destination, Riddle’s Penultimate Cafe and Wine Bar. It’s located in yet another terrific St. Louis neighborhood, The Loop on Delmar Boulevard. Riddle’s is a restaurant and wine bar with a style all its own, eschewing any label. The menu changes daily, offering a new pleasant surprise on each visit. Two dozen wines by the glass are offered, including Missouri selections like the Augusta Winery Norton, with flavors of cherry, huckleberry, and hints of cinammon.

Riddle’s offers more than 300 wines by the bottle, and its location in the midst of Delmar Boulevard’s Loop District makes it another perfect evening destination.

Be sure to stroll the St. Louis Walk of Fame, with brass stars embedded in the sidewalks honoring great citizens of St. Louis. The Loop is six blocks of fun, with well over 125 boutiques and specialty shops and ample dining options. Here’s a few of our long time favorites: 1860 Saloon and Hard Shell Cafe, a restaurant-bar in the heart of Soulard with a cajun-creole influence; Hammerstone’s, good food, great patio and live music every night;
Norton’s Cafe, warm and cozy dining with a lively bar; Phelan’s Pub and Grill, one block south of the Soulard Market and a great place to stop for a drink; and Soulard’s Restaurant and Bar, fine dining and voted one of the area’s best wine lists by the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

On to Wine Country

Let’s leave the city behind for now, and begin our short journey to the heart of Missouri Wine Country. From St. Louis, travel west on Interstate 44 to Missouri Highway 100, continuing on Highway 100 twenty miles to the town of New Haven. This charming village is the eastern edge of the wine trail and is home to historic Robller Vineyard and Winery, which offers a spectacular view of the Missouri river valley.

Robller Vineyard and Winery, a family-owned operation, is about as perfect a setting for a picnic as any we’ve seen. This is a great place to spend a few hours, relaxing on the grounds and enjoying a bottle of Robller’s rich, full bodied Norton or the Seyval, a citrusy, dry white. The owners are big supporters of all Hermann wine trail events and there’s usually a different fun and inviting event at the winery every month.

Just west of New Haven and on your way toward Hermann is the Bommarito Almond Tree Winery, a family-owned estate winery producing a savory award-winning port, among other offerings. Enjoy the patio in the summer, and the warm fireplace during colder months. Bommarito Estate Winery produces about 1,500 gallons of wine annually, all under the watchful eye of owner Nick Bommarito and family.

A few miles west, actually just off of Highway 100 north on Route B, is Bias Vineyards and Winery. Situated on a 64-acre farm and featuring a microbrewery and winery, only the second such operation in the United States. When you arrive, you’ll be high above the Missouri River on bluffs, affording a scenic view of dozens of miles. Be sure to try Bias’ River Blush Rouge, an easy drinking friendly blush.

Also at Bias, we were smitten with their dry red Chambourcin, born from grapes just 600 feet from their tasting room. This style is prevalent on the Hermann wine trail, so you’ll have to sample and compare.

After leaving Bias, it’s only about 6-7 miles to the picturesque, historic city of Hermann, population 2,800. In and around Hermann, four thriving wineries offer wine travelers more of the true taste of Missouri. Stone Hill, Oakglenn, Adam Puchta and Hermannhof wineries are all situated in beautiful settings with scenic views.

Let’s start at Oakglenn Vineyards and Winery. Oakglenn Vineyards and Winery is conveniently located just off Highway 100, about 2 miles east of Hermann. It’s an easy stop either before or after exploring the town. Relax for a while and enjoy their offerings, like the fruity Chardonel, sweet smooth blush and the medium bodied, spicy Chambourcin, another fine example of the style along this wine trail. You’ll also be taken in by yet another spectacular view, enhanced by enjoyable live entertainment most Saturday evenings.

After leaving Oakglenn, we paid a visit to Missouri’s oldest winery, Stone Hill Winery. As you drive up, you’ll notice the handsome red-brick structure, listed on the American Register of Historic Places. If you’re interested in a winery tour, Stone Hill’s is highly recommended. You’ll be shown through the old-arched cellars, production facilities, spacious tasting room and gift shop.

We enjoyed sampling several of Stone Hill’s selections and particularly enjoyed their Steinberg White, a German style semi-dry white we found similar to a Piesporter. If you’re looking for a place for dinner, make a reservation at the adjacent Vintage Restaurant, part of the Stone Hill operation. Here you’ll partake in traditional German cuisine and, of course, Stone Hill wines.

