This post makes me think of that viral line from Schitt’s Creek when Moira says, “Let me introduce you to the little slice of heaven I like to call…the town where I currently am!”
Mid-America can sometimes be unassuming and is almost always overlooked. As a Midwest girl, that bothers me because there are so many flyover states with so much to offer! No, you won’t find somewhere with the charm of Charleston, the prestige of New England or the history of Boston, but you can find some pretty good (and hidden) gems! And one of those would be Missouri wine country.
I bet you didn’t even know Missouri had a wine country, did you? Honestly neither did I until a few months ago I found an article on Food & Wine about it. In the 1800’s, German settlers arrived in the area and decided it reminded them of the Rhine River back home, so they started growing vineyards and it turns out the climate was just right and they were able to turn their new home in to the “Missouri Rhineland.” Before Napa Valley ever saw a grape, Missouri was churning out barrels of wine and pretty successfully as it sounds – that is until prohibition came along. By this time Napa was established and while prohibition completely knocked out Missouri wine, Napa kept going and growing. Over time, Napa turned into the world famous wine valley we all know about today but Missouri unfortunately fell by the wayside. In recent years, investors have stepped in to restore the region back to its former glory and wineries/vineyards have begun to crank up their production and thrive again. In the coming years, I expect to see a bit of a comeback from this area and it was nice to be able to go visit as the restoration process is in progress. It will probably never rival Napa, but it’s nice to know that the Midwest can hold onto something so beautiful and truly make their Midwestern mark on the wine world, which is incredibly hard to do. Yes – their wines win all kinds of awards in national blind tasting competitions!
If I’m being honest, we planned this trip over the 4th of July weekend so that we could have a getaway post-baby (she was 5 weeks old and I was struggling with a little maternity leave cabin fever) somewhere within driving distance. My expectations for the wine itself were incredibly low. I thought we’d get out of town, stay in a pretty B&B, get some relaxation in a different setting than our couch and have a fun experience somewhere new but I thought the wine would be glorified sugar water that vaguely resembled a watered down grape juice. Oh my GOODNESS I was wrong. I hate being wrong, but in this case I was extremely pleased to make an exception. Take it from a wine snob who visits Napa yearly and has a very discerning tasting palate, this wine is actually good. That’s putting it mildly. This wine is strong, robust, punchy, jammy, tannic, crisp….it’s downright impressive.
A note about the wine –
If you go to the region yourself, expect the tasting menus and bottle labels to look a little…different. If it’s a Cabernet Sauvignon you’re looking for, you won’t find it in Missouri. Or any other varietal you’re used to for that matter. One of the most fun parts of the trip was realizing that Missouri actually grows their own unique varietals that you can’t get anywhere else. These species of grapes just happen to grow well in Missouri’s climate and they also just happen to make delicious wine. Being able to taste these (new to me) wines and compare different vintages and vineyards was so much fun for me. We tasted at 6 wineries and came home with more than 15 bottles if that tells you anything! Here’s a list of the varietals you can expect to find if you visit the area:
Chardonel – a hybrid grape made from Seyval and Chardonnay. Light, fruity, high acidity. Tastes very similar to a Chardonnay.
Cayuga – a hybrid grape made from Schuyler and Seyval Blanc. Commonly has notes of green apple and is similar to a Viognier.
Seyval Blanc – Thrives in colder climates so it grows well in MO which has frigid winters. Dry, high acidity.
Vidal Blanc – hybrid grape made from Ugni Blanc and Rayon d’Or. Makes a sweeter wine, similar to a Riesling. Originally created by a French guy trying to make a Cognac if that tells you the level of sweet to expect.
Vignoles – hybrid grape made from Siebel and Pinot Noir. Makes a light, super refreshing wine with floral notes along with things like apricots, pineapple, honey, peaches, orange rinds, melons, guava and orange blossoms. By far my favorite white varietal!
Norton – In Missouri, Norton is King. Norton is America’s oldest wine grape and the state grape of Missouri. Full, robust, high acid, low tannin. This is a dry wine similar to a Cabernet Sauvignon or a heavier Pinot Noir. And it is delicious.
Chambourcin – If Norton is King, Chambourcin is Prince. A hybrid developed in the Loire Valley of France. Herbal, crisp, dry. Tasting notes of cherry, black pepper and chocolate.
St. Vincent – A hybrid grape discovered in Missouri although origins of which parent grapes got into it are unknown. Dry and semi-sweet, similar to a Chianti.
I’m hoping that list has you chomping at the bit and foaming at the mouth to book your trip. It’s 1:00pm where I am right now and I’m seriously restraining myself from going into my kitchen to pop a cork off one of those bad boys. If you’re encouraged to visit this region – and I hope you are – here is our itinerary.
Where We Stayed:
We stayed at the lovely Inn at Hermannhof for our home base. The Missouri wine trail spans a few different towns, some are even hours away from each other. But we decided to stay in Hermann, an adorable town that has plenty of wineries and has maintained its German roots so instead of chain hotels, you’ll find a lot of “Gast Haus”es and B&Bs. The Inn at Hermannhof was perfect for us. They operate private cottages but also have luxury suites in the main building which is located downtown Hermann and central to everything in town. We stayed in one of the suites and loved it. Honestly out of all of our travel, both domestic and abroad, we agreed that this room had the COMFIEST bed! Which was so welcome for the rest and relaxation we truly needed. Breakfast is included and is served in an adorable room. There are two menu items to choose from each morning and although portions are small, the food is good enough.
