Worth the Trip: Clay & Ray County Wineries
Did you know that Missouri wine saved French vineyards? Or how about the fact that Napa, California was the second US designated wine district in America, garnering that distinction three years after Augusta, Missouri. Does it surprise you to know that by 1900, Missouri was home to the third largest winery in the world? If you’re a Missouri wine buff, you might know these things. But to the rest of us, the story of Missouri wines holds a few surprises.
As German immigrants began to settle Missouri, they found the terrain along the Missouri river to be ideal for grape growing. The town of Hermann was home to the first wine produced in the state in 1846. A year later, Stone Hill Winery was founded and grew into the second largest winery in America and third largest in the world, producing one million gallons of wine a year.
During this time, Missouri wines dominated the world scene earning eight gold medals at world’s fairs. And, when Missouri entomologist Charles V. Riley identified the louse devastating French vineyards in the 1870s, it was rootstock of Missouri grapes, shipped by the millions, which saved the French wine industry.
It was Prohibition more than any other factor that eroded the flourishing wine industry in Missouri. By 1920 Missouri was home to over 100 wineries, but legislation criminalizing the production and consumption of alcohol obliterated the trade. Stone Hill Winery, once an international giant, was forced to destroy all of their vineyards. And, so too popular Independence wine makers such as Shaffer’s Winery and Lohse’s Native Wine Garden.
Even after the repeal of the act in 1934, Missouri wine growers struggled to rise again due to restrictive alcohol fees and taxes in a state where many counties continued to be legally dry. The good news is that today Missouri is home to 128 wineries, three of which we feature here as worth the trip.
Part of the Northwest Missouri Wine Trail, Belvoir Winery in Liberty, Fence Stile Vineyards & Winery in Excelsior Springs, and Van Till Family Farm Winery in Rayville offer a variety of activities and plenty of great wine. From point to point, you’ll travel 30 miles through the rolling countryside of Clay and Ray counties. Since Van Till is closed on Sundays, we recommend you set out early on a Friday evening or take a leisurely Saturday drive.