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Exploring Missouri's River Wine Trail

Rocheport B&Bs host "Celebrate Spring" wine tour weekend          

Imagine eating and drinking your way through the day while visiting wineries, listening to live entertainment, and making new friends who share your passion for indulging the senses. Dan and I reveled in this pleasure during the Missouri River Wine Trail’s 2nd annual “Celebrate Spring” weekend, April 3-4. The event featured food and wine pairings at five wineries, taking us through the scenic Missouri countryside from Rocheport to Jefferson City. Best of all, we had a designated driver!

We spent Lisa's grills shrimp for the receptionthe weekend at the School House Bed & Breakfast in Rocheport, a quintessential small town along the Missouri River. Our hosts, Mike and Lisa Friedemann, transformed the town’s historic schoolhouse into a luxurious B & B  that has certainly earned the A+ it gets from guests. The B & B is part of the Rocheport Bed and Breakfast Association which also takes in the Yates House and Amber House. The three often work together to promote Rocheport by bringing tourists to town for special events, such as the “Celebrate Spring” wine tour.

Dan and I have shared a special interest in Missouri wines since we visited the Hermann Wine Trail as impassioned amateurs in 1998. Besides that, we’re obsessed with fine foods, especially when complimented with wines, and we also have a penchant for posh lodging. So we had little doubt that the weekend would be special. We just didn’t know how special!

The celebration was kicked off Friday night with a welcome reception in the School House “faculty lounge.” Guests from the three B & Bs were treated to an array of gourmet delicacies paired with some nice wines Mike brought in from St. Genevieve’s Crown Valley Winery. The Riesling seemed to be a favorite, especially with the melon and prosciutto skewers. The grapefruity Sauvignon Blanc, with a hint of lime, and the earthy Chambourcin were a hit when paired with the barbequed shrimp and hummus dip. This casual mingling gave guests a chance to get acquainted before the tour, and by the time we had finished the last bottle of wine, the evening was bearing fruit of new friendships.

Shortly after breakfast on Saturday, a VIP luxury coach picked guests up at each B & B. And what a luxury it was to sit back and enjoy the ride as we rolled through the picturesque hills and valleys of Missouri’s wine country. There were 23 of us, including our hosts Mike Friedemann and Conrad and Dixie Yates from the Yates House. Although it was only 10 a.m., we were all ready to uncork the day. As Dan often says, “It must be 5 p.m. somewhere!”Conrad and Dixie check out award-winning wines at Summit Lake Winery, Holts Summit

Our first stop was Summit Lake Winery in Holts Summit which opened in 2002 on a bluff with a spectacular view of the Capital City skyline. We tucked ourselves into a semi-dry white, called Calloway Bluff, and a fruity Rosé. Both paired well with the Monterey chicken pasta served. We were also invited to sample their other classic wines and found the Lewis and Clark blend, with hints of grapefruit peel, also brought the pasta to life quite nicely.

Next stop, Native Stone Winery & Bull Rock Brewery, housed in a charming 19th century farmhouse nestled on the bluffs along the Lewis and Clark Trail. We walked through an old trellis, covered with grapevines, that beckoned me back to Grandma’s farm. Beneath the gaze of a spring sun, I was actually looking for a tire swing and thinking this is as good as it gets. But it got even better! Within minutes, Dan and I submerged ourselves in a jammy Chamborcin paired with pork tenderloins poised over golden nuggets of spätzle – all smothered in a Chamborcin reduction. We learned later that inventive chef Damon Crocker smoked the pork over grapevines. Although wNative Stone Winery, Jefferson Citye tend to favor Missouri Nortons, the complexity of this Chamborcin got our attention – and so did the spätzle which has danced on our palates in memory since our first visit to Germany several years ago. Along with the featured pairing, we were invited to taste an impressive lineup of award-winning wines – oh the generous pours!

Larry Stauffer, who opened the winery with his wife Cara in 1997, was sitting on the deck with friends, so we had the opportunity to chat with him a while. We learned that the farm has been in the Stauffer family since the 1960s. The winery was launched with a mere acre of Norton grapevines and has since expanded to several varietals. The adjacent brewery was named for “Bull Rock,” a nearby mineral formation that was mentioned in Lewis and Clark’s journals. Adventurous visitors can take a two-mile (round trip) walk that winds through the vineyards and on to the Missouri River and Bull Rock. Although we didn’t have time for the walk this trip, it’s definitely something we’d like to do in the future.

Shortly beforeMatt Henning offers generous pours at Native Stone our departure, Dan began obsessing over the winery’s Norton port. And once he started nibbling on chocolate he nearly missed the bus! As for me, I would’ve stayed on this charming farm until it was time to capture fireflies in one of Grandma’s fruit jars.

Before long, we pulled into Summit Lake Winery's satellite operation in Hartsburg, a little river town of 108 residents. Conrad said the town is renowned for its annual pumpkin festival which draws more than 25,000 visitors each year. As we stepped off the bus, I savored the tranquility on this Saturday morning. A little boy rode by on his bicycle, looking at us like we must be pretty important to be arriving on such a fancy bus. It was hard to imagine thousands of people descending on this little town.

By this time, it was warm enough to sit outside where a local band, Hickory Moon, played bluegrass tunes on the patio. We were offered two dessert wines, Red Rider and So Blue, to pair with a champagne grape parfait. I chose the fruity red, named after the Katy Trail a block away, and Dan had a pour of So Blue, a peachy white. Both had a sweet, thick finish and went down easy with the parfait. We could have listened to the band play all day, but more tasting adventures were waiting down the road.

