Tuesday, September 30, 2014

7 Reasons to Visit Missouri Wineries this Fall

Summer may quickly be coming to an end, but that’s no reason to put away your wine chillers and picnic baskets. Fall is the perfect time to break out the sweaters, grab a group of friends, and venture out to Missouri Wine Country. If you haven’t visited a winery in autumn, you don’t know what you’re missing. Harvest, crush, fall festivals and so much more make fall a time to fall in love with Missouri wineries all over again. If I haven’t sold you on the idea of Missouri wineries in the fall yet, allow me to give you 7 solid reason to spend your autumn weekends sipping Missouri wines and watching the leaves change.

Have you ever wondered just how your robust glass of Norton or spicy bottle of Traminette came to be? The winemaking process starts in early fall with the harvesting of grapes from vineyards across the state. During this time of year vineyards are weighed down by large clusters of purple and green grapes. Green grapes usually ripen in late August to September, while red grapes usually need to stay on the vines until October. Harvest can be very time consuming and uses lots of manpower. Wineries that hand pick their grapes are always looking for help during harvest. This is your chance to make a first-hand impact on the Missouri wine industry. You’ll be able to enjoy a beautiful day in the vines, meet new people, taste the grapes that will one day be served at the wineries, and possibly be compensated with wine, food or even grapes of your own to take home. Jowler Creek Vineyard & Winery will have its last harvest of the year on Saturday, September 27th. Email info@jowlercreek.com to reserve your spot to help pick their Norton. Red Fox Winery & Vineyard will be announcing their harvest dates on Facebook as the grapes ripen. You can RSVP at (816) 392-0955. Expect to start picking at 7am and be served food and refreshments. Also, keep an eye on Edg-Clif Winery’s Facebook page for updates on their last harvest date which is likely to take place Saturday, September 27th. All grape pickers that help out at Edg-Clif are served lunch and offered special pricing on wine after the harvest is complete.

Harvest may be the first stop of winemaking in the fall, but it is certainly not the only reason to visit Missouri wineries.
2.    CRUSH
The second step of the winemaking process is known as crush, and it’s my favorite step. I know the idea of grape stomps may come to mind when talking about crush, but I prefer to pass on that messy situation. (Don’t worry. There will be grape stomp info further down my list for all you people who want to feel the grapes between your toes!) I recently took a drive out to Blumenhof Winery to witness their crush process first hand. It’s a really impressive operation that they have down to a science. While I was there, they crushed and pressed Valvin Muscat and Rayon D’or grapes, and I got to sample freshly pressed juice from each. The aroma of the Valvin Muscat grapes was intoxicating and filled the air. Each juice tasted sweet and almost like an apple cider. It’s amazing to think next year I may be drinking a bottle of wine that I saw go from grapes to juice before my eyes. Winemakers, Mark and Eric Blumenberg were eager to explain the process and answer any questions. Keep an eye on Blumenhof’s Facebook page for updates on when their next batch of grapes will be ready to be crushed and pressed. Don’t be afraid to ask winemakers to give you a behind the scenes look at the winemaking process. Most are happy to show off their hard work and give you a rundown of the procedure. 

Once you’ve harvested some grapes, crushed and pressed; now we just wait for the juice to ferment into amazing Missouri wines. However, there is still a ton of fun happenings to keep you coming back all autumn long!

Fall is full of some of the best winery events of the year, including possibly the largest of them all, Hermann Oktoberfest! For the entire month of October, you can make the trip to Hermann every weekend to take part in festivities taking place at all of the wineries. Stone Hill Winery will offer live music, wine & beer, and traditional German foods including a special Oktoberfest menu at the Vintage Restaurant. Stop by Lost Creek Vineyard for some pumpkin chunkin’, riding vineyard tours, and entertainment (not to mention one of the most picturesque vineyards in the state). Hermannhof Vineyards will be celebrating with wine, beer and brats as well as German music by the Loehnig Family. Bommarito Winery will be hosting Grilled Pizza Saturdays featuring Chef Mark serving fresh ingredients from St. Louis Italian District, “The Hill.” Röbller Vineyard Winery, OakGlen Winery, Adam Puchta Winery, and the entire town of Hermann will also be celebrating in the traditional German fashion. Everyone can be German during Hermann Oktoberfest. The food, music, and wine will have you polka dancing and PROST-ing before you know it! 

