I was born and have lived in Missouri most of my life. Yet somehow I completely missed the fact that Missouri has a thriving, beautiful and lush wine country just an hour or so outside of St. Louis. At least, that is until a couple of weekends ago. My charming friend Tara invited Joe and I to join her and her husband, Mike, to help celebrate Mike's 40th birthday this month. And celebrate we did.
We loaded up in their minivan, minus the kiddos plus enough food and Pinterest recipes for an army, and hit the road toward the quaint and welcoming small town of Hermann, Missouri. Three hours of catching up and talking in the car made the trip whiz by. We don't get the chance to spend as much time with Mike and Tara as we'd all like since they have two little girls under the age of three. Their time is filled with work and making meals and piles of laundry and bedtimes and tiny hugs and less tiny tantrums and next to no sleep. So it was great to have the chance to just talk and spend some adult time together all weekend. Adult time with wine. So much wine. And sleeping in. If 7:30am counts.
Tara rented a beautiful spot, the Spirit Hill Guest House for our weekend and had some surprises up her sleeve for Mike's birthday. In addition to Joe and I, Tara invited Mike's best friend Don and his wife Sara to fly in from their home in Washington, DC for the weekend. Mike had no idea when the four of us arrived that Don and Sara would be joining us later in the evening.
When we arrived at the house we unloaded the car, got a tour of the house from the owners, picked rooms, unpacked a bit and wandered around, rather gobsmacked about how gorgeous the house was. Recently renovated in 2010, every room was filled with bright clean lines, soothing color, bold art and carefully selected accessories. It was a wonderful space and perfect for our group. With a spectacular view from the top of a bluff down over rolling hills and the Missouri River, we walked around the manicured and landscaped grounds, took in the water features in the front and the back of the house and just got acclimated. The four of us scoped out a couple of places for dinner and drove around Hermann a bit, which like most small towns, pretty much closes up by 8:00pm.
We ended up at a local wings place called Wings A-Blazin', that was jam packed with people, always a good sign, plus a table full of police officers with sauce all over their faces, another good sign. The food and service were fantastic. We enjoyed some local beers, Tara got tipsy on one lonely strawberry daiquiri, and I fell in love with the Jamaican jerk chicken lips. The jerk sauce was tangy and perfect, all curry, rosemary and spices and the boneless chicken wings (lips) were juicy, frankly the best wings I've ever had. Plus homemade fries. If you ever find yourself in Hermann, please stop here, and have the jerk sauce. Please.
As we headed back to the house, Mike was starting to suspect something was going on. Tara kept teasing and taunting him, and by the time we got home, the surprise had arrived. Don and Sara flew in from DC, where Don had just flown in from a work trip to France. Needless to say, the poor guy was dealing with some serious jet-lag. Tara had made a late reservation for a port and chocolate tasting at the historic Alpenhorn Gasthaus just a few minutes away, so we grabbed jackets and drove over, while Don went to bed, hoping to catch up on some sleep before the rest of the weekend festivities.
Alpenhorn Gasthaus, owned and operated by Adrian and his wife Kate, is an historic property, built in the 1800's that has been everything from a brickyard, to a winery and now a Swiss style B&B. We didn't get a tour of the whole property, which includes the main house, two small guest houses, gardens and even goats. But we did spend the evening in their beautiful wine cellar, completely lit with candles and chandeliers. It was romantic and cozy and a perfect place for a port tasting.
I've never been much of a port drinker. It always seemed like a stuffy after dinner drink for titans of industry smoking cigars and speculating on gold prices or something. But I've been converted. Adrian was our host for the evening and lead us through the port tasting, which was part stand up comedy, part friendly chit chat and part wine class. Port is usually a sweeter red wine fortified with a type of brandy, and ranges in flavor. We tried five types of port, starting with ruby to vintage to tawny.
Starting with lighter ports that tasted more like wine, stronger ports that have a heavier brandy flavor, but the best part were the homemade chocolates that we had paired with the port. Adrian's wife makes the chocolates, which included small dark chocolate raspberry truffles, mini cupcakes and chocolate covered strawberries. They enhanced and complemented the flavors of the port. The atmosphere, the company, the port, it made for a memorable and delectable evening. And tiny sips of port and one glass of port makes for not too bad a hangover actually. No wonder the titans of industry enjoy it.
After the port tasting we went back to the house, sated and tired. Joe and I stayed up late chatting with Sara, who we'd only met once before, and talked about everything from therapy to running to travel. It was great getting to know her better. And then Joe and I finally headed to bed in our pretty little Asian themed room.
Up early the next morning, we bundled up and sat out on the deck overlooking the river, enjoying tasty french toast that Tara whipped up in the Crockpot (thank you, Pinterest), guzzled cups and cups of hot coffee, while Mike and Don opened their birthday gifts (wine from the Turning Old winery complete with personalized labels and themes) and we planned out our day. We decided to drive over to Augusta, which is another small winery town close to Hermann. We fell in love with a vintage port from the Augusta Winery the night before and decided we'd drive over and buy some for ourselves. And sample more wines. And then more wines. This is wine country, right?
