Sunday, September 19, 2021

Stone Hill Winery, Hermann, Missouri

Historic Stone Hill Winery, Hermann, Missouri 

During our visit to the Missouri Wine region around Hermann, Missouri, along the Missouri River, we stopped at Stone Hill Winery, another historic long time producer in the region dating back to 1847, like the Hermannhof Winery that we visited earlier in the day that dates back to 1852.

In its early days, Stone Hill had much early success as the second largest winery in the United States. Stone Hill wines were world renowned, winning gold medals in eight world’s fairs, including Vienna in 1873 and Philadelphia in 1876. By the 1870’s, the winery was shipping 1,250,000 gallons of wine per year, before the catastrophic downturn forced by Prohibition. It evolved as a mushroom-growing facility to the resurgence of Missouri’s wine industry, where it has returned to its historic eminence as a world-class winery.

The property was taken over in 1965 by local farmers Jim and Betty Held with their four young children. They bought and moved into the remnants of the original winery and spent the next several decades restoring the dis-repaired old-world buildings and vaulted underground cellars. 

Today the business is run by the next generation, managed by son Jon Held and his wife, Karen. Jon graduated from California State, Fresno with a degree in Enology – the science of winemaking. In 1994 Jon’s expertise at vineyard management was recognized at the Wineries Unlimited Symposium where he was named Winegrower of the Year.

Jon has served multiple terms on the Missouri Grape and Wine Advisory Board as well as the Midwestern representative on the Eastern Viticulture Consortium Regional Guidance Committee, which administers USDA funding for viticultural research.

Stone Hill is Missouri’s oldest and most awarded winery with yearly production of nearly 300,000 gallons of wine, using state-of-the-art equipment and the latest technology.  Stone Hill’s winemaking team produces wines that are again receiving international recognition, winning more than 4,000 awards since 1988, Stone Hill Winery has continuously ranked among the nation’s top award winners.

Stone Hill Winery owns seven vineyards totaling 190 acres, six of which are located within the Hermann Viticultural Appellation. The vineyards are grow the following varieties: Norton, Vignoles, Vidal, Chardonel, Cayuga, Vincent, Chambourcin, Vivant, Concord, Catawba, Valvin Muscat and Traminette. Stone Hill also purchases Catawba, Concord, Norton, Traminette, Chardonel, Vidal, Seyval and St. Vincent grapes from several independent grape growers located throughout the state of Missouri. 

For forty years, the master winemaker at Stone Hill was Dave Johnson who graduated from Michigan State University in 1970 with a degree in Biology, and a master’s in the Grape and Wine Program in 75. After several years in viticulture research, he became winemaker for Stone Hill Winery. During his tenure, he was the most awarded American winemaker outside of California, named Winemaker of the Year in 1994. Stone Hill Winery was routinely ranked among the top awarded wineries in the nation and has earned several Missouri Governor’s Cup awards.

Today, Stone Hill's head winemaker is Shaun Turnbull who hails from Cape Town, South Africa. He studied winemaking and earned a degree in Cellar Technology, then taught winemaking at South African Elsenburg College, known for being the best practical school of winemaking in the country. Before joining Stone Hill, Shaun worked at WineCorp in Stellenbosch, South Africa, Jefferson Cellars in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Heitz Cellars in Napa, California.

Stone Hill produce a broad portfolio of Missouri wines, a dozen reds, whites, roses, sparkling whites, and a limited distribution old vine aged 'port' dessert wine. 

Stone Hill Winery 2015 Port

Stone Hill Winery
Old Vine Norton
Reserve 2015

The Stone Hill flagship wine is based on the Norton grape, Missouri’s official state grape – a big, full-bodied red.  The 2011 Norton and 2012 Cross J Norton both won a trifecta of awards including the coveted Missouri Governor’s Cup adding to 8 other Stone Hill Winery Governor Cup awards. They were offering in the wineshop numerous vintages of the Stone Hill Norton including several aged vintage library wines dating back to 2002, 2004 and 2006.

