When German immigrants arrived in Missouri in 1837 and settled on the banks of the Missouri River in a small village they named Hermann, they had no idea they were planting the seeds for an enduring wine tradition. But 185 years later, Missouri continues to be home to a successful and growing wine industry, winery insiders say.
Randy Hamann, owner of Weingarten Vineyard, understands why. “Ste. Genevieve has a great climate for growing grapes,” he says. “Before prohibition, Ste. Genevieve was the second-largest grape-producing county in Missouri behind the Hermann/Washington area, and Missouri was one of the largest grape-producing states in the U.S.”
A recent surge in growth, as noted by Jennifer Johnson of Chaumette Vineyards & Winery, occurred in the past decade with the number of Missouri wineries doubling. “When I arrived here in 2005 from Los Angeles, there were 50 wineries in Missouri,” she notes. “Now, there are more than 105 wineries.” Johnson adds that quality has continued to improve, with the dryer varietals experiencing the biggest growth. “People want wines that pair well with food. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great sweet wines that go wonderfully with food, but for the most part, dry wines tend to pair better with food.”
With 220 acres and 18 of them set aside for growing grapes, Hamann says at Weingarten Vineyard, it’s their objective to produce quality wines. “Norton was our first, and we won a bronze medal at the Missouri State Wine Competition in 2009, which was the first year we were able to serve it,” he explains. “And that was an honor because the norton grape is the state grape.”
Another reason for the current growth, according to Johnson, is the local movement of late. “St. Louis is a very progressive city when it comes to all things culinary and local,” she notes. “After all, it’s the Show-Me State! They want us to show them that we make good wine. They’re not going to drink it just because it’s a Missouri product, but more and more, they’re finding it on store shelves with California, French and Italian wines. I think the trend is to craft wines that are indicative of who we are as a wine region and that set us apart in the world of wine.”