Augusta Winery was small, but the service was impeccable. We tasted about five different wines, whites and red, and one delicious apple pie mulled wine, warm and spicy for the holidays. The weather was absolutely perfect. After we bought our wine and thanked our hostess at Augusta, we drove over for lunch at the Augusta Brewery. Sitting outside on a bluff overlooking the Katy Trail, we drank local beers, talked, enjoyed the view, ate some yummy food and just relaxed. Just sitting in the sun with nothing to do and nowhere in particular to be. It was perfect.
After our long lunch, we drove over to a larger winery, Montelle Winery that has an enormous outdoor deck. The wine was good, but I think because of the sheer number of people they deal with everyday, the service was a little brusque and condescending. No descriptions of the wine or smiles. Just, here, drink your free sips of wine, schmucks. We did. Then we bought some snacks, a few bottles, and popped one open on the deck and took in the view. Ignoring the mildly irritated wine lady, Montelle was worth it for the view alone. And the conversation eavesdropping. As we were in line waiting to buy our wine, Mike came up to Joe and told him that a big group of middle aged ladies, all animal prints and bedazzled T-shirts, asked if someone could take their photo. Of course, Mike offered Joe's services. Joe grudgingly went outside and found all twenty ladies ready for their close up. He gathered them together, asked them to smile, to which one of them quipped, "Smile, and say 'climax', ladies!" and her friend protested "Saying 'sex' is easier!"
Tittering, tipsy laughter ensued. And Joe proceeded to take their photo with five rounds of cameras and shouts of "Climax!"
After Joe pried himself away from the cougar clutches, we sat on the deck, drank like classy people from real glasses instead of the plastic cups, thanks to Sara's insistence, it really did make the wine taste better. And just enjoyed the fall leaves, the slight buzz, friends and blatant eavesdropping on the racy conversations of Joe's photo ladies.
After a day filled with eating, drinking, lazing about and just general relaxation and indulgence, we were exhausted. I mean, all that takes it out of a girl. A quick trip to the grocery store for provisions for dinner that night, and we drove back to the house, took naps, read, and walked around outside. Then Tara prepared a wonderful dinner of rosemary potato soup, fresh bread, Caesar salad, and about 100 other delicious things. We ate a late dinner, sat outside for a bit, listened to music, watched some sporting event on TV, and then called it an early night.
I got up early the next morning with plans to hit the road and sweat out some of the wine and work off a little potato soup. So I laced up my shoes, tucked my earphones in and ran around Hermann in the bright morning light. The weather was mild, the town was still asleep and I made it about two miles, with stops for photos and taking in the small town sights and beautiful old buildings, and spotted some antique stores for our afternoon plans.
I've never run in a new town before, it was wonderful. The time flew by and other than wanting to stop every five seconds to take a picture, it made me want to run every time we travel. It's such a different way to see a place and take in the streets. No traffic, no pedestrians, just me and Hermann, all alone. I loved it.
I loved it until the massive hill back up to our house tried to kill me. But thankfully I had coffee and vittles to look forward to on my way back.
Tara had breakfast taken care of again, of course, cinnamon rolls, some summer sausage and cheese, orange slices and of course Christmas cookies, courtesy of her mom. Again, we snacked and talked and enjoyed our last morning in Hermann. Our house was right next to an old cemetery, so after breakfast, Joe, Sara and I walked over to take a look at the old headstones, including some unusual wrought iron crosses and luminous white statues, and this stone wall with rounded masonry. I love old headstones and cemeteries, but moved on pretty quickly from one section when we realized it was the children's cemetery.
Headstones dating back to the mid-1800's, so worn that you could barely read the names.
Stones made to look like rugged wooden crosses.
And of course, Mary and baby Jesus, keeping watch over everyone. I loved her beatific face and the white stone of her draped robe against the blue, blue sky.
We showered, packed up the car, cleaned the house a bit, said goodbye to our lovely accommodations and then drove into Hermann for a little shopping.
Hermann has a great collection of little antique shops, art shops and restaurants. One of the strangest was an art co-op with beauties like that painting right up there. I want to hang it over my fireplace. You know you do too. We visited a few spots, while Mike and Don waited patiently outside most of them, but our favorite was The Golden Rhino.
Filled with all the best things, it was as if someone had gone through and carefully curated their own shop, Joe and I could have dropped a chunk of change in that place. Instead we bought a few little pieces and headed over the Hermann Wurst Haus for some sausages and traditional German side dishes for lunch on our way out of town.
We also hit a small shop that was actually part firefighter memorabilia museum and part antique shop. I've never seen so much cool firefighter themed stuff in my entire life.
After our shopping, and scrumptious lunch it was time to part ways with Don and Sara. We had a wonderful time getting to know them better, talking about Don's work and international travel, their families and Sara and I nerding out about our mutual love of books. I hope we all have the chance to hang out again soon. They headed to St. Louis to catch their flight and Tara, Mike and Joe and I hit the road back to Kansas City and back to reality.
Back to a land where drinking wine, laughing with friends on a broad deck under the fall foliage and eating chocolate all day is a rarity. A huge thanks to the lovely Tara for pulling this weekend all together. She is a consummate hostess and made everyone feel welcome, full with both wine and rich meals, and loved. So thanks again, my friend. It was a wonderful trip all around. When can we go back?
All photos by the intoxicating Joe Sands, except for a few I took when I wanted to stop running and catch my breath.