This may be one of the largest Missouri winery festivals of autumn, but there are many others taking place all around the state!

Festivals! Festivals! Festivals! There just aren’t enough weekends! You could spend nearly every weekend  of the month at winery festivals. Sounds like heaven doesn’t it? Let’s start with Les Bourgeois Vineyards Crush Festival on October 4th from 2-6pm at the A-frame. If you’re looking to dye your feet purple, you can take part in the grape stomp!  Primitive Soul will be providing live music as attendees take part in pumpkin painting, fishing and lots of games for the kids.

The following weekend, head to the Harvest Hootenanny Festival October 10-12 at Mark Twain Cave and Cave Hollow West Winery. This is a great one to take the whole family. There will be a petting zoo, arts & crafts, a fun run, and pumpkin carving to keep the kids entertained. The festival also includes a farmers market, craft beer festival, home brew competition, Tour-De-Hannibale Bike Ride, and live music. And yes, another GRAPE STOMP!
If you happen to be on the northwest side of the state, you may prefer to check out Jowler Creek Winery & Vineyard’s Fall Festival happening October 11th from 5-9pm. If you want to soak in all that fall has to offer, this is the place to be. Mulled wine and s’mores will be served around a bonfire. You can also take part in traditional fall games and enjoy jovial fall music and take in the brisk autumn air rolling in over their vineyard.
On October 18th, Crown Valley Winery will be hosting its first Pumpkin Chuckin and Smash Fest at the Crown Valley Brewery. Thirty teams will compete in pumpkin carving, chucking, pie eating, and slingshotting. Each team will receive a commemorative t-shirt, but only one team will be crowned the grand prize winner and gets to enjoy a Beer Dinner for eight at the Brewery and a Fall Basket from Crown Valley. Team registration is free, and this sounds like a smashing good time with friends!
Let’s say you spend that last weekend of October in Hermann for Oktoberfest. Now you may think you’re done with Missouri wineries for the year, but you’d be terrifyingly wrong.
Wineries may not come to mind when you’re making your Halloween plans, but how does spending an evening in a haunted winery that used to be an orphanage, a nursing home and a safety bunke? Watch Belvoir Winery’s Ghost Hunter’s episode, and then call to reserve your spot at their Halloween Massacreade on Friday, October 31st immediately. I can testify that this place has a truly eerie feel about it. Even before I heard the story about the ghosts of children that roam the halls, I felt something brush by my leg on that way to the restroom. During my wine tasting, I was informed that this is a normal occurrence in their halls. If you want to be scared this Halloween, this is the place to be. Live music will be supplied by 80’s rocker band, STRIKEBACK, and you’ll be able to watch outdoor screenings of classic Halloween and horror movies. Psychic and card readers will be on tap to hype up the spookiness. Sip on all of Belvoir’s tasty wines while enjoying a truly frightening Halloween party at one of Missouri’s most excitingly, spooky wineries!

Festivals and events can be a lot of fun, but sometimes you just want to unwind at a winery and enjoy the change of season. Feeling the cool autumn air, watching the leaves fall, and drinking your favorite Missouri wine can make for an ideal fall day. Throw in a bonfire, and it just might be perfect. Ladoga Ridge Winery will be putting on its “Fireside Fridays at Ladoga” starting September 21 through the entire month of October (except October 12). Bring a blanket and some chairs and circle up by the fire with a loved one. The winery will provide music, food and the bonfire of course.