Stone Hill Winery Norton
Library Vintages

Stone Hill Winery Estate Norton 2017

Stone Hill also uses French-American hybrid grapes such as Vidal, Chardonel and Vignoles.

The Stone Hill site is sits dramatically on a hill with scenic views overlooking the quaint historic German town of Hermann and a hillside vineyard. The winery is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Missouri Wine Country welcoming thousands of visitors each year. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places,

They offer guided tours of the winery’s historic arched underground cellars and wine tastings in three historic tasting rooms.

Adjacent the Stone Hill visitor and hospitality center is the Vintage 1847 Restaurant, where they serve German specialties along with steaks and other American dishes. Once the winery’s original stable and carriage house, the building has been restored into a dining room for lunch or dinner, and a private dining room for groups and special occasions.

Throughout the year, they host several well-known events including Wurstfest, Maifest, Oktoberfest and numerous Hermann Wine Trail activities.


Hermannhof Wines, Hermann MO - Dierberg Vineyards, Santa Barbara

Hermannhof Wines, Hermann Missouri - Dierberg Vineyards, Santa Barbara

Continuing our Missouri Wine Experience, traveling across the State of Missouri visiting different winesites, we ventured to Hermann, Missouri along the Missouri River, home to more than a dozen wine producers.  

With the area's history and rich German heritage dating back to its founding in 1837, the town of Hermann and its setting on the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River is often referred to as the Missouri Rhineland because of its resemblance to Germany’s Rhine River Valley,

A visit to Hermann would not be complete without a visit to G. Hussman Wine Company, Hermannhof Winery and Cellars, namesake to much of the town including the winery, distillery, a couple hotels and inns, the lumber yard, and a couple of butcher meat market restaurants with locally-made German sausages. Hermannhof's stone cellars and brick structure are among 100 early Hermann buildings placed on the National Register of Historic places by the Federal government.

In 1974, Jim and Mary Dierberg of St Louis purchased the historic Hermannhof Winery in Hermann, Missouri. Established in 1852 as a brewery and winery, it is one of the oldest operating wineries in the US, even pre-dating the oldest wineries in California, including the historic Buena Vista in Sonoma, established in 1857. 

Construction of the initial building, used as a brewery and winery, was built from 1848 through 1852 in the French section of the early settlement of Hermann. Hermannhof's wine making was initially a small part of the highly successful brewery. 

By 1904, the Hermann area produced 3 million gallons of wine, mostly by small wine grower/producers, many of whom utilized the facilities of Hermannhof until prohibition forced the vineyards to be uprooted and the equipment destroyed or sold to Europeans.

The Dierberg, originally bankers by profession, spent the next several decades renovating and enhancing the Hermann property. Over time, while learning the craft growing grapes and making wine in the midwest, they began looking outside of Missouri for a place to plant traditional European varietal grapes. 

In 1996, after a long search throughout France and California, the Dierbergs discovered the California central coast and Santa Barbara’s cool coastal valleys where they purchased a 4,000-acre property in Happy Canyon.

They planted two estates - their namesake Dierberg Vineyard, and Drum Canyon Vineyard, from which they produced wines under the Dierberg label. They then developed a warm climate site, planting the Star Lane Vineyard, also in Santa Barbara County which they developed under that brand.

In addition to their Hermann vineyards and facilities, the Dierbergs now own and operate two thousand acres of vineyards in and around Santa Barbara County. They have vineyards in the Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez, Santa Maria and Saint Rita Hills wine region AVA's where they produce 15000 cases of premium wine annually. 

These California wines are featured in a tasting room in historic building adjacent to the Hermannhof winery and distillery campus in Hermann. 

When we stepped in to the Hermannhof winery tasting room, they explained that "the Missouri wines are offered here, and the California wines are next door". While we were originally intent of exploring the Missouri wines, having already visited several Missouri producers, we were intrigued and went next door to explore what quality California wines were on offer.