The third of Hermann’s four wineries is one of the area’s newest, Adam Puchta Winery. Though reopened in 1990, the Puchta family has a winemaking lineage dating back to the area’s earliest settlers. Wanting a slightly sweeter wine, we opted for their Berry Black, full of rich fruit flavor, just sweet enough. We also purchased several of their wines to enjoy later.

Adam Puchta’s Hunter Red was a perfect match with barbeque pork sandwiches, while the Adam’s Choice German style white wine complemented a cheese platter.

Finally, we discovered the Hermannhof Winery, located in Hermann. We enjoyed seeing their Inn and Gasthaus, offering comfortable and convenient overnight stays. Hermannhof’s facilities are also listed on the National Register of Historic Places and are frequently used for weddings and other special events. We loved their dark ruby red Norton, another specialty of this area.

With our winery touring completed, we settled into historic Hermann, which reminded us of a town direct from a picture book. Historic architecture abounds, along with German-Swiss specialty shops and restaurants. Hermann is the perfect place for an overnight stay, which will give you some time to mingle with the locals and immerse yourself into the German and Swiss roots. As far as lodging, if you’re not the bed and breakfast type, we recommend Hermann Motel. It’s approved by AAA, clean, convenient and very reasonably priced.

Hermann is a town to discover by strolling its historic streets. There are dozens of bed-and-breakfasts, local specialty shops, antique stores and local markets. Hermann has worked very hard to preserve its heritage, and it shows. You’ll enjoy spending time in this town, and we encourage you to wander and explore.

After walking for a couple of hours, going in and out of various merchants, we stopped in at the Tin Mill Brewing Company, a new brewery and brewpub operation. Featuring German-style lagers, Tin Mill serves a Hefeweizen that is one of the best we’ve tried. For dinner in town there is Simon’s on the Waterfront, offering locally-made sausages and other German fare. For a true local experience and homemade German cuisine, try Trappers Grill, which also has an extensive Missouri wine list.

This was a trip we’d like to make again and again, to not only allow us more in depth time at each winery, but to relax and enjoy the charming town of Hermann. The scenery is fantastic, the people are friendly and the wines superb.

Ste. Genevieve Missouri and the Route du Vin Wine Trail

A spring trip south to Little Rock and Memphis provided the perfect opportunity to visit one of Missouri’s newest wine trails about an hour south of St. Louis. The Route du Vin Wine Trail is a seven-winery trail just minutes from exit 150 off Interstate 55, anchored by the charming historic Mississippi River town of Sainte Genevieve.

We scheduled an overnight stop in Ste. Genevieve to provide ample time to explore all the shops and historic attractions of the walkable downtown. And, of course, an afternoon of wine tasting on the Route du Vin Wine Trail. This Missouri wine trail was established just a few years ago, making it one of the newest wine trails in the country.

The Route du Vin Wine Trail website lists six wineries on the trail: Cave Winery, Charleville Winery, Chaumette Winery and Sainte Genevieve Winery are either in town or in close proximity. The two remaining wineries, Twin Oaks and Sand Creek, are slightly farther afield, at least from the route we took. One other area winery doesn’t appear to officially be part of the trail, which we visited as it’s quite close to Ste Genevieve. It’s called Crown Valley Winery, Brewery, and Distillery. With one afternoon to explore the trail, we visited the wineries closest to town along with Crown Valley. As a quick FYI, Ste. Genevieve Winery is in town on Merchant Street and offers a pleasant front porch and covered patio to sit, relax and sample their house wines.

A recommended place to stay is the Microtel Ste. Genevieve, located less than five minutes from I-55 on Highway 32 toward town. It’s everything you want for an overnight stop — clean, quiet and comfortable. There are several historic bed and breakfasts in town if you prefer a more local experience. The first thing you’ll notice when arriving in the historic section of Ste. Genevieve is the French influence. It’s just about everywhere you turn, especially prominent in the architecture, much of which dates to the mid 1800s.

Our favorite shop in town is the Show Me Shop, a nod to Missouri’s moniker as the “Show Me State.” As you might expect, the store features many Missouri-made products, including wines from several of the local wineries. We purchased some locally-grown pecans along with a few other Missouri delicacies.

