- Winemaker Interviews
- Idaho Wine Experience
Since 2013 we have been helping our followers find great wines of great value that are ready to drink right away. Given that we are a California-based wine review business those wines have almost all come from the Sonoma, Napa, Paso Robles, and Santa Ynez wine regions. While we have profiled wines from Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and New York, we have never undertaken an in-depth review of offerings from another state.
In 2001 our senior writer and co-founder drove cross country and happened to pass through the Missouri wine region. Ever since then this region has piqued his interest. This year, we put that interest into action as we launch the Missouri Wine Experience.
We will introduce you to new AVAs, wineries, and varietals and highlight how important this region has been to the wine world at large. We will make recommendations on wines to purchase and, when possible, compare them to their California “taste-alike” companions. In short, we hope to introduce our California followers to new varietals they can enjoy and open the California market to Missouri wines.
In the 1860s an aphid-type insect called Phylloxera was devastating French vineyards, attaching themselves to the rootstock of grape vines and rotting them from the inside out. There was no way to eradicate this parasite. Many feared that the French wine industry, and perhaps all of European wine, would be destroyed.
What is now known as the Great French Wine Blight could have been much worse...if not for Missouri.
Ironically, Phylloxera was an American pest that found its way across the Atlantic in the 1850s. It was routine for America to send grape vines to Europe via steamship for experimenting and grafting during this time, not realizing that Phylloxera was also on board.
Many of the vines shipped to France came from Missouri, a wine region dating back to the 1840s. As French vineyards were being wiped out by Phylloxera, their government put out a call for help from scientists around the globe. Back in Missouri, in 1870, state entomologist Charles Valentine Riley recognized the description of the parasite by the French as Phylloxera. He had observed it on leaves of vines in Missouri. He went to France in 1871 to look at their bug and confirmed it was the same.
Fortunately, rootstock in America were immune to Phylloxera. So Riley, in conjunction with Missouri viticulturist George Hussmann, crafted a plan to graft French vines onto American rootstock. Millions of rootstock were shipped to France from Hermann, Missouri, and elsewhere around the state. The grafting worked and the French wine industry was saved.
The next time you enjoy a glass of fine French wine say a toast to Missouri. In many ways you are drinking their wine too!
Established in 1847, Stone Hill is Missouri's oldest winery. Founded by German immigrants, it grew to be the nation's second largest winery and is estimated to have been the third largest in the world. Pre-Prohibition, Stone Hill Winery was an international favorite that went on to win eight prestigious gold medals from World's Fairs between 1873-1915. This includes their Norton winning "Best Red of All Nations" at the Vienna World Fair in 1873, directly showcasing the potential for fine winemaking with American heritage grape varietals.
Stone Hill Winery and the whole Missouri wine industry was shuttered by Prohibition and anti-German sentiment following World War I; all the vines were removed and the cellars were emptied. A few years later, Stone Hill’s cellars, which are the largest series of underground cellars in North America, were converted to mushroom farming that would last until the 1960s. In 1965, Jim and Betty Held reopened Stone Hill Winery and reestablished the Missouri wine industry. The Norton grape, which had made Stone Hill famous prior to Prohibition, was thought to be lost to history until 1965 when the Helds began making wine from it again after discovering vines on a nearby farm. It continues to be Stone Hill Winery’s flagship to this day.
Stone Hill Winery is dedicated to producing American heritage and hybrid wines that are of the highest quality and exemplify their region, celebrate their history, and continue their legacy of leading great winemaking in Missouri. With Jon and Karen Held now leading the family business, Stone Hill continues to be awarded top regional, national, and international awards for their unique wines.
Ed Wagner and his business partner/winemaker Mark Baehmann have been in the alcohol industry their entire lives but only started Wild Sun five years ago. They have already made great strides at delivering premium wine and beer products and developing some great friends along the way.
Nestled on a 10-acre estate in the beautiful rolling hills of Hillsboro, Missouri, Wild Sun Is more than just a winery and brewery but also quite an event setting. They offer live music on Friday nights and Saturday and Sunday afternoons through the late fall. You can book a private event or wedding there or just bring your chair and picnic blanket, spread out on their large lawn, and order off the menu. It’s a great way to spend a day while tasting some delicious wine.
Learn more about Wild Sun and follow them here:
TerraVox is Latin for, “voice of the land.” Most wine growing regions in the world, including ours in California, use European grape varieties that come from the species Vitis vinifera. TerraVox proprietor and founder Jerry Eisterhold is unlocking the potential of grape species native to middle America known as American Heritage Grapes. His goal is to let the land speak for itself through his wine and he is doing an amazing job.