We learned that Dierburg produce estate wines sourced from their two thousand acres of Southern California Santa Barbara County vineyards. They market and distribute under the Dierberg, Starlane and Three Saints brands.They grow Bordeaux varietals Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and Burgundy varietals Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as Syrah. 

The Dierberg Vineyard, is thirteen miles from the Pacific Ocean in one of the cooler winegrowing corners of Santa Barbara County, on the western edge of the Santa Maria Valley appellation. It was planted in 1997 to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay along the south bank of the Santa Maria River. It’s the oldest of three vineyards owned by the Dierberg family in Santa Barbara County. The vineyard boasts 161 acres of rolling hills with mostly sandy loam soils, about 2/3 of which is planted to Pinot Noir. They also operate a tasting room there on the Santa Maria Valley property.

They planted the Drum Canyon Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills between the towns of Lompoc and Buellton in Santa Barbara County in 2003. There, the terroir with persistent, steady winds rolling through the canyon is an ideal environment for producing California Pinot Noir with the intensity and signature acidity of the well known notable Santa Rita Hills AVA. 

Their third vineyard site is Star Lane Vineyard in the Happy Canyon AVA. This vineyard is in the hills and canyons of their vast estate, rising from 750 feet to 1,550. The vineyard consists of numerous, diverse blocks, at the lower elevations, plantings are on flat ground with relatively little wind. Further up in the hills, the vines lie on slopes of up to 45 degrees, and, at the highest elevations, winds can be extremely strong and eventually shreds the wind-blocking material which hangs around the perimeter. Depending on altitude, facing and the vagaries of particular days, diurnal shift during the growing season can be 30 to 50 degrees.

The vineyard’s shallow and well drained soils are also varied from sandy, graveled to rocky topped clay-loam. The Star Lane Vineyard is planted in Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Sauvignon Blanc as well as Syrah. 

Today, the entire Dierberg family including their grown children and their spouses are involved in the day-to-day operations of the vineyards and winery.
Dierbergs brought in Tyler Thomas who joined Dierberg and Star Lane Vineyards in 2013 as winemaker. After earning degrees at Colorado State, he received a masters in Viticulture and Enology at U.C. Davis. Today he is responsible for all day-to-day details of winemaking, from harvest to the final blending of the wines as president and winemaker of Dierberg and Star Lane Vineyards.

The Dierberg Hermann tasting room offers the broad portfolio of California Santa Barbara County estate grown wines. We tasted the following wines:

Dierberg Santa Maria Valley Dierberg Vineyard Chardonnay 2016

This was was rated 94 points by Wine Enthusiast, 92 points by  Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, 91 points by Wine Spectator, Jeb Dunnuck and Vinous. It was aged 15 months in 30% new oak. 

Light golden colored, medium bodied, golden apple, white peach and almonds with notes of citrus and crème fraîche with lively acidity and a long, nutty finish. 

RM 91 points.

Winemaker's Notes: "This is Dierberg Vineyard classic. For those familiar with the vineyard’s Chardonnay, there will be plenty to like in this wine. Its purity of fruit is deep but quiet, leaning on stone fruit and citrus expressions with only a hint of tropical notes in the background. The palate has a wonderful broad feel that connotes California, but never strays away from its backbone of refreshing acidity. Fermented in 400L French oak puncheons, 20% new, 50% malo." 

Dierberg Santa Maria Valley Dierberg Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016

This was rated 93 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and 92 points by Vinous

Ruby colored, medium bodied, complex, tangy dark berry and black cherry fruits, earth, tobacco, smoke and incense.

Winemaker notes: "The 2016 Pinot Noir Dierberg Vineyard was aged 14 months in 35% new French oak. It's medium ruby with wonderful, layered perfume: dried rose petals, crushed herbs, woodsmoke, cranberry sauce, warm earth, red cherry preserves and hints of raspberries and orange peel.'
"Deep garnet in color from the rim to its core. The nose begins with the sweet dampness of freshly opened potting soil followed by layers of black current, blackberries, caramilized blueberries, with fresh rose petals and violets. The palate showcases black cherry and black plum. Hints of cocoa and allspice weave between the nose as well as the flavor profile.  Soft, youthful tannin will mature into silk over time." 