TLes Bourgeois Bistro, Rocheporthe coach headed back to Rocheport where we relaxed on the elegant grounds of the Les Bourgeois Blufftop Winery which offers breathtaking views of the Missouri River Valley. Curtis and Martha Bourgeois purchased the property in 1974 and planted a “hobby” vineyard several years later. After a remarkable harvest in 1985, they decided to pursue a winemaking business. The winery, now managed by Curtis Bourgeois, Jr., has made its mark in Rocheport and includes a popular bistro and winegarden.

A local band served up some nice jazz as we enjoyed a hearty seafood & tomato stew enhanced with saffron and paired with a memorable Chardonel. Although it was a bit windy by mid afternoon, the sun still had a nice grip on the day, and a leisurely sit on the bluff was a must for many of us. The excellent combination of food, wine, spectacular views and friendly conversation invigorated the senses.

Les Bourgeois is perched just a few hundred feet above the Katy Trail (www.katytrailstatepark.com) so it makes an ideal lunch stop for bikers and hikers. When Dan and I walked the trail the previous day, we found the path lDan and friends Steve and Linda Baumgartner enjoy the bluff eading to the bistro an exhilarating climb, with a few brief stops to catch our breath of course. Believe me, the appetizers and sandwiches we had, washed down with a nice Chardonel, made it worth every step!

The celebration tour culminated at the Rocheport General Store which hosted Cooper’s Oak Winery, located in nearby Higbee. Sherrie and Dan Ingram, who own the old-fashioned store, spent the afternoon cooking a beef brisket doused with KC Masterpiece Barbecue Sauce, a local favorite. 

Our final match – this smoky-sweet beef and a delicate St. Vincent blend -- was spectacular! If you’re a barbecue aficionado, you must try this sauce! And if you like a medium-bodied wine with a toasty voice of its own, backed by dark cherry, keep an eye out for this 2006 St. Vincent!

Charlie Hargis, Cooper’s sales manager, was enthusiastic about sharing the winery’s history, especially the unique cooper shop on its premises. Dale Kirby of A & K Cooperage has been making wine barrels, mostly for California’s Napa and Sonoma wineries, for 42 years. His son Matt opened the Higbee winery two years ago and now helps make the barrels, all handcrafted from American white oak. Each barrel is toasted to the buyer’s specifications. Charlie shared another unique feature of the winery -- the town’s historic jail is actually built into the wine cellar.Food, fun, and Cooper's Oak wine at the General Store

The tour was winding down when Charlie insisted on a VIP tasting. He filled our glasses with an amazing Cabernet/Merlot blend called Toasted Oak, the winery’s best selling dry wine. A perfect finish to a perfect day!

We raised our glasses to toast this memorable food and wine adventure, new friends, and our B & B hosts who made the delightful journey possible. What a great way to celebrate the arrival of spring!

Note: Recipes for appetizers served at Friday night’s reception appear below.

For more information on Missouri Wine Country, see Brett Dufur's "Exploring Missouri Wine Country Guidebook," or visit www.pebblepublishing.com. For upcoming events, visit www.missouririverwinetrail.com

Summit Lake Winery, Holts Summit, (573) 896-9966, www.summitlakewinery.com

Native Stone Winery, Jefferson City, www.nativestonewinery.com

Summit Lake Winery, Hartsburg, (573) 356-0047, www.summitlakewinery.com

Les Bourgeois Winery, Rocheport, (573) 698-2133, www.missouriwine.com

Cooper’s Oak Winery, Higbee, (660) 456-7507, www.coopersoakwinery.com

Appetizers served at the “Celebrate Spring” reception

Marinated Grilled Shrimp with Spice Rub
(Compliments of Lisa Friedemann, School House)

24 extra large shrimp; 8 bamboo skewers soaked in water

For the Marinade:
1 cup olive oil
1/3 cup lemon juice
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 large cloves garlic, minced or put through a press
1 sliced shallot

For the Rub:
2 ½ T good quality paprika
2 T garlic powder
2 T mustard powder
1 T cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 T dry thyme, crumbled
1 T coarse salt or sea salt
1 tsp. dry oregano, crumbled

Combine the marinade ingredients in a non-reactive pan, such as a Pyrex baking dish. Add the shrimp. Toss to coat, cover and chill for 2-3 hours. Combine the dry spice rub ingredients in a bowl and set aside.  Remove the shrimp from the marinade and wipe off any pieces of garlic (which will burn on the grill).  Thread 3 shrimp onto each skewer.  Season with a pinch of the rub.  Heat barbecue or grill pan to medium high.  Grill the shrimp 2-3 minutes per side, just until bright pink – do not overcook.  Makes 8 appetizers.

Melon and Prosciutto Skewers
(Compliments of Chef Mary Schlueter, Amber House)

1 small cantaloupe, peeled, seeded and cut into 6 wedges
1 small honeydew, peeled, seeded and cut into 6 wedges
6 slices prosciutto, cut in half lengthwise
6 (8” size) skewers
Fresh mint (optional)

Cut the melon wedges in half crosswise.  Thread on each skewer in this order:  1 piece prosciutto, 1 piece cantaloupe, another piece of prosciutto and 1 piece honeydew.  (You can make 2 hours ahead.  Cover and chill.  Remove from refrigerator about 15 minutes before serving.)

Arrange skewers on platter or individual plates.  Drizzle with a little olive oil if you wish.  Garnish with fresh mint.  Serves 6 as a first course. (Photo by Thomas Sharenborg)

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