I was thinking this morning about when I went to my friend Carlos’ wedding in Switzerland. The day before the wedding (or maybe two days before), we were casting about for something to do to get ourselves out from underneath all the people planning the logistics of the wedding. Carlos and the whole lot of young non-Swiss guests ended up taking a day trip out to Gruyere. It was fun. I was thinking what would be a similar trip for people hanging around St. Louis before our wedding, who might want to dash out for a day trip, and I thought of the wineries.
Most people don’t think of Missouri and wine together, but the state actually has a long, proud history of winemaking. Most of that history stopped at Prohibition, and it is only just starting up again, but surrounding St. Louis on all sides are some really nice wineries, and Stephanie and I have happily visited several of them. My family has also made a sort of tradition of going out to Hermann (one of the major wine towns), because it is so close to my grandmother’s house.
Hermann – Hermann is a town on the Missouri River, about an hour and a half west of St. Louis. It is a seasonal town, with a lot of stores that open only in the summer, for the traffic that the wineries bring. The wineries themselves, though, are open year-round. There are three good ones, which I have visited. Stone Hill is the most prestigious, and they have their building on top of a hill, surrounded by vineyards. They have an old cellar, a restaurant, and a big tasting room and store. They give regular tours, which are really cool (and quite cheap). Closer in to town is Hermannhof Vineyards, which seems a bit more homely. I have never taken their tour, and their tasting room is much smaller. They also feature sausages and cheese, which they sell. Their port, though, is excellent, and near and dear to my heart. Further out from town, in the countryside, is the Adam Puchta Winery, which may have the best wines, and definitely had the best tasting experience when I went there. Very personable and creative.
Ste-Genevieve – Down the Mississippi River, an hour’s drive south on I-55, is the town of Ste-Genevieve, which has some of the oldest buildings in the Midwest, and tries to maintain some of the old French frontier feel. I was not as impressed by the wineries in town as I was by Hermann (which may be German chauvinism on my part, I know), but outside of town is the Charleville Winery & Microbrewery, which is great. The beer is good, the wine is OK, but the atmosphere is fantastic. They have tables set out on the hillside facing their vineyards, and you can buy wine and beer from their shop, bring your own picnic, and sit out and enjoy the view. In May, 2007, just before moving out to New York City, Stephanie and I went out with some friends (most all of whom are in the wedding party) and had a lovely picnic here. In January, this may not be the best thing (and in inclement weather, I think that the dirt road out to the winery may be impassable anyway), but if we get one of those odd Missouri winter days when the sun is out and you could be tempted to wear short sleeves, it might be cool to go there.
I don’t know much about the Southern Illinois wineries, or the Augusta wineries, but I know they are out there. I think in all likelihood, everyone will stay in St. Louis, and enjoy the sights and company of the city, but I figured I’d throw this out there as a Thing to Do.