TerraVox is located just north of Kansas City, Missouri in the rolling hills east of the Missouri River. In establishing his winery, Jerry was inspired by Thomas Volney (T.V.) Munson, an American viticulturist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Munson was an avid grape breeder and the leading expert in North American grape species. In the 1990s Jerry reached out to Grayson College, a small university near Munson’s original vineyard in Denison, Texas. With their help, Jerry acquired cuttings from over sixty of the native varieties Munson had been developing for wine production. These cuttings are the foundation of TerraVox, where they are continuing Munson’s—and now Jerry’s—quest to discover and develop the unique flavors that American Heritage Grapes bring to wine.
Learn more about TerraVox, purchase their wine, and follow them here:
The mission of Eagles’ Landing Wine owners and lifelong friends Eric Taylor (certified sommelier) and Casey Stuck (wine chemist + mixologist) is to make really good wine with 100% local grapes.
They are succeeding.
Eagles’ Landing Wine is a part of the Meramec River Wine Trail, located in the Ozark Highlands AVA in St. James, Missouri. They are passionate about food pairings (they have two farm-focused restaurants), sustainable practices, and supporting small business. They adore feminine wines with a masculine nose, and believe terroir should be celebrated.
Visit them in their tasting rooms in St. James and Webb City and taste for yourself.
Learn more about Eagles’ Landing and purchase their wine:
Now thriving in its second decade of operation, Noboleis Vineyards in Augusta, Missouri is producing critically acclaimed wine with a vast portfolio of over 30 offerings.
Beginning in 2005 with the purchase of 84 acres of land in Augusta by Bob and Lou Ann Nolan, Noboleis is a true family-owned business and passion. In fact, the name Noboleis comes from three family names: Nolan, Newbold, and Geis. Daughter Christine Newbold, is a part owner, the CFO, and operations manager and daughter Angie Geis is a part owner and handles business development.
Noboleis has found success in competitions beyond Missouri. In the 2020 Sommelier Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition held in California their 2018 Vignoles scored 92 points and their Reserve Cuvee scored 90 points.
Visit Noboleis and enjoy a wine flight on their hilltop pavilion while you take in the rolling hills or experience a more in-depth, guided tasting in their tasting room. Order pizzas or appetizers off their menu or pack your own picnic basket.
Learn more about Noboleis and purchase their wine here:
Cave Vineyard in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri takes the concept of a family owned and operated winery to another level. Marty and Mary Jo Strussione and 16 other members of their family contribute to the production and presentation of Cave products. Their first hilltop grapevines were planted in 2000 and they focus on Traminette, Chambourcin, Vignoles, and Norton.
Directly underneath Cave Vineyard’s tasting room is Saltpeter Cave, which was mined in the late 18th century for potassium nitrate (Saltpeter) and sent down to New Orleans to make gun powder. The cave has a large opening of 100 feet across and 35 feet tall. After purchasing wine, Cave Vineyard guests are welcome to picnic inside the cave, which can comfortably seat about 100 people.
Cave Vineyard offers private tastings with the owner/winemaker, offers discounts for group wine tastings, and hosts private events and weddings.
Besides making great wine, the Strussione family also makes brandy (Cave Distillery) and has a killer biscotti bar (based on Grandma Strussione’s recipe) in their winery loft. They recommend trying different flavors of biscotti and dunking it in the wine!
Cave Vineyard came highly recommended by some of our Instagram followers and is a great way to spend your day.
Learn more about Cave Vineyard here:
As you know by now, the Augusta AVA was the first recognized AVA in the United States. Clayton Byers founded Montelle Vineyards in Augusta in 1970. It was purchased in 1988 by current owner and winemaker Tony Kooyumjian, one of only two winemakers in Missouri to be named a top 100 winemaker in the United States. Tony’s wines have been highly decorated, including winning “Best of Show” in California wine competitions.
Montelle Winery has often been called the most scenic winery in Missouri. Visit and you will see why. Taste on the outdoor deck that overlooks the lush vineyards and green rolling hills of the Missouri River Valley. Order lunch at their Klondike Café.
As with Cave Vineyard, Montelle also produces brandy. In fact, they were the first winery in Missouri with a distillery.
Whether it be impressive wine, stunnng views, the cafe’, or the distillery, Montelle is the perfect place for an outing or to host your meeting or event. Find out more about Montelle here:
Another of Tony Kooyumjian‘s highly regarded wineries is Augusta Winery, which he founded in 1988. As with Montelle Winery, Augusta is set in a beautiful locale overlooking the Missouri River Valley.
Guests can taste on their outdoor terrace or in their wine and beer garden and order locally-produced cheese and sausage. The garden features a spectacular 10-foot grapevine-covered arbor above a peaceful fountain.
Augusta Winery has earned numerous medals in wine competitions across the United States but perhaps the quotes of their guests tell you all you need to know:
“If you are visiting the Missouri Wine Trail, Augusta Winery is a must stop. The people are very friendly, attentive and knowledgeable.”
