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Exploring Midwestern vineyards and wine trails

Visitors enjoying an early fall day at Hermann’s Stone Hill Winery. Photo courtesy

Sipping a dry white wine, I surveyed the neat rows of grapes at Noboleis Vineyards. A few couples strolled around the hilltop location, caught up in conversation and a rare chance to slow down and savor. Birds sang in an old mulberry tree nearby, and a red bird hopped among the vines. It was a picture-perfect moment of serenity.

This might sound like a scene from California’s Napa Valley, but I was in Missouri.

Noboleis Vineyards in Augusta, located along one of Missouri’s 9 industry-designated wine trails, is one of about 130 wineries in the state. While most people don’t associate winemaking with the Midwest, a bounty of wineries across Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana are especially inviting in the fall when crisp days beckon people to linger outside.

Augusta’s rebirth

Group toasting wine glasses while seated outside at Augusta Winery.

An autumn gathering at Augusta Winery. Photo courtesy

Augusta was the country’s first American Viticultural Area (AVA), or wine grape–growing region; now Missouri has 5 of them. Its designation in June 1980 predated Napa Valley’s appointment by 8 months. And while Augusta has a long winemaking history that goes back to the 19th century, it’s in the midst of a historic transformation.

Hoping to turn Augusta into an even more robust wine-tourism destination, billionaire David Hoffmann, who grew up in nearby Washington, and his Hoffmann Family of Companies are investing $150 million in the area. 

Group playing a lawn game on the grass at Augusta Winery.

Guests of Augusta Winery enjoying a late summer day in the outdoor wine terrace. Photo courtesy Hoffmann Family of Companies

He purchased several wineries and other Augusta businesses; brought a luxury yacht to the Missouri River for scenic tours; and plans to build a 12-hole golf course, amphitheater, and hotels in the region. On Saturdays from spring through fall, a free trolley takes visitors around Augusta to Hoffmann-owned businesses, including wineries.

To explore Augusta and the Missouri Weinstrasse (German for “wine trail”), follow State Highway 94 west from Interstate 64 and stop first in Defiance, where you’ll find 3 wineries: Defiance Ridge Vineyards, Chandler Hill Vineyards, and Sugar Creek Winery.

While in the area, don’t miss the Historic Daniel Boone Home at Lindenwood Park. Built by Boone’s son, Nathan, the home is part of a historic village that represents life on Missouri’s frontier in the early 19th century.

Outside seating area at Balducci Winery.

Augusta’s handful of wineries includes Balducci Vineyards. Photo courtesy Hoffmann Family of Companies

Farther west on Highway 94 is the town of Augusta, incorporated in 1855. Stop at the visitors center on Walnut Street for information on local shops, restaurants, and lodging. You’ll find Augusta Winery, Balducci Vineyards, Montelle Winery, and Mount Pleasant Estates in town, while Noboleis Vineyards is just west of Augusta.

Women enjoying tasting flights inside the Noboleis Winery tasting room.

At Noboleis Vineyards, sample wine flights on the lawn, under a tented pavilion, or in an indoor seating area. Photo courtesy Greater Saint Charles Convention & Visitors Bureau

Noboleis was founded in 2005 when its owners purchased the land and planted Norton, Chambourcin, Traminette, and Vignoles grapes. The winery now produces more than 20 varietals. Pair a selection of 4 tastings ($10) with a signature pizza ($15–$22) and take in panoramic views of the rolling vineyards from the lawn or while seated in the shade of a tented hilltop pavilion.

You may also like: Top things to do in Augusta, Missouri

More Missouri wine

Couple and tour guide surrounded by wine barrels in the Stone Hill Winery cellar.

Stone Hill Winery offers tours that include its underground cellars. Photo courtesy

Continue west for about 37 miles to reach the charming town of Hermann, settled in 1837 by Germans from Pennsylvania. Winemaking became an important industry here. In fact, Stone Hill Winery, which opened in 1847, was one of the country’s largest wineries prior to Prohibition.

The Hermann Wine Trail connects 7 wineries in the Hermann AVA, including Adam Puchta Winery, whose founding in 1855 makes it one of the country’s oldest continuously owned family-farm wineries.

Throughout the year, the wine trail sponsors events that showcase complementary foods, including the popular Holiday Fare Wine Trail (November 18 and 19) and the Say Cheese Wine Trail (December 9). These events, which often sell out, cost $35 per person and include a wineglass.

Trees in fall colors in Hermann, Missouri.

Situated in the Missouri River Valley, Hermann bursts with color in the fall. Photo courtesy

The Ozark Mountain AVA in southern Missouri encompasses more than 3.5 million acres and extends into northwest Arkansas and northeast Oklahoma. The Ozark Mountain Wine Trail leads to wineries such as 7Cs Winery in Walnut Grove and Christine’s Vineyard near Joplin.

In south-central Missouri, the Ozark Highlands AVA includes the popular St. James Winery, which was established in 1970. Among the notable wineries along the Meramec River Wine Trail is Peaceful Bend Winery in Steelville.

Crate of freshly picked wine grapes at Stone Hill Winery.

Fall signals harvest time in the Missouri wine country vineyards, including at Stone Hill Winery. Photo courtesy Stone Hill Winery

Characterized by rolling hills and soil rich with loess—windblown sediment that allows grapevines to thrive—the Loess Hills District AVA in northwest Missouri is the state’s newest viticultural area, designated in 2016. Although there are no Missouri wineries in this AVA, follow the Loess Hills Wine Trail to explore several in western Iowa.