Dierberg Santa Rita Hills Drum Canyon Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016

This was awarded 93 points by Wine Enthusiast, 92 by Wine Advocate, and 88 points by Wine Spectator.

This was dark garnet colored with medium body with black berry and black cherry and cranberry fruits with earth, bramble, smoke, pain grille and leather and hints of pepper and spice with fine grained tannins on a long finish. 

The 2016 Pinot Noir Drum Canyon Vineyard was made with 25% whole cluster and aged 16 months in 35% new French oak, 700 cases were produced.

Winemaker notes: "2016 was a straightforward vintage with moderate yields and a good pace to ripening.  Unlike 2015, the wines were not as obviously dense and masculine, and therefore we leaned a bit more on stem inclusion to ensure we built a structure that was supple and extended with firm tannins.  All in all, we had about 25% whole cluster in the final blend.  The wines were aged in about 35% new oak to add a bit of mid-palate texture before being bottled the following December."


Dierberg Santa Barbara County Happy Canyon Star Lane Vineyard Syrah 2017

When Tyler Thomas joined Dierberg as winemaker, he brought a wealth of experience with Syrah from earlier work at Donelan Family Wines. There he produced numerous vineyard-designated labels from top sites ranging from cool to warm throughout Sonoma County. This prepared him for various Dierberg sites in Santa Barbara with Syrah planter in cooler Santa Maria Valley and the appreciably warmer Happy Canyon.

Tyler Thomas strives to produce Syrahs that “rather have the textural effect of oak than the aromatic.” To achieve this, he uses very little new oak and a large percentage of large 400-liter barrels with less oak surface area.

This was dark inky garnet colored, medium-full bodied, with black berry and black cherry and plum fruits with notes of dark spices, hints of pepper, licorice, expresso and leather.

RM 90 points.

Dierberg Star Lane Vineyard of Santa Barbara Happy Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon 2017

Winemaker notes: 2017 was an excellent growing season with moderate temperatures and healthy winter rain.  However, the vintage will likely be remembered for its heat during harvest, which impacted our coastal vineyards more than Star Lane.  The fruit from Star Lane did see more heat than recent vintages and early impressions suggested fruit would be forward. As a result we were careful with how tannin developed in the wine, and used a bit less new oak.  Cabernet Franc (5%), Petite Verdot (5%), Merlot (4%), and Malbec (1%) all contributed in 2017, used sparingly to add pleasure through increased complexity and balance of texture. 

Winemaker Tasting Notes:

In my time at Star Lane this may be the most fruit forward and open Cabernet Sauvignon since 2012. The wine shows the exposure to a warmer ripening season with bright red fruits a bit more forward than the usual blueberry notes of previous vintages.  All of this is achieved without compromising the “Star Lane-ness,” cool coastal sage notes that add complexity. Texture is sneaky: initial softness gives way to ample (but not overwhelming) tannin on the 2nd and 3rd sip.

 Dierberg Star Lane Vineyard "Astral" Santa Barbara Happy Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

This is the ultra-premium flagship label of Star Lane Vineyard. It is a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc. It was aged twenty months in 100% new French Oak. It was on offer for $125 per bottle. 

Winemaker Notes: "In 2005 we arrived at the concept of Astral after recognizing the exceptional quality of the hillside plantings near the top of the Star Lane Vineyard. These hillside blocks produce very low yields which create wines of considerable intensity and structure. Astral is comprised of the most extraordinary components from the vineyard in each vintage."

Astral Winemaker Notes: While a cool year the depth of flavor is reminescent of 2008 but with the structure of 2009. Rich fruit permitted extended time on skins with exceptional Cabernet from our hillside and own-rooted blocks. We only added a touch of Cabernet Franc for an extra layer.  The 2010 vintage was unseasonably cool from March to June setting up a delayed and cool ripening season. The cool early season weather was followed by moderate temperatures that promoted full maturity. The extended hang time in 2010 combined with cool temperatures promoted wines of freshness of flavor.

