Napa Valley may get the glory, but Missouri has a longer history of growing grapes and winning awards, especially in and around the small river town of Hermann. Founded in 1837 by German settlers, Hermann has the perfect micro-climate for growing grapes and was once the nation’s second largest producer and exporter of wine and distilled spirits until Prohibition brought prosperity to a halt.
Today, Missouri has more than 130 wineries, attracts some 875,000 wine-related tourists annually, and offers 11 wine trails, of which the Hermann Wine Trail is the oldest and most famous. That’s due partly to Hermann itself, a tidy community of some 2,400 residents and more than 150 well-crafted 19th-century brick homes, bed-and-breakfasts, hotels and other structures on the National Register of Historic Places.
Year-round annual festivities range from the hugely popular Oktoberfest to Hermann Wine Trail events centered on chocolate, bacon, barbecue, cheese and more. Although passengers no longer arrive by steamship, Amtrak’s Missouri River Run traveling between Kansas City and St. Louis delivers visitors right downtown.
Norton grapes, like these at Stone Hill Winery, are Missouri’s official state grape and are used in producing the state’s signature norton red wines — Photo courtesy of Beth Reiber
If you don’t know Missouri wines, that’s probably because vitis vinifera vines planted in Europe and California for chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and other well-known wines can’t grow in Missouri. Rather, Missouri’s wines come from native grapes and mostly French hybrids.
Norton, America’s oldest native grape still in commercial use and Missouri’s official state grape, produces the state’s signature full-bodied dry red wine. Other varietals you may have never heard of include reds like chambourcin, whites like vignoles ranging from dry to sweet, and rosés made from the native catawba grape.
There are seven family-owned wineries along the Hermann Wine Trail, each one different in concept, on-site offerings and what they bring, so to speak, to the table. But they are all are passionate about what they do.
Stone Hill Winery
Stone Hill’s Vintage Restaurant, housed in the winery’s former carriage house and horse barn, serves German and American fare paired with Stone Hill’s wines — Photo courtesy of Beth Reiber
Stone Hill Winery is Missouri’s oldest winery, established in 1847 and was once the second largest winery in the country and third largest in the world. Winning more than 4,000 awards since 1991, Stone Hill has won Missouri’s Governor’s Cup for best Missouri wine three years in a row, including in 2019 for its 2017 chambourcin. Its 2017 Estate Bottled Norton won the C.V. Riley 2019 award as Missouri’s best norton.
Owner Jon Held, whose parents helped revive Missouri’s wine industry after buying the defunct winery in 1965, said mechanization of his 195 acres of vineyards for pruning, thinning, harvesting and other tasks gives greater control over quality, the winery’s foremost concern.
“We’re committed to using local fruit, making local wine and quality,” said Held, who holds degrees in oenology and viniculture.
Stone Hill is the only winery on the Hermann Wine Trail offering guided tours, for free, which include visits to its 1869 main building, a peek at the largest series of arched cellars in America and tastings. It’s also the only winery with a full-fledged restaurant.
Hermannhof’s handsome brick building, built in 1852, has arched cellars in its basement you can see for free — Photo courtesy of Beth Reiber
Hermanhof, with 10 arched cellars completed in 1852 and still in use, is the only winery in downtown Hermann, just a block from the Amtrak Station. It boasts an historic main building with a tasting room and a deli offering sandwiches and locally-made brats from the Wurst Haus down the street, plus pleasant courtyard seating.
Owners Jim and Mary Dierberg also own the next-door Star Lane Tasting Room, on the Wine Trail with wines from their California vineyards.
In addition to an historic hotel, Hermannhof offers six hillside stone cottages behind the winery, built in the 1800s for families living on upper floors and operating wineries in the cellar. Luxuriously renovated with views of town and the Missouri River, and amenities that include full breakfast and a complimentary bottle of Hermannhof wine, the cottages are perfect for travelers who want to take their wine touring up a notch.
Adam Puchta Winery
Adam Puchha Winery’s six acres of norton and vignoles vineyards and grapes from local growers are used in producing more than 20 different wines — Photo courtesy of Beth Reiber
Adam Puchta Winery, established in 1855, claims to be the country’s oldest winery continuously owned by the same family. Its pleasant rural setting is under the helm of sixth-generation Tim Puchta and two sons (one is chef at the winery’s Cellar Bistro).
“I’ve been a foodie all my life,” said Tim, “so for me, it’s all about a balance of wine that’s food friendly.”
Puchta’s best-selling wine is Adam’s Choice, a sweet white similar to a riesling, but the winery is also known for its ports made with norton grapes and dry vignoles, both of which won Best of Class in the 2019 Governor’s Cup.
There’s live music on weekends June through October, and the original stone house (built in the 1840s) is now a guesthouse.
Röbller Vineyard, started from scratch in 1988 by Robert and Lois Mueller, is dedicated to estate wines. Thirteen acres of mostly norton and French hybrid vineyards radiate south in what son Jerry describes as the perfect combination of soil, slope and sun. Because vines aren’t irrigated, hardy roots dig deep into limestone shelves for water and nutrients.
“Our fruit is unique to here and every year is different,” said Jerry. “It’s not about a formulaic production but what the vineyards give us. The story comes out in the glass.”
Striving to create wines unique to Missouri, Röbller experiments with grafting and uses European yeast, including a strain from France’s Rhone region for its St. Vincent Rosé, which Jerry says will stand up to garlic. The winery’s different approach to vignoles, says Jerry, makes it a “chablis meets Missouri’ white wine for red wine drinkers.
OakGlenn Vineyards and Winery
OakGlenn overlooking the Missouri River offers scenic views plus live music on Saturdays in summer — Photo courtesy of Beth Reiber
OakGlenn Vineyards and Winery boasts the most stunning setting on the Wine Trail, on a bluff overlooking the wide Missouri River. George Husmann, a horticulturist considered instrumental in the American wine industry, lived here in the 1800s.
Five rows of his norton vines, dating back to 1859, are used in making port, but most grapes come from a sister winery in Arkansas. An outdoor deck (which owner Carol Warnebold calls an “adult playpen”) draws crowds, especially in summer for its live music and kiosk selling brats, hot dogs and pizza.
Bias Winery and Gruhlke’s Microbrewery
Bias Winery and Gruhlke’s Microbrewery was the first in Missouri and second in the nation to produce wine and craft beer on the same premises. Surrounded by woods near the Missouri River, its six acres of chambourcin and catawba are cared for by hand, including pruning, thinning and picking, with other vineyards providing more varieties.
“We are the country winery,” said owner Carol Grass. “People come here for the nature. They feel comfortable and relaxed.”