Wine Travel: Americas First Wine District

America's long and storied wine making history is rooted in the efforts of European immigrants, who brought their skills to America throughout the 1800's. Long before California and other west coast wine producing states were settled, other areas of the country were busy producing wines from native grape vines growing in the wild. In the 1830's, a group of German immigrants settled in the Missouri river valley, about an hour west of St. Louis near the present historic town of Hermann, Missouri.

These early settlers noted how the topography and climate of the river valley resembled their European home areas of Germany and Switzerland. In particular, various grape varieties were growing wild on hillsides surrounding Hermann, prompting founding fathers and town leaders to encourage further cultivation and ultimately, wine making. After a few short years, the prolific grape crop merged with the settler's wine making skills, and America's first wine district was born.

After Prohibition, wine making became viable again, and since the 1960's over 75 wineries have opened in Missouri. Situated on a 20 mile stretch, this wine district just over an hour from St. Louis boasts historic villages and seven wineries. Those who enjoy wine trails and wine travel are drawn here for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are award winning wines and spectacular scenery.

Missouri has long been known for deep, rich red wines typically produced from traditional grape varieties such as Norton and Chambourcin. Wineries in this area use these native grapes to develop award winning varietes of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignons, and Burgundy styles. But these wineries aren't all about reds, as winemakers on this wine trail also produce clean and delightfully crisp styles like rieslings and chardonels.

The closest major city to the Hermann wine trail is St. Louis, which is an easy drive. From the city, it's only 75 minutes at most to the wine district via Interstate 44 and Highway 100. The first stop on the eastern end of the wine trail is the town of New Haven, MO, home of historic Robller Vineyard and Winery. Robller offers an absolutely speactacular view of the valley, along with several varieties of wine you'll want to try and take home from their friendly tasting room.

Traveling west from New Haven, you'll encounter the Bommarito Almond Tree Winery, a family owned estate winery. Try their award winning port and other offerings. Further west, you'll find a unique winery and microbrewery combination, Bias Vineyards and Winery. Only the second such operation in the U.S., Bias produces a blush wine we especially enjoyed, River Blush Rouge.

In and around Hermann, four thriving wineries offer wine travelers more of the true taste of Missouri. Stone Hill, Oakglenn, Adam Puchta, and Hermannhof wineries are all situated in beautiful settings with scenic views. Relax for a while and enjoy such offerings as Oakglenn's fruity and spicy Chambourcin and Stone Hill's Vidal Blanc, a fine dry white. Check to see if you can participate in vineyard tours, as most of these wineries vineyards are only a few hundred yards away from their production facilities.

The western end of the wine trail is punctuated by the picturesque town of Hermann, MO. This is a town you'll really enjoy - historic architecture, local restaurants, and specialty shops galore. It's a perfect place to spend the night and participate in one of their many local events, several devoted to enjoyment of wine. Also, for the fitness buff within you, Hermann is also known for its easy access to the Katy Bike Trail which winds through the Missouri river valley.

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About The Author, Jim Hofman
Jim Hofman is an author specializing in wine travel and U.S. wine trails. For the complete travelogue on this and other U.S. wine trails, you're invited to join our free bi-weekly online newsletter, where we introduce you to small wineries and wine trails across America.