Settlements date to 1801. German settlers established the first wineries in the mid-19th century, and later Italians entered the industry. For a short time during the Civil War, Missouri ranked as the number one producer of wine in the nation. In 1920, Missouri had more than 100 wineries. Vineyards succeeded so well that, just before Prohibition, Missouri was the second-largest wine-producing state in the nation. Prohibition ruined the industry. After prohibition, only one winery remained; the St. Stanislaus Monastery was allowed to continue making sacramental wine.
Recently, the Old Salt and I took our Alabama visitors for a tour of Stone Hill Winery. The winery is nestled among rolling hillsides in the little town of Hermann. Stone Hill has a commanding view of this scenic riverfront town. Established in 1847, Stone Hill grew to be the second largest winery in the United States. Their wines were world renowned, winning gold medals in eight world fairs. At its peak, the winery shipped over one million gallons of wine per year.
Click to enlarge for better detail.
Stone Hill has the largest series of vaulted cellars in America. Those cellars contained huge oak wine casks that were works of art in themselves. Each barrel had one of the twelve apostles carved in it.
Fortunately, when Federal prohibition agents entered this area, burning vineyards and smashing winemaking equipment, the owners of Stone Hill had already dismantled the large hand carved oak barrels and smuggled them and most of the winemaking equipment out of the area. The intent was to ship everything to Germany, but no one knows what became of the shipment.
The underground cellars were converted to growing mushrooms for 45 years. Wine making did not return to Stone Hill until 1965. A guide ushered us through the ancient arched cellars where the remains of mold from decades of mushroom growing can still be seen on the walls. Large stainless steel vats now share the area with modern production equipment. While much smaller then the artfully carved giant casks of old, hand made oak barrels are still used for aging wine and can be purchased when they reach the end of their useful life.
We exited from the underground cellars into a wine tasting area where all the Stone Hill wines could be sampled. A spacious gift shop and a restored carriage house/horse barn housing a restaurant, specializing in German cuisine, add an authentic end to this interesting and historical tour.
Today, there are so many wineries along Missouri highway 94; it has been nicknamed Weinstrasse (wine road). This area has the highest concentration of wineries in the state. Many of which sit high up on bluffs above the Missouri river within a short drive of my hometown.
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