Where We Tasted:
We got into town in the afternoon and after checking into the Inn, we headed straight to the town’s main winery, Hermannhof. This was one of our favorite tasting experiences of the trip which made for such a wonderful start. The wines were exceptional and not only did we buy a bottle of bubbly to split (more on that below), but we also bought quite a few bottles to take home!
Right next door to Hermannhof was G. Hussman, our second tasting stop. We were again surprised at how much we liked the wines and again, we bought bottles!
Where We Ate:
The Inn we stayed at owns a joint in town (and right across the street) called Tin Mill. There is also a Tin Mill brewery on the other side of the street where they brew beers and have a small German lunch menu. But the Tin Mill restaurant is a white tablecloth dinner not to be missed. Since it’s, of course, German food, Adam and I both had kartoffelpuffer, schnitzel with dill sauce, red cabbage and potatoes and it was a slam dunk. 10/10 would recommend a dinner at Tin Mill!
Where We Tasted:
After breakfast, we hit the road and went one hour East to the town of Augusta, MO. Now, what’s interesting about Augusta is that it’s claim to fame is that it is America’s first AVA. If you’re not familiar, AVA stands for American Viticultural Area. I would have assumed our first AVA was Napa/Sonoma and I would have been wrong. No, America’s first established wine region was actually in good ol’ Missouri, y’all! I absolutely love it.
We tasted first at Augusta Winery and I think I would probably rank the experience a 2/10 and the wine itself a 4/10 (if that). Honestly we were kinda disappointed by this one so much that we almost went back to Hermann but decided to keep going.
Our next stop was Montelle Winery and although the tasting room left much to be desired in terms of aesthetics – and I hated their laminated tasting menus – there was a deli with a bangin’ Cuban sandwich (which paired wonderfully with a glass of Norton) and the views were actually stunning. As for the wine, it was a step up from Augusta but still didn’t really make my heart sing although their Norton Reserve is definitely note worthy.
Third tasting was at Balducci and I believe it was after my first sip that I looked at Adam and just said, “Ah, this is more like it.” You guys, Balducci was good! I’m already regretting not buying more bottles than we did. Their Vignoles was almost a direct match to my favorite bottle of Viognier from White Rock in Napa and I was a happy little camper during our tasting. Our wine educator was also leagues ahead of the two that were working at Augusta and Montelle who provided no context, no education and no conversation. A wine educator can make or break a tasting experience and that’s a hill I’m willing to die on (so to speak).
The last tasting of the day – and of the trip – was poetically beautiful. I told you our first tasting was one of our favorites and our other favorite was this one, so we were really able to bookend the trip with fantastic experiences. We capped the trip with a tasting at Robbler Vineyard which is between Augusta and Hermann in a tiny town called New Haven. And there’s just so many things to say about this one. First of all, the tasting room is literally just a wooden shed with some plastic tables inside and picnic tables outside. When we first rolled up I remember thinking we’d made a mistake. I thought either this was going to be terrible OR it could be amazing. Our favorite winery in Napa, that I just referenced above, is White Rock. And while so many other wineries in Napa try to build these massive estates (and even castles) to draw people in, White Rock literally could care less. In fact they don’t have a tasting room. They have one picnic table out in their vineyard. They don’t put effort into a fancy building because instead, they put effort into their wine and oh baby their wine SINGS. In my snobbish opinion, if you go to Napa and put up pictures of Del Dotto, Domaine Carneros, or Castillo di Amorosa…I will judge you. I’ve been to 2/3 of those and while the grounds are picturesque, the wine is just okay. It’s such a waste of time if you’re truly in Napa to taste great wine. Go hang out in the cave built into a cliff at White Rock and see what Napa is truly all about. But, I digress. Back to Missouri. I can happily tell you that my suspicion about Robbler being amazing based on it’s lacking aesthetic was absolutely correct. Not only was the wine freaking delicious, but the man serving up the tastings was the winemaker himself. And every word that came out of this man’s mouth dripped in passion and pride. It was incredible getting to shoot the breeze with him, drink his wine and be able to tell him how delicious it was. It’s a rare thing to be able to drink wine with the viticulturist themselves and if you ever get the opportunity, I hope you enjoy it to the fullest and let them know how grateful you are for the artwork they made and put into your glass.
Where We Ate:
Back in Hermann, there was one winery we didn’t have time to get to and that was Stone Hill. So while I can’t provide you with a note on what I thought about their wine, I can tell you that their on-site restaurant, Vintage 1847, is definitely worth a visit. Unsurprisingly, it is German food. It tastes almost exactly like Tin Mill Restaurant and honestly I wasn’t mad about it considering it was just straight up, down home good German food.
And there you have it, folks, a weekend itinerary for Missouri wine country! I truly hope you give it a chance and widen your wine tasting palate to include some Norton, Vignoles, Chambourcin and all of the other unique and delicious wine the region has to offer. I’m just a girl raised in smalltown USA, asking you to give it a chance.