Winemaker Tasting Notes: Black-fruits and sweet floral (almost sage-like) emerge from the aromatics.
This wine continues to change as it sits in the glass. A rich core of fruit holds the structured tannins in check. We expect this wine to age well. 


Le Bourgeois Winery and Vineyards Rochport, Missouri

 Le Bourgeois Winery and Vineyards, Blufftop Restaurant, Rochport, Missouri 

Heading back to Chicago from Kansas City, we took the 'normal' interstate highway route along I70. Halfway across the state, where I70 crosses the Missouri River at the exit for Rocheport, MO, is the Le Bourgeois Winery and Vineyards, arguably one of the more extensive and prolific producers in the state. 

Les Bourgeois Vineyards is family owned and operated by Curtis and Martha Bourgeois, in historic Rocheport, just one mile north of I-70, at the crossing of the Missouri River, midway between Kansas City and St. Louis.

They operate three facilities comprising Les Bourgeois Vineyards, the Tasting Room & Gift Shop at the interstate Rocheport exit, adjacent to the winery production facility, The Bistro Restaurant, a blufftop restaurant overlooking the Missouri River, and the A-Frame Winegarden.

The Winegarden is a rustic A-Frame structure overlooking the Missouri River near Rocheport, site of the original Les Bourgeois Winery, serves American 'picnic fare' with the line-up of Le Bourgeois wines.

Cory Bomgaars, head of Winery Operations and Partner at Les Bourgeois Vineyards, studied at the University of Missouri, then viticulture and enology at the notable U of Cal, Davis, is currently President of the Missouri Vintners Association.

The highlight destination worthy site is the Bistro Restaurant sitting high atop the bluff with spectacular views overlooking the Missouri River with a view downriver of the Interstate 70 bridge crossing the river.

Le Bourgeois produce two dozen different wines - dry, semi-sweet and sweet, a dozen reds, eleven whites, a blush and a dessert wine. They source from fruit they grow on over a hundred acres of vineyards along the Missouri River and other regional growers. 

They grow on their 120 acres of vineyards, the Missouri state grape Norton, Missouri St. Vincent, Chardonnel, Vidal, Catawba and Aromella, a hybrid white varietal, developed at Cornell, that is new to Les Bourgeois Vineyards. 

They produce and market a Collector's Series of 'premium' labels of select wines.  

Beyond the Le Bourgeois Collector's Series, since 1985, they have also produced a premium line of wines branded Blufftop Cellars, commemorating the blufftop restaurant overlooking the Missouri River, that they note "is the expression of decades of experience and a lifetime of collaboration with fellow vintners across the country." 

This line of 'premium' labels consists of four labels, a premium priced Cabernet Franc/Merot, a Cabernet Franc and a Cabernet Sauvignon, priced at $45, $60 and $75, double and treble the prices of the Le Bourgeois standard labels. These wines are designated "American" denoting the fruit is sourced from somewhere in the US, with no further specificity.

The Blufftop Cellars labels feature a rendering of the blufftop restaurant on the wine labels, an original work from artist Joel Sager.

They just released a twenty year old fortified dessert wine, Le Bourgeois Rocheport Reserve, bottled to commemorate the Missouri State bi-centennial, also twenty years of service of the Le Bourgeois winemaker.

They also produce several wines from fruit they source from California suppliers in Lodi and Clarksburg in the Central Valley. They produce an American Red Blend from traditionally Spanish varieties – Alvarelhão, Tinto Cao, and Souzao – all grown in Lodi, California, and a Syrah that they produce, also from fruit imported from Lodi. 

While we were there, they were unloading and 'crushing' Petit Sirah grapes trucked in from Lodi, California.  

We started at the tasting room hospitality center tasting a flight of wines outside on the patio watching the crew unload and crush grapes just arrived from California. 

