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Missouri Winemakers - Ladue News: Special Features

Missouri Winemakers

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Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2012 7:00 am | Updated: 11:35 am, Mon Sep 9, 2013.

When you pour a glass of Missouri-made wine, you may think about the aromas, flavors and complexities that emerge from the bottle, but do you consider the person behind that creation? Get to know more about the area winemakers producing some of your favorite wines.

Shaun Turnbull, Stone Hill Winery

Shaun Turnbull has made wine in his native South Africa, Virginia and Napa Valley, but it was in Missouri where he found a winemaking home. “South Africa and Napa are very commercial wine areas, and I’m not a commercial guy—I like to follow my own trend. In Missouri, you can create your own identity.”

In October, Turnbull will mark seven years at Stone Hill Winery. where he is teamed with senior winemaker David Johnson and oenologist Tavis Harris. Looking for a career that appealed to him, he received a degree in cellar technology at Elsenburg Agricultural College in Cape Town before coming to the U.S. “I found winemaking fit my personality well—it involves creativity, technical skills and hands-on work—a little bit of everything.”

At Stone Hill, Turnbull produces about 17 different wines that cover the spectrum from dry whites and reds to rosés, sparkling wines and ports. A majority are fruitier, aromatic wines, a style that stems from the challenging Midwest climate, Turnbull explains.

The winemaker also aims to express the German heritage of Stone Hill, established in Hermann in 1847, and stay true to the individuality of Missouri wine. “People try to compare local wines to ones found on the West Coast, but it has its own character—we want to make it taste like Missouri wine, not like something you can find anywhere else.”

Paul LeRoy, Hermannhof Vineyards

Paul LeRoy was slated to become a welder’s apprentice after high school. Luckily for oenophiles, he instead turned his after-school work at Hermannhof Vineyards into a full-time job. Over the next 30 years, LeRoy moved up the ranks from cellar hand to vineyard manager, learning along the way and taking over as winemaker in 1994. Today, he leads the way at the Dierberg family-owned winery, balancing consumers’ interests with vineyard viability. “We look at market trends and try to choose the grape varietals that fit that trend and work in the vineyard,” he says.

LeRoy produces 13 wines at Hermannhof—11 whites or rosés and two reds—that are predominantly German in style with a few French influences. “Our soils have a lot of acids and minerals that lend to a good Germanic-style winemaking, and most of our wines are off-dry to semi-sweet,” he explains.

While the vineyard stays mostly traditional in its style, it is willing to go outside the box on occasion. A few years ago, LeRoy took chambourcins—normally hot-pressed—and cold-pressed them to create a rosé that took a gold in the Missouri Wine Competition. Likewise, with valvin muscat growing in popularity, Hermannhof has invested some acreage to those grapes after testing the juice in the cellars. With a hands-on approach throughout the process, the winemaker looks forward to seeing the results of those efforts. “It’s really nice to walk through your courtyard on a busy Saturday and watch all the people enjoying the fruits of your labor—it’s very gratifying.”

Jay Hansmann, Weingarten Vineyard

Once owner Randy Hamann detailed his plans for Weingarten Vineyard to Jay Hansmann, he was ready to get on board. Moving over to the new winery in 2009 from Crown Valley, Hansmann began as vineyard manager before transitioning to winemaker. “I was able to get in on the ground floor,” he says. “I thought it was something different and great challenge to take on.”

At Weingarten, Hansmann focuses on German lifestyle wines, using norton as the main varietal, along with vignoles, chambourcin, frontenac and cayuga, among others. The 12 wines offered include two fruit wines, with a profile that gears toward fruity with lower acidity, the winemaker explains.

With Hansmann admitting that the finished product is the most rewarding part of his job, he looks forward to creating new wines for Weingarten. Its norton rosé just won a gold at the Missouri Wine Competition, while the winemaker has been experimenting with a new grape for the past seven-plus years. “In Missouri, we have a hard time growing different grapes, but hopefully we can make a good drier wine from this one. We’re trying to come up with something unique that will grow well and set us apart.”

Tom Murphy, Chandler Hill Vineyards

From planting to fermenting to bottling, Tom Murphy enjoys partaking in the winemaking process from beginning to end. He admittedly got into winemaking by being in the “right place and the right time,” and has spent the past 18 years absorbing knowledge at other local wineries, in the classroom at UC Davis and around the world in Australia and New Zealand.

After helping to plant the vineyards at Chandler Hill in 2007, Murphy joined the new team. The five whites, five reds and rosé originate from the norton, vignoles and chambourcin grapes grown at the vineyard, and although the winemaking commenced just last year, Murphy looks to customer feedback to develop new options that play off the German influences at the Defiance winery. “When I’m behind the bar for tastings, I sometimes like to pour wine from the previous year alongside this year’s, and see what the customers like,” he explains. “As a small winery, it’s a good way to see what we want to change up next time.”

It is all part of the education process that keeps Murphy engaged in his work. “You’re constantly learning. It’s not a cookie-cutter position, but involves so many different skills, which makes for a pretty interesting job.”

Cathy Bommarito-Manley, Bommarito Estate Almond Tree Winery

As head winemaker for her family’s winery, Cathy Bommarito-Manley understands the importance of tradition and innovation. “We grow all our grapes and everything is done by hand,” she says. “We try to change things up a bit, but we still use the recipes my dad came up with years ago.”

After growing grapes for neighboring wineries for several years, Bommarito became a commercial winery in 2000. Bommarito-Manley assisted her father, Nick, mainly in the vineyard before attending UC Davis and enrolling in Missouri State’s VESTA program. She was well-versed in the style of the winery when she took over as head winemaker in 2008. “We pride ourselves on creating more European-style wine that is fruit-forward with softer tannins.”

Those wines hearken back to Nick’s initial vision of smoother, more palatable wines, which include a softer tannin norton among the 10 options. However, in recent years, Bommarito-Manley has worked on developing a series of drier wines with more structured tannins and fewer fruit characteristics to meet customer interest.

While the physical process and tough Missouri climate makes winemaking a challenge, Bommarito-Manley sees it as a labor of love, especially when she interacts with customers in the tasting rooms and receives feedback. “You’re working with a product for two to three years, and it might be four before I can actually put wine in a bottle, so when it comes out on the other side, and people enjoy what you’ve made, that’s the best part.”

Mark Baehmann, Chaumette Vineyards & Winery

When Mark Baehmann left college, he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. He happened to get a job in a wine cellar, and 29 years later, the winemaker for Chaumette Vineyards & Winery hasn’t looked back. “In the early days of my training, I was taught so much about the passion of winemaking and really educating my palate. I don’t just make wine I’d like; I try to make what our customer base will enjoy, as well.”

Baehmann became Chaumette’s winemaker in 2009, and he appreciates the freedom owner Hank Johnson gives him to develop wines and add to the winery’s portfolio. “Because we’re a boutique winery, it allows me the opportunity to be creative and change the way we do things on small batches,” he explains.

Baehmann produces a wide range in the 10-wine portfolio, giving the consumer the chance to move along the spectrum of taste and style. “They can move from sweet to dry in a series of steps that’s interesting and educational. It helps to grow the palate and understand the nuances of the varietal.”

Almost 30 years after he first ventured in the world of wine, Baehmann appreciates that each day brings a chance to try something new and no chance of boredom. “You can get involved in so many things that the world has to offer, and just about the time you get sick of doing something, it changes. I always say I haven’t worked in 29 years.”

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