When we think of American wine, California comes to mind, and perhaps Oregon, Washington or New York. But Missouri? Ja, absolutely. German immigrants settling on the lower Missouri River, and later, Italians coming to the St. James area, brought their winemaking skills to the state. By the 1880s, Missouri made two million gallons a year, the most of any state. Missouri wines were also excellent—they won, for example, eight gold medals at the 1873 Vienna World's Fair.
Thousands of Germans moved to the Midwest and Missouri during the 1880s, thanks to encouraging letters and reports from early immigrants. Gottfried Duden, who lived near present-day Dutzow from 1824 to 1827, inspired many settlers after he returned to Germany and published Report on a Journey to the Western States of North America. The Missouri River valley with good farmland and river transportation, reminded Duden of Germany's Rhine River. The Missouri valley—featuring hilly bluffs, thin soil and long, hot, sunny summers—also proved to be ideal for growing grapes.
By the late 1800s, Missouri and the rest of the nation had a robust wine industry. In Europe, meanwhile, grape phylloxera nearly destroyed vineyards. Phylloxera is an aphid like insect that as part
of its life cycle lives in soil and consumes grape roots. By accident, American rootstock with phylloxera was probably carried to England and France around 1865. In France, wine production fell 75 percent. Since phylloxera was native to North America, vines were not affected. The salvation: send American rootstock, with its tough root bark, to Europe, then graft French vines to it, giving the grapes immunity from phylloxera. About 10 million resistant rootstocks from Missouri were shipped to France between 1885 and 1890.
Missouri's wine business continued to thrive, with 100 wineries in the state. But that prosperity ended in 1920 with the 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Prohibition, as it was called, was the result of a century-long temperance movement. Wineries were forced to uproot their vineyards and plant other crops. When Prohibition was lifted in 1933, no more commercial wineries existed in Missouri.
The Weinstrasse Returns
The rebirth of Missouri's wine industry had to wait 30 years after Prohibition. In the mid-1960s, Stone Hill (Hermann) and Mount Pleasant (Augusta) wineries reopened. In 1980, 15 square miles around Augusta were certified as the first American Viticultural Area. To support research and marketing for state wines, a 12-cent wine tax funds the Missouri Wine and Grape Board. By 2001, the state had 870 acres in wine grape production, including Catawba, Concord and Norton/Cynthiana, the official state grape. As of 2013, about 128 wineries operated in Missouri. Some are located near the Katy Trail along the "Weinstrasse" ("wine road" in German), a cluster of wineries between Defiance and Marthasville.
Workers press grapes in St. Louis around 1871.
Only two decades after its 1837 founding, Hermann produced 100,000 gallons of wine per year.
Family wineries shipped kegs and barrels to Hermann, Washington and St. Louis, while locals went directly to the winery to refill bottles and jugs. This Osage County party took place around 1900.
George Husmann, an agricultural professor at the University of Missouri, recommended grafting French vines onto Missouri roots, which were resistant to grape phylloxera. His house in Hermann is shown here.
Edward Kemper's Hermann Grape Nurseries provided rootstock to French and American growers.
Background: The Stone Hill Wine Co. was already 60 years old by the tie of this 1910 photo.