In addition to relaxing and chasing Moe 'round the forest, we also did a little bit of wine tasting while we were in Missouri last weekend.
Now, what you have to understand about Missouri wine (and Kansas wine, too, for that matter) is that it is not California wine or Australian wine or European wine. I'm not an expert by any means--I just like wine and like to learn what I can about it--but I think the Missouri wines are almost...wilder. It's like they haven't had the time to get all polished and smooth like their older cousins. Missouri used to be prime grape growing country, but prohibition wiped that out. And since most Midwestern states kept prohibition on the books for much too long, well, there's still some catching up to do.
Also, the grapes commonly grown in Missouri are different. The state grape of Missouri is called the "Norton", although you'll also hear "Chambourcin", "Chardonnel", "Seyval" and "Vignoles" tossed around--these are varieties the same as Merlot or Cabernet. And just like you can tell the difference between Merlot and Cabernet, you can tell the difference between a Cabernet and a Norton. Norton usually tastes "oakey" to me on it's own, although I really like it with food. I love the Missouri white wines--when you a good one, it's almost apple-y, but not in a yucky sweet way.
The only thing I don't like about wine tasting in the Midwest is that sometimes you have to sort through a lot of not so good wine to find the yummy stuff. Don't get me wrong--there are worse ways to spend a weekend--but even with good pre-planning you're likely to find at least one closed winery and a couple that are selling sugared grape juice before you get to something nice. It makes it kind of a quest.
To that end, this trip I decided we need a rating system in order to recommend places to other people who are traveling through. Admittedly, my criteria is not scientific. A place with decent wines and good atmosphere is as likely to make me happy as a place with amazing wine, and so forth. Nonetheless, here is the system I've come up with:
1=Not really worth a stop, even if you're in the area.
2=Worth stopping through if you're already going to be in the area.
3=Worth going out of your way or making a special trip.
With all that out of the way here's (finally) a little about the wineries we visited this trip.
Bristle Ridge Vineyards, Knob Noster, Missouri, 1.
Meh. I wanted to like this one, I really did. Their upper end wines were OK, but not worth the almost $20 a bottle price tag.
Montserrat Vineyards, Knob Noster, Missouri, 1.
I think this place is in business because it's next door to Bristle Ridge. If you stop at one, it makes a lot of sense just to pop in at the other, but we didn't like this one at all.
Grey Bear Vineyards, Stover, Missouri, 2.
This was in the middle of nowhere, in a fairly non-descript building. (See the second picture from the top on the right.) It's actually kinda just in someone's backyard. But the inside was a fairly nice looking restaurant. I was a little disappointed that we weren't there at dinner time, because the menu looked good. We ended up getting a few bottles of their white wine--a "Seagrass" and a "Buckskin". I found it interesting that, although they were making most of their wine with their own grapes, they also had a few Cabernets, which the lady said were made from Colorado grapes.
Buffalo Creek Winery, Stover, Missouri, Closed.
A wild goose chase....
Heinrichshaus Vineyards and Winery, St. James, Missouri, 3.
We actually found this winery the last time we were around St. James. The owner is the most amazing German man who I suspect knows more about wine than I could learn in three lifetimes. This time he was a little busier so we didn't get the entire history lesson unfortunately, but the wine was still awesome. (Sweet Husband and I were half thinking that we had invented that part, but nope!) And at about $10 a bottle it's a bargain, too. Really, if you're ever within an hour of here, you need to make the trip. (And, just as a note, Google Maps will try to route you to Highway B--Heinrich is one more road over on Highway U.)
Native Stone Vineyard, Jefferson City, Missouri, 2.
The wines were OK, but not amazing. They also have beer. (Sweet Husband was unimpressed.) And lunch. (The menu looked good, but we were, once again, too early.)
Summit Lake Winery, Hartsburg, Missouri, 2.5.
A cute little town and a winery with wines I really liked. If we had hit this one on the way to Rock Eddy instead of on the way home (i.e. pre-Heinrich) it would have been a "3" I think. (FYI: They also have a place in Holt's Summit, Missouri.)
Les Bourgeouis Vineyards, Rochport, Missouri, 3.
Much more a big, corporate-y vineyard, but (unlike the St. James Winery, which is similarly corporate-y) this one had really good wines. Two beefs? 1) Their Norton, while yummy, was about $25 a bottle. 2) Most of their wines are mixed with California grapes. For example, the Norton was 25% Merlot. I actually thought it was great--the Merlot kind of took the edge off the Norton--but it feels like cheating.
Other than that though, the view alone was worth the stop--we had a tasty little "picnic lunch" at their over-the-river A-frame and Wine Garden. And, as Les Bourgeouis is about two seconds off I-70, it's right on the way to either St. Louis or Kansas City.