Two notable restaurants in town are just steps away from one another. The Historic Old Brick House, located at 3rd and Market Street, is housed in the oldest brick building west of the Mississippi River, dating from the 1840s. Just up the way on 3rd Street is The Anvil Saloon and Restaurant, a popular local stop for great burgers, onion rings and daily specials. After our winery visits we made a quick stop at Brick House (the dinner buffet looked great!) and then settled in at Anvil Saloon for dinner.

Visiting the Wineries

A great place to start or finish the Route du Vin Wine Trail is in the heart of town, at the Sainte Genevieve Winery. Located on Merchant Street, the winery is actually a tasting room and small gift shop housed in an historic building. You can buy wine by the glass, and sit and sip on their relaxing front porch or adjacent covered patio. Since Missouri is well known for Chambourcins and Norton wines, we ordered one of each and were impressed with their fruity spiciness. This is actually where we finished our wine tasting, but it’s a great place to stop amidst shopping and exploring the town. The Old Brick House and Anvil Saloon are just around the corner.

From the Microtel Inn, or from the center of town, it’s a short drive west over the I-55 exchange about 15 minutes to Cave Winery, so named due to a cave located on the property, which can be rented for special events. This family-run operation produces wine from Chambourcin, Norton, Chardonel and Traminette grapes. The tasting room is actually located atop the cave, which doubles as a wine cellar and event space. We particularly enjoyed Cave Winery’s Chambourcin and Cave Rock White, a fruity wine created from Chardonel grapes.

Our next stop was, of all things, a tiger sanctuary. Circling back a few miles to Highway B, the Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary is actually affiliated with Crown Valley Winery and Brewery, located a few miles away on Highway F. A tour of the sanctuary allows you to see these amazing big cats up close, and learn about their behavior, personalities and more. There are six tigers here, all rescued from various sources and enjoying their lives in a peaceful, caring setting. Proceeds go directly toward care and feeding of these beautiful creatures. You can see the tiger’s bio pages and make a donation if you wish at the Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary website.

From the sanctuary, it’s just a few miles down the road to Crown Valley, a combination winery, brewery, distillery, pub and grill. Really an all in one destination! Here you’ll find a dozen styles of wine, eight different beers, a boutique vodka and Missouri Moonshine (yes it’s legal). The on-site pub offers snacks, sandwiches and pizza. There’s also a weekend farmer’s market next door, so plan to stay a couple of hours and enjoy!

One of the more established wineries in Missouri was next on our route, Chaumette Winery. Established in 1990, Chaumette is similar to Crown Valley in that it’s a destination. The large estate is home to a 30-acre vineyard, a day spa and 26 villas which can be rented for overnight stays. If you’re craving a bite to eat, there’s the Grapevine Grill, open for lunch and dinner most days.

Like other wineries in this region, Chaumette offers a strong presence of Chardonel, Chambourcin and Norton wines. Our favorite here was the Late Harvest Chardonel, an off-dry and very clean wine with a touch of melon flavor. We also enjoyed the Chambourcin, quite interesting for its flavors of plum.

Later in the afternoon we also had the chance to stop at Charleville Winery, a few miles southeast of Chaumette. Charleville is as well-known for their beer as their wine. Four beers are brewed year around along with several other seasonals. We tasted and bought some beer, but we came here for the wine and were most impressed with Lakota Red, named after Charleville’s winery dog. The wine is a blend of Chambourcin and Norton and as you might expect, tastes a bit like both. It’s somewhat less spicy than most Chambourcins and a little less fruit-forward than typical Nortons. If you’re a fan of white wines, try the crisp and fruity Vidal Blanc or the slightly sweeter Genevieve Rivard, ideal for warmer days.

Summing It Up

We’d recommend Ste Genevieve. and the Route du Vin Wine Trail for anyone traveling north or south on I-55 in the vicinity of St. Louis. Ste. Genevieve is close enough to St. Louis that you can stop for lunch and visit a St. Louis attraction or two and then head south on I-55 … you’ll arrive in Ste Genevieve in less than an hour. If you’re an antiquer, there are several antique shops in Ste. Genevieve. The town is rather small, with a population of about 4,500. It’s easy to get around. If you want to avoid the hustle and bustle of St. Louis, or just want a change of pace, consider staying in Ste. Genevieve and exploring all or part of the Route du Vin Wine Trail. From here, you’re less than an hous drive south to Cape Girardeau, another enjoyable river city. There are numerous small towns to enjoy along the way, many nestled along the Mississippi River. So, be sure to detour off I-55 for a bit and enjoy the area!


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