Missouri’s Rhineland—Old World Traditions in a New World Setting

Story and Photos by Dorothea S. Michelman

Just 45 minutes southwest by car from St. Louis, Missouri, an enchanting vista unfolds before you: verdant hills and valleys dotted with picture book farms and cows contentedly grazing, while the Missouri River flows past, a wide sparkling band of silver winding through the landscape. Aptly nicknamed “Missouri’s Rhineland,” it’s no surprise that early nineteenth-century German pioneers settled down in this region, poignantly reminded of the home they had left across the sea. One reminder which took root in the fertile soil and favorable climate of the Missouri River Valley was the tradition of winemaking and, in fact, these new Missourians were so successful in their endeavor that today’s Highway 94 is also known, officially, as the “Missouri Weinstrasse.”

Nineteenth-century America’s second–largest wine-growing region after Ohio, the area’s fine wines enjoyed national renown until Prohibition brought a halt to winemaking. It was not until the 1960s and 1970s that viniculture was re-established here, bringing new vitality to both agriculture and the tourist industry.

Missouri today is home to 35 wineries, four of which—Sugar Creek, Montelle, Augusta and Blumenhof—form a “wine line,” all nestled conveniently close to one another along the two-lane Weinstrasse, or Wine Road, which runs parallel to the Katy Trail and travels through rolling hillsides and deep valleys to bring you a spectacular feast for the eyes as well as the palate. Whether you’re a wine enthusiast, hungry hiker, thirsty tourist—these family-owned wineries have a joint “passport program,” with prizes attached for visiting all four. Tours, tastings, and scenic terraces await you, perfect for enjoying a hearty meal of locally produced cheeses, sausages, and freshly baked bread, accompanied of course by award-winning Wein. During the months of May, June, September and October you’ll hear afternoon delights of brass bands and other musical presentations from jazz to blues, and rock. July and August temperatures pose too great a challenge for outdoor concerts, but the wineries welcome visitors year round.

` Traveling through the town of Defiance, the Weinstrasse brought me to our first stop the Sugar Creek Winery. Vineyards of French and American hybrid grapes surround the turn-of-century Victorian home, whose parlor is used as the tasting room. What a pity that I wasn’t there on a weekend, for the Sugar Creek Winery gazebo offers musical afternoons on weekends from April through October. However, I consoled myself with the prospect of a visit to the next winery, and journeyed on to Montelle with its spectacular view of the Missouri, the village of Augusta and neighboring farms and vineyards. Here, visitors are invited to sample the wines, tour the winery, and stroll through the vineyards. A selection of cheeses, sausages and breads is available, but picnickers are also welcome to bring their own lunch.

Next to the historic village of Dutzow, founded by Baron von Bock in 1832 and botplace of Missouri’s Rhineland and its oldest permanent German settlement. A Swiss-style chalet houses the Blumenhof Winery, which takes its name, in German “Court of Flowers,” from the Blumenhof family’s ancestral farm in the Harz region. Their German heritage is also reflected in the warm, cozy atmosphere, the Gemütlichkeit which, as the owners say, invites the visitor to “stop…and smell the Blumen.” It is certainly an invitation hard to refuse, and so I lingered awhile before heading onwards to Augusta Winery, whose specialty is red wine. With a stunning view from the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River Valley, even the most dedicated white wine aficionado can easily be persuaded to drive, bike or hike to the town of Augusta, founded in 1836 by one of Daniel Boone’s followers, and primarily settled by German homesteaders.

The German settlements reach back to 1801, when naturalist Gottfried Duden arrived in the area. Duden’s writings on local flora and fauna, including his ecstatic praise of the wild grapes which grew in the woods, and above all his book Eine Reise zu den westlichen Staaten von Nordamerika {A Journey to the Western states of North America} inspired many a German to venture the ocean crossing for a new life in what was at that time the gateway to the frontier.

The small town of Washington, established in 1839, is a popular springboard to the Weinstrasse. The first German settlers to arrive, twelve families from North Rhine Westphalia, were soon followed by a wave of fellow immigrants in the 1840s and 1850s. The town’s vibrant German contribution is reflected in its buildings, from German Classical Revival style brick buildings to the family names on historical markers.

A walk through Washington history will lead you to the Turnvereinbau (Turner Society Hall), as well as to cozy old homes enjoying new lives as galleries, boutiques, restaurants and antique shops. Visiting one small shop, I discovered a time-worn picture with the saying “I”h und mein Haus wollen dem Herrn dienen” “I and all my houae will serve the Lord.”

With 60 to 70 percent of its inhabitants descendants of these early settlers, the town of Washington is understandably proud of its German heritage. A new link between the U.S. and Germany has been forged thanks to the efforts of Washington and Marbach, its sister city, which together have organized exchanges for all ages—with one recent participant a youthful 84—as well as travel programs, festivals, and internships.

For further information about Washington and the Missouri Weinstrasse, please contact the Chamber of Commerce at 301 West Front Street, Washington, Missouri 63090; phone: toll-free in the U.SA: 1-888/7WASHMO, or 1-800-877-1234 (Missouri State Tourism Office;; Internet address: www.washmo.org

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