If you really want to reflect on the transition of the seasons this fall, you may want to take part in Fall Yoga in Wine Country. Kathy Kessler of Haleyon Spa will be touring the Augusta Wine Country instructing yoga classes at various wineries. Beginners are welcome. The yoga class costs $16 and includes a complimentary wine tasting after class. Call 636-228-4110 to reserve your spot. Sessions include: 10:15-11:45AM  September 28 at Noboleis Vineyards, 9:30-11AM October 4 at Chandler Hill Vineyards, 10:15-11:45AM October 12 at Seven Stone Weingarten, 10:15-11:45AM October 18 at Augusta Winery, 10:15-11:45AM October 26 at Noboleis Vineyards, & 9:30-11AM November 1 at Montelle Winery.

Sometimes you don’t need yoga or a bonfire to get in touch with the fall season. Sometimes you just need that special autumn themed wine to make everything fall into place.
A new season calls for new wines! There’s just something about a limited edition wine that makes it taste so much better. One of my personal favorite autumn wines comes from Wenwood Farms Winery. While everything else has been eagerly awaiting pumpkin beers, I have my calendar marked for the release of Wenwood’s Pumpkin Pie Wine. It’s a delightfully sweet wine with all the right spices to transport you to a slice of grandma’s pumpkin pie. You’ll be able to sample and pick up a bottle at the Wenwood Harvest Home Festival on September 27th from 11AM-5PM. This really is a limited release. If you’re curious to try it, don’t wait!

Another Missouri fall wine favorite is St. James Winery’s Cranberry Wine. Its release date is set for October 1st when you should be able to find it in grocery stores across the state. Cranberry is an iconic fall flavor, and St. James does a great job of bottling that essence into a superb wine. It pairs very well with Thanksgiving turkey and can even be used to make a holiday cocktail.

This may be a little further into the future, but it may be worth marking your calendar for. Ste. Genevieve Winery’s release of their Christmas Plum Wine. But I suppose that could wait for another list…

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Missouri Mercantile - "Purveyors of Fine Missouri Products"

Nowadays it seems that everyone is jumping on the "shop local" train. However, when it comes to wine, I think most people don't realize how abundant and delicious Missouri wines are. Sure, you can find some Missouri wines at the end of the wine aisle at your local grocery store, but they can be easy to miss. Last weekend, Michael and I were headed to Trailhead Brewing Company to have a glass of their summer seasonal, Unfiltered Honey Wheat when we noticed the Missouri Mercantile just a hop, skip and a jump down Main Street. When it comes to local Missouri wine, the Missouri Mercantile has you covered and also sells gift baskets, gift boxes, soups, dips, jams, BBQ sauces, seasonings and more!

You'll find a nice selection of Missouri wines when you enter this quaint shop including wines from Pirtle Winery, Augusta Winery, Les Bourgeois Winery, Blumenhof Winery and more! Wine samples are often available. While we were there, we sampled the Chocolatier Wine Company's Milk Chocolate and Chocolate Turtle wines. We don't usually go for chocolate wines, but these two wines were very smooth with delicate chocolate flavors. We ended up purchasing a bottle for Michael's sister who is a big fan of "choco-wines." 

If you're looking for some Missouri foods to pair with your Missouri wines, you'll have lots to choose from. Two of our favorite vendors' products can be found on their shelves, Herman Wurst Haus and Kailey's Gourmet Nuts. You can put together an entire local picnic at the Missouri Mercantile. The shop also sells pre-made or customizable gift boxes.

You'll find the Missouri Mercantile at 904 South Main Street in Historic St. Charles. We had the pleasure of speaking with Bill Olwig, the owner during our visit. He told us he's always looking for new Missouri wines to offer and products to sell. We will surely be visiting him and his shop again soon and hopefully taste some new Missouri wines! 

Follow the Missouri Mercantile on Facebook and Twitter

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Wine Club Review: Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant

As die hard Missouri wine fans, we have been members of multiple wine clubs to help keep our wine cabinets stocked. We usually try a different club every six months or so to mix things up. We highly suggest you consider joining a wine club. The steady supply of wine, discounts, and perks make it worth your while.