We then drove a mile up the road to the Bistro Restaurant for lunch on the patio with magnificent vista views overlooking the Missouri River. 

One mile up the road towards the town of Rocheport are their Restaurant and Winegarden sites. There at that location is a six acre vineyard of Missouri Norton grapes adjacent an entertainment venue where they were holding their annual crush party. 

Our tasting flight included the following wines, tasting notes are all from the winemaker/producer unless otherwise noted: 

The Whites - 

Le Bourgeois Estate Chardonel 2019 - Estate Bottled Chardonel combines crisp pear and apple aromas with light oak to create an exquisite, full-bodied, dry white wine with a steely finish.  

This was our favorite of the whites with nice pear fruits and hints of green apple - RM 87/88.

Le Bourgeois Solay - The 2020 vintage release of a blend of Chardonel, Vidal Blanc, Vignoles, with no oak aging to mask the intense tropical fruit overtones, this wine is blended with 100% of the best white grape varietals grown in Missouri. RM - Excessive acids overpower the tropical fruits - 86.

This was our least favorite of the whites coming across a bit tart with excessive acidity.

Le Bourgeois Vignobles - 2019 vintage release of this 100% Missouri Vignobles, a rich floral nose, this fresh white wine delivers a hint of sweetness and a crisp subtle finish.

The Reds -

Le Bourgeois Norton - A  full-bodied, dry red wine showcases the unique characteristics of Norton, the state grape of Missouri. A bouquet of violet and spicy earth tones with rich fruit flavors linger through a light tannin finish. RM - Think forest floor with hint of mint.

Le Bourgeois Fleur Du Vin - A non-vintage blend of the St. Vincent and Chambourcin grapes, semi-dry red wine with soft character and a light and fruity aroma is broadly appealing and reveals the uniqueness of the Missouri St. Vincent grape.

Le Bourgeois Collector's Series Syrah - This is produced from Syrah grapes grown in Lodi, California, processed in Rocheport, aged in American Oak barrels for 24 months. Blackberry, black currants, and tar are the dominant aromas, fruit forward Syrah with warm and lingering notes of candied ginger and a perfectly ripened fruit finish. RM - Black fruits with notes of tar. 

Each year, Le Bourgeois invite Missouri artists to submit artworks to be selected for use on their artist series labels - Aromella and Syrah shown left.

Le Bourgeois Collector's Series Chambourcin 2018 - Aroma of Ranier cherries bursts through in this dark, garnet red wine followed by balanced tannin structure on the pallet, acid profile is bracing and will assuage as this wine ages. RM - Tannins with fruits overtaken by excessive acids.

American Red - A blend of traditionally Spanish varieties – Alvarelhão, Tinto Cao, and Souzao – all grown in Lodi, California, an easy-to-drink, balanced dry red wine. The grapes underwent fermentation and maceration all together in a single tank, allowing their sensory qualities to intermingle from the earliest possible moment. Post fermentation, this unique wine was aged in 2 year old American oak barrels for 14 months. Black raspberry is the dominant fruit character both in the nose and on the palate.

We also tasted:

Le Bourgeois Rochport Reserve 20 Year Dessert Wine - interesting by not sufficiently inspiring to justify the $95 release price. This was nostalgic for the producer as it was produced in his first year, then aged and held for twenty years until release. 

Following our tasting at the hospitality center, we drove a mile up the road towards the town of Rocheport where they have a six acre vineyard, a recreation area and the Blufftop Restaurant. The restaurant has three levels, two for special event space with the main dining room on the middle 'ground' entry level. There we had lunch on the patio with a spectacular view looking over the Missouri River basin from the high viewpoint. 

Video of Blufftop Restaurant overlook of the Missouri River 

 We had a delightful lunch where we tasted their premium Blufftop Cellars wines with a delectable burgers, fries and a salad with the starter Warm Brie on Pastry with apples, poached cranberries, fresh berries, pecans and Jeaunette Rouge gastriche (shown below).

Le Bourgeois Blufftop Cellars
American Cabernet Franc Merlot 2018