“Augusta Winery offers some great wines from whites to red, sweet to dry. Strong commitment to their wine and they grow 100% of their grapes.”
“Wine tasting was fun. Excellent port!”
Visit Augusta Winery and see (and taste) for yourself.
Learn more here:
Chambourcin is a purple-skinned, French American hybrid grape that is resistant to rot and fungal disease. The grape was first made commercially available in the early 1960s and it requires a long growing season to make a good red wine. In the glass it is violet in appearance and will typically have aromas of dark cherry and light oak. A good Chambourcin tends to have an earthy, red fruit fruit flavor and smooth, soft tannins.
The three best bottles of Chambourcin/Chambourcin Blends that we tasted were:
The best sparkling wine we tasted from Missouri was a 2017 Noboleis Carbonated Brut Rosé and that sentiment was unanimous among our tasters. It’s a blend of 20% Chambourcin, 40% Traminette, 30% Vignoles, and 10% Seyval.
I think we best do this exceptional sparkling wine justice by relaying the comments of our tasters:
As we get closer to summer, we’re all dreaming of those cool, refreshing bottles of Rose’ that we can’t wait to open. Of course, here at Peninsula Underground, we believe that Rose’ should be enjoyed all year long!
If you find yourself in the Missouri wine region, or are looking for a unique Rose’ to order online, the one we like best is the 2018 TerrraVox Sunny Slope Rose’—which can, as we mentioned before, be enjoyed even when it’s not sunny. Our team of tasters found this to be wonderfully fresh and fruity, but not cloyingly sweet.
Some of their comments:
Chardonel is a white wine grape that is a cross between Seyval and Chardonnay. It may have aromas of lemon or the inside of a barrel and its taste is often characterized by citrus fruit and oak.
We tasted several examples of Chardonel from Missouri, and some will appear later on our “best value” reviews, but one clearly stood out as the best: 2019 Wild Sun Chardonel Reserve
The comments of our reviewers:
Traminette is a white-wine grape that is a cross of Joannes Seyve 23.416 and Gewürztraminer that was developed at Cornell University and first released in 1996. In the glass Traminette typically shows as light-green grass and it is floral on the nose. This grape has high acidity and, while it is grown in Missouri, it might do even better in a warmer climate like California.
We found two examples of Traminette in Missouri that we really liked but that were quite different, making it difficult to declare one better than another. So, we feature them both:
Vidal Blanc is a white hybrid grape that is a cross of Ugni Blanc and Rayon d'Or. It is the color of straw in appearance, usually has a fresh summer garden smell, and shows apple and citrus fruits on the palate.
The best expression of Vidal Blanc that we tasted in Missouri was the 2019 Augusta Vidal Blanc. We found it to be sweetly floral on the nose. The mouth feel had impressive body and we noted hints of peach and melon, with spice on the finish. Our tasters were very impressed with its complexity. If you like Sauvignon Blanc you will like this wine.
Seyval Blanc is a hybrid white-wine grape that is a cross between Seibel 5656 and Rayon d’Or. It can appear golden white, light green, or straw colored in the glass and you often detect fresh herbs on the nose. The taste shows citric acidity and a hint of spice.
The best Seyval Blanc we tasted from Missouri is the 2019 Augusta Winery Estate Bottled. We did detect herbs on the nose and found the wine to be crisp and refreshing with tropical fruit flavors and an even finish. This wine is at its peak right now and should be consumed over the next six months. Very satisfying.
You can read on our blog about Norton, which is the official grape of the State of Missouri. So, as you might imagine, we tasted a lot of Norton from Missouri. In fact, we tasted so much Norton that here we give you the five best:
Vignoles is a white-wine grape that is the color of sunshine and smells of tropical fruit. On the palate is an assortment of citrus, floral, and tropical flavors. Its mouth feel is light and soft.
The best Vignoles we tasted from Missouri was the 2019 Montelle. We liked the aromas of pineapple, strawberry, and melon. It is crisp and vibrant in the mouth with hints of strawberry and lime and has a refreshing finish. Reminded us a bit of a Viognier. A very nice wine.
We were quite astonished at the quality of the port style/dessert wines that we had from Missouri. Our tasters gave glowing reviews to many different bottles that they tried. We will post about some of the others we tasted in the future but the best of them was the 2016 TerraVox Norton RePort.
First of all, the color coming out of the bottle and flowing into the glass…wow! A rich, dark ruby color. Almost intoxicating. This Norton-based port gets bonus points just for appearance. Excellent viscosity. An aroma of a bouquet of flowers, particularly freesia. The mouth feel is smooth, not too heavy or sweet. Chocolate on the palate and an even finish. Drink this around a campfire while roasting s’more‘s with your friends.