Along with whichever Missouri wine club we are trying out at the moment, we like to supplement that with a larger wine club. We've consider the Wall Street Journal Wine Club and Zagat Wine Club, but we recently stumbled across something a little more local and have been very pleased with it. While driving around Town and Country, MO, I noticed a new sign that read, Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant. Of course, I immediately called Michael to ask if he was aware of a new winery in town and to tell him to meet me there as soon as possible.

Upon visiting the winery, we found out that it was started near Chicago, IL in 2005 and has been growing ever since. The grapes and fruit they use come from vineyards in California, Oregon, and Washington and are delivered to their private winery where they make their award-winning wines. Yes, we were a little disappointed to find out this wasn't a Missouri winery, but we couldn't ignore the quality wines, top-rated customer service, and perfectly paired menu. We were hooked!

Cooper's Hawk offers multiple tasting options. The Standard, Lux, and Sweet Tastes all rotated monthly. With over 45 wines, these tastings never get old. Our favorite part of the tasting is the option to add a truffle from the bakery for just $1. We highly recommend the dark chocolate truffles! After our first pairing, we looked over the Wine of the Month Club brochure and knew we wanted to be a part of it.

Since we're a couple we went with the 2 bottles a month Variety option for $35.99. This includes a standard monthly tasting for each of us ($14 value), 2 bottles of wine a month, a 10% discount on retail wines and carry out orders, a free entrée on our birthdays, and invites to Members-Only events. The flexibility of this club really stood out to us. We pick up our wine bottles every month from the winery, do our free tastings, and usually stay for dinner. We have the option to stick to the suggested tastings or trade out anything we don't feel like sampling. We can do the same with our bottles. They have suggested wines of the month, but we can pick and chose the bottles we really want.

We went to our first Members-Only club event in May. The Seis de Mayo dinner (the day after Cinco de Mayo) was a four-course meal served in the festively decorated private barrel room. We were greeted with red Sangrias and mingled with other wine club members. Each dish was paired with wine and came with some history on the holiday of Cinco de Mayo and games for prizes. We left that evening stuffed full of fantastic food and each with a bottle of wine.

So far this wine club has exceeded our expectations, and we continue to rave about it to anyone who will listen.

The moral of the story is... Join a wine club! 

Monday, June 16, 2014

St. James VIP Wine and Food Paring

For our final Missouri Wines Passport Program reward we were hosted at St. James Winery's Cottage. Level 3 included a private Food and Wine Pairing. We met with Calli Collier, St. James Winery's Event Coordinator at the tasting room in St. James, MO. Our group followed her into the countryside to the cottage in the middle of their vineyards. The cottage was quite quaint and inviting.  It featured a long bar, patio and swimming pool. We were greeted by our bartender, Tony and a full spread of cheeses, fruit and chocolates. The presentation was flawless.

Our tasting included: St. James Winery's Pioneer Red, Cynthiana, Pioneer White, Riesling, Blackberry, and Mango wines. Our most notable pairings where the Espresso BellaVitano cheese with the Pioneer White and the Mango wine with the fresh peaches. Calli did a nice job of walking us through the taste and giving us lots of background information on the winery. We took a walk out to look at the vines and enjoy a glass of wine. It was a perfect day to be among the vines enjoying great wines and fun conversation. 


Calli offered to give us a tour of the cellars back at the tasting room which we eagerly accepted. We have been to the tasting room many times but have never had time to take a tour. We were able to see lots of barrels and fermenting tanks which was impressive. This is by far the largest winery that we've ever toured, and the amount of wine they produce is breathtaking. 

We had a fabulous time at our food and wine pairing and our tour of the winery. St. James offered us some top-notch hospitality. Later that evening, we attended St. James Movie in the Vineyard event. It was a bit chilly but the food from CrepEscape was fabulous, the movie was a classic (Casablanca), and the wine was flowing (we were enjoying the Pioneer Red)! Overall, our day at St. James was very unforgettable. We are sad that all of our Missouri Wine Passport Rewards have been used up, but we are hopeful that a new program will be introduced soon. Until then, we'll continue to explore Missouri Wine Country on our own! 

