Independence Day is a great time to celebrate American wines. But I’m not going to talk about California or Washington or Oregon. No, I’m going to talk about … Missouri.

Believe it or not, the Show-Me State was America’s second largest wine producer in the 19th century, thanks to the know-how of German immigrants who settled near the town of Hermann.

Hermann Church
Echoes of Germany in Hermann, MO

Missouri provided much of the rootstock that saved Europe’s wine industry from the scourge of phylloxera in the mid 19th century. The state is also home to home to the country’s first federally-designated AVA (American Viticultural Area).

Prohibition and anti-German sentiment after the first World War decimated the state’s winemaking industry in the early 20th century, but it’s been making a comeback in recent decades.

The Grapes

You won’t find cabernet or syrah or chardonnay growing here. What you will find are grapes developed in America for America, designed to fit the country’s unique growing environments.

There are acres of grapes here that you’ve probably never heard of – chardonel, seyval blanc, St. Vincent, traminette, chambourcin, vignoles, and of course the storied and celebrated Norton.

Norton is Missouri’s state grape; Virginia lays claim to it as well. Either way, this is truly an all-American grape. Todd Kliman relates its history in his enchanting book “The Wild Vine,” which I highly recommend.

Stone Hill Vines
Norton vines at Stone Hill Winery

King Norton

I tasted single-varietal Nortons at five Missouri wineries last week. Each was a little different, of course, largely due to variations in the amount, type, and age of oak used. But there were plenty of common characteristics.

Wines made from the Norton tend to be light-medium bodied with medium-high acid and notes of blueberry and blackberry, smoky leather, and sometimes damp earth. The non-fruit aromas and flavors are intriguing.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on this wine … and I loved that about it.

MO Wine Country in Pictures

Bottom line, if you really want to see and taste America’s wine history, Missouri’s beautiful wine country – and many of its wines – are definitely worth a look. Here’s a virtual tour:

Stone Hill Montage
Norton on the vine & in the barrel at historic Stone Hill Winery in Hermann
Adam Puchta Cat
One of many winery cats at Adam Puchta Winery, another historic property. (I think this guy’s had one Norton too many!)
Robller 1
Robller Vineyard winemakers Jerry & Robert Mueller may be the “new kids on the block” on the Hermann Wine Trail
Robller 2
… but they make wonderfully elegant, Old World-style wines in a beautiful setting near New Haven.
Wenwood Farm 1
Rustic beauty at Wenwood Farm, south of Hermann
Oak Glenn
Wine overlooking the Missouri River at Oak Glenn Winery, east of Hermann
Dry mead (really!) from Martin Brothers Winery in Hermann
German metalworker turned MO winemaker Heinrich Grohe doles out wine & history at Heinrichshaus near St. James.
Three Squirrels
Norton paired with local art on a rainy day at Three Squirrels Winery near St. James
Vertical Norton tasting at Meramec Vineyards in St. James (the 09 was my favorite)
Les Bourgeois
Norton with a river view at Les Bourgeois Vineyards in Rocheport



5 thoughts on “Missouri Wine Country holds secrets of America’s wine history

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