Snuggled on a bluff between the Missouri River and the rolling hills to the south, the little town of Hermann beckons visitors to Missouri Wine Country.
Hermann has kept its German heritage alive for almost 180 years through its historic architecture, its festivals and its people – many residents bear the surnames of those who settled here in the 19th century.
But perhaps the strongest thread tying Hermann to its past is its wineries. The wine industry gave the early settlers sustenance when they found the soil too rocky to farm and later brought the town back after Prohibition slapped it down.
Today, Hermann (just an hour and a half from St. Louis) is known for its quaint downtown, which could have fallen off the page of a history book—150 of its buildings are on the National Historic Register—and its wineries.
To make winery hopping in Missouri Wine Country easy for tourists, the vintners have established the Hermann Wine Trail, stretching 25 miles along the Missouri River. The trail features six family-owned wineries and one tasting room and offers special events throughout the year.
Some people consider Hermann the cradle of commercial winemaking in America. Among Hermann’s original settlers was 11-year-old George Husmann who grew up to become the "Father of the Missouri Grape Industry” before helping to launch the industry in California.
The area was still wilderness in 1837 when German immigrants from all over the young country and the world joined the German Settlement Society of Philadelphia and ventured to Missouri to establish a town where they could preserve their culture.
But the agent they hired to purchase the land bought the steepest, rockiest stretch of the river. The settlers came to farm but found the land inhospitable. Ultimately, they remembered that grapevines grow on steep slopes and in rocky soil, leading them to think that the wine industry might just work here.
And work it did. Soon the whole town seemed to be growing grapes and making wine. Stone Hill Winery, established in 1847, helped Hermann become the second largest producer of wine and distilled spirits in the country. Stone Hill grew to become the second largest winery in the U.S. and by the 1900s, it was shipping 1,250,000 gallons of wine a year.
When Prohibition hit, the wine industry was already declining as distilled spirits became more popular, Jon Held, vice president and general manager of Stone Hill Winery, said.
By the 1920s, Stone Hill’s arched, underground cellars, the largest series of vaulted cellars in America, were packed with trays growing mushrooms. Thirty years would pass after Prohibition ended before Held’s parents bought Stone Hill and began producing wine once more.
Today, Stone Hill is Hermann’s largest winery and welcomes guests for tastings and tours. Along with the other wineries in the area (some historic, some new), Hermann’s award-winning vintages are once again a magnet for visitors.
Each winery offers a one-of-a-kind, Missouri Wine Country experience. Here are a few of our favourites:
Adam Puchta Winery
Owner Tim Puchta jokes that his winery could have been the Falcon Crest of Missouri had it not been for Prohibition. Adam Puchta Winery is the oldest continuously family owned winery in the United States.
Bias Winery and Gruhlke’s Microbrewery
Bias Winery was the first in Missouri and one of the first nationally to combine a winery with a microbrewery. Located 10 minutes outside of Hermann, Bias sits atop a bluff that offers expansive views of the Missouri River bottoms.
Known for the quality of its wine, Hermannhof Vineyards dates back to 1848. Both the magnificent stone cellars and the sweeping views of the Missouri River offer ample reason to visit, aside from the fantastic vintages. Here George Husmann, considered to be the father of the American wine industry, made many bottles before moving westward.
Röbller Vineyard Winery
Owner Rob Mueller calls Röbller Vineyard “a hobby that got out of control.” With a focus on European-style wines rather than on the typical grapes found in Missouri Wine Country, Röbller is set high on a bluff a mile south of the Missouri River.
Stone Hill Winery
From its commanding presence on a hill high above Hermann, the views here are of picture-perfect red barns, white steeples and the river carving its route below. Visitors can taste Stone Hill’s wines and tour its modern winemaking facilities, housed partially in the winery’s historic arched underground cellars.
Header photo © Flickr/richards bruno
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Have you visited Missouri Wine Country? Which were your favourite vineyards in the area? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Kathie Sutin
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About the author: KathieSutinKathie Sutin
As an award-winning freelance journalist--Missouri Professional Communicators (formerly Missouri Press Women) named her Missouri Communicator of the Year for nine straight years--Kathie Sutin has covered everything from construction to transportation. But her favourites are writing about travel, food and people. Born in Chicago and raised in Michigan, the long-time St. Louisan is thoroughly grounded in the Midwest. Though she loves busting myths about “flyover country,” she also enjoys writing about each and every of the 50 United States, all of which she’s visited, and about foreign destinations.