See all of the photos from our day at St. James Winery here

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Missouri Wines Century Club Dinner

We did it! One-Hundred Missouri wineries visited in 2013. We cannot lie, we are very proud of ourselves. It was by far one of the most enjoyable yet challenging goals we have ever accomplished. The Level 4 prize for the Missouri Wines Passport Program was an exclusive dinner for all of the participants who made it to at least 100 wineries. This Century Club Dinner took place May 31st at the Missouri Theatre in Columbia, MO. The event was superb!

The evening started with a cocktail hour in the lobby of the theatre. We had a large selection of familiar Missouri wines to choose from and delightful appetizers to snack on as we mingled with the other Missouri wine lovers. We ran into some familiar faces including  Kraig and Becky Keesaman, owners/winemakers of Windy Winy Company, and Jacob Holman, head winemaker at Les Bourgeois Vineyards. We made the acquaintance of a couple fellow Missouri Wines Passport conquerers, Brandon and Erin Wisemore. They reside on the West side of the state, so it was interesting discussing their thoughts on our local wine trails and vice versa. It was also great being able to chat about wineries with people who have been to as many as you. The level of passion for Missouri wines was extremely high in the room, and we knew the night was off to a great start.

The dinner was served on the stage of the theatre with Missouri winery owners or makers placed at each table. We had the honor of having Tony and Cindy Kooyumjian, owners/winemakers of Montelle and Augusta Wineries at our table. It's always a pleasure getting to converse with some of our favorite winery owners. We were served a stellar three course meal with each dish paired with a Missouri wine. We started with a salad made of baby greens and lollo rosso laced with a Les Bourgeois Vineyard sparkling wine vinaigrette served next to a fried Goats Beard cheese that gave the salad great texture and added tremendous flavor. The first course was served along side Montelle Winery's 2012 Seyval Blanc. Secondly we were poured a Chambourcin from Stonehaus Farms Winery and served a pan-fried Missouri pork tenderloin with stone ground grits and Adam Puchta Signature Port balsamic reduction. The last course was St. James Winery "Norton 42" braised Missouri beef shorts ribs with mashed yukon potatoes paired with the St. James 2012 Norton 42. This was by far the most "Missouri Wines" of a meal you could ever imagine, and it was delicious!

After dinner, the 19 Century Club members were honored with awards, and we heard speeches from influential people in the Missouri Wines industry including Dr. Peter Hofherr and Glenn Bardgett. The dessert course was served on the roof of the theatre and included lavender creme bruleé, Belgium chocolate Chambord tortes, raspberry macaroons, and opera cakes. There was a plethora of Missouri Wines such as the Adam Puchta's Signature Port, OakGlenn Winery's White Port, Montelle Winery's 2012 Vidal Icewine, Stone Hill Winery's Cream Sherry,  and Windy Wine Company's White Chocolate Strawberry and Raspberry wines. The entire evening was perfect and more than we ever expected. It was an amazing journey, and we are somewhat sad that it's over. 

We would like to thank and give a few shout outs to people and wineries who helped make this event possible. Biggest thank you to Danene Beedle and Christa Holtzclaw from Missouri Wines for all their help with the Passport Program and for throwing the Century Club Dinner as well as everyone on the Missouri Wine and Grape Board. Thank you to the wineries who sponsored the event and served their delicious wines: Stone Hill Winery, Augusta Winery, Les Bourgeois Vineyards, Stonehaus Farms Vineyard and Winery, Montelle Winery, St. James Winery, Adam Puchta Winery, Chaumette Vineyard and Winery, Wenwood Winery, Baltimore Bend Vineyard, Noboleis Vineyards, Edg-Clif Farms and Vineyard, Meramec Vineyards, OakGlen Vineyards and Winery, Windy Wine Company, and Bommarito Almond Tree Winery. And of course EVERY winery we visited last year! We couldn't have done it without you, and we hope to visit again soon!

The sweet swag bag we got at the end of the night!