You may also like: Things to do in Hermann, Missouri

Prairie State pours

Couple wandering among growing grapes at Blue Sky Vineyard.

Blue Sky Vineyard crafts wine from its own vineyards and others in southern Illinois. Photo courtesy Illinois Office of Tourism

Winemaking in Illinois dates to 1691, according to the Illinois Grape Growers & Vintners Alliance. Illinois has 2 AVAs, although the state boasts 8 wine trails to explore. The newest trail, Heart of Illinois, debuted this year and includes 9 wineries between Petersburg and the northern trail point in Lewistown.

Shawnee Hills became the state’s first AVA in 2006, and its wine trail has grown to include 11 wineries in the Prairie State’s southernmost region. Wineries along the trail host wine-and-food pairings in summer and fall that are part of a busy events calendar.

Blue Sky Vineyard employee pouring a red wine inside the tasting room.

A couple sampling varietals at the Tuscan-inspired Blue Sky Vineyard. Photo courtesy Illinois Office of Tourism

Experience a bit of Tuscany in the hills of Makanda at Blue Sky Vineyard, which opened in 2005. Among the winery’s large selection, its 2021 Vignoles took the top prize for white table wines at the 2022 Illinois State Fair Wine Competition.

Overhead view of Peachbarn Winery & Cafe.

Peachbarn Winery & Café serves its estate-grown wines at its renovated barn. Photo courtesy Peachbarn Winery & Café

Located on a 19th-century peach orchard in nearby Alto Pass, Peachbarn Winery & Café features traditional red and white wines along with peach wines made from fruit grown on-site. One of the peach vintages (Peach Fuzz) grabbed the Governor’s Cup for best fruit wine at the 2021 Illinois State Fair.

Illinois’ second wine-growing area—the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA—is the country’s largest, encompassing parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Other Illinois trails include Carlyle Lake, Mississippi Valley, and Wabash Valley.

You may also like: Uncork fall fun at these wineries and wine trails

Hoosier hospitality

Lanthier Winery and Distillery seen from the street.

Lanthier Winery and Distillery is located in a restored building, portions of which date to the 1700s, that was once used as a trading post. Photo courtesy Visit Indiana

In southeast Indiana, Switzerland County claims to be the home of the country’s first successful commercial winery. Swiss immigrant Jean-Jacques Dufour came to what was then Indiana Territory at the start of the 19th century and planted his first vines.

The wine industry thrived in this area until the Civil War, when neglect and disease ravaged the vineyards. Prohibition hindered wineries and vineyards that tried to make a comeback, but the industry surged again in the 1960s.

Bottle of Lanthier Winery's Traminette, a semi-sweet white wine.

Lanthier Winery and Distillery offers several varietals, including its semi-sweet Traminette. Photo courtesy Lanthier Winery and Distillery

Today, the Indiana Wine Trail connects 3 wineries in and around Switzerland County, including Lanthier Winery and Distillery in Madison. Enjoy free tastings in a lovely French country garden, where some of the surrounding buildings date to the 1700s. Tours are available, and a variety of events are sprinkled throughout the year.

During the Spirit of the Season celebration (November 1 to December 25), sample holiday wines in addition to Kris Kringle vodka made in the on-site distillery.

Large German-style pretzel served alongside a charcuterie platter and wine.

Sample German-inspired wines and food at Winzerwald Winery. Photo courtesy Winzerwald Winery

A wine trail in the Indiana Uplands AVA leads to the state’s oldest winery, Oliver Winery in Bloomington. In addition to using grapes, the winery incorporates blackberries, apples, cherry juice, and orange blossom honey into its wines.

The Indiana Uplands Wine Trail spotlights 9 wineries, including Winzerwald Winery in Bristow. Sample a collection of German- and Swiss-style wines here, including a cranberry glühwein that’s delightful around the holidays. Winzerwald even makes a pumpkin spice white wine.

Winzerwald celebrates gemütlichkeit, German for “hospitality, friendliness, and comfort”—which all of these Midwestern wineries serve in abundance. On these trails, you’ll find a tantalizing mix of wine, food, and history—and that’s something to toast.

You may also like: Scenic byways you absolutely should drive

Cherry on top

Cherry Republic wines

At Cherry Republic locations across Michigan, sample fruity wines crafted from state-grown cherries. Photo courtesy Cherry Republic

Known as the Fruit Belt, west Michigan’s Wine Coast is home to numerous wineries and orchards. While exploring charming lakeside towns, be on the lookout for one of the region’s tastiest creations—cherry wine.

Michigan grows 70% of the country’s supply of tart cherries, according to the state’s agriculture council. Cherries are harvested in July and August, and one of the products these dark-red beauties turn into is wine. Ripe cherries are fermented in stainless steel tanks to create a fruity wine that pairs well with cheese, fruit, and barbecue. It’s best served chilled.

Among the places to sample this bounty is Cherry Republic, which celebrates the state’s cherries through wine and a variety of products. At locations in Glen Arbor, Charlevoix, Holland, Frankenmuth, Ann Arbor, and Traverse City, tasting rooms offer samples of the full-flavored, refreshing vintage. It’s like cherry pie in a glass.

Be sure to designate a driver if you plan to drink alcohol.

Deborah Reinhardt of St. Louis is an award-winning freelance writer specializing in food and travel.

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