|"I think people feel they're walking back in time when they walk in because we're keeping everything original," says Lisa Brandt, tasting room/retail manager at Hermannhof Winery. The facility was established in 1852, and originally was the home of Kropp's Brewery.
For several years, Kropp's Brewery also served as a clearinghouse for wine. Local winemakers brought in their own wines to be blended. The story goes that they never left with as much as they came with because they drank so much while they were there. But, the winemaking part of the business was phased out after a few years and producing beer became the focus of the business. By the turn of the 20th century, the annual capacity was 4,000 gallons.
The cellars at Hermannhof Winery are unique. Some are built from stone and others from brick. The largest cellar in the series is dual construction using both materials. It has been documented that the bedrock in the cellar floors was once the northern-most point of the Gulf of Mexico. The winery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A spring on the hillside provides constant water flow through the cellars giving them a constant humidity, which eliminates evaporation and helps to maintain the quality of the wines.
The main winery building was converted into apartments when Prohibition forced the closing of the brewery. In 1976, Jim and Mary Dierberg of St. Louis purchased the building and started Hermannhof Winery. Having purchased The Hermann Bank in 1971, the Dierbergs were familiar with the Hermann area and wanted to give back something to the community. Wine lovers themselves, they knew the area was conducive to growing good grapes in the German tradition.
Hermannhof's vineyards are located high above the confluence of the Gasconade and Missouri rivers, an ideal location for grape growing. They were first planted in 1837 by Julius Ruediger, a notable winemaker of his day. His vintner's stone and log cabin still stands in Hermannhof's Little Mountain Vineyard where nearly 60 acres of grapes are planted.
Wine production at Hermannhof is about 46,000 gallons annually. White Lady, a German-style wine chosen by Ozark Airlines for their Wine Cellar in the Sky promotion, is the flagship wine. Sparkling wines are made in the classic French methode champenoise, and several wines are aged in white oak casks from Missouri and France.
Hermannhof is America's only two-time winner of the prestigious Brown Forman Trophy in Jerry D. Mead's New World International Wine Competition. Vignoles was the winning wine in the 1995 and 1997 competitions. The winery's list of award-winning wines is extensive, thanks to the efforts of Hermannhof's winemaker and general manager, Paul LeRoy, and his crew. Paul has been with the winery for many years and has been in charge of operations for more than a decade.
"People like the atmosphere at the winery. They love the old look," says Lisa. The grape-arbor covered patio provides cool shade on hot summer days, and the fireplace beckons guests to enjoy a picnic indoors during the winter months. Hermannhof offers a wide selection of locally-made sausages and cheese, fresh-baked bread, and brats mit kraut. When the temperatures drop, there's often a pot of soup simmering. A full line of wine-related items are available for sale.
One-half block from the winery is the Festhalle, a Bavarian-style wine hall that is said to be the largest in the U.S. It is open for special events and can be reserved for weddings and private parties. Next door to the winery is the former cooperage where beer barrels were made. This architecturally-beautiful structure currently houses The Tin Rabbit, a shop filled with traditional folk art and primitive antiques.
Located at 330 East First St., Hermannhof Winery is open year round from 10-5 Monday through Saturday and 11-5 on Sunday, except from Memorial Day to Labor Day when it is open until 6. Self-guided cellar tours are available daily. During festivals, guided tours are offered for $2. For additional information call 800-303-0100, or visit the website at www.hermannhof.com.