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"If penicillin can cure those that are ill, Spanish sherry can bring the dead back to life." Sir Alexander Fleming, Scotisscientist, Nobel Prize for the discovery of penicillin1881-1955.


Missouri’s Wienstrasse

Winery Insight Featured Article - October 2005 by Timothy O. Rice


When the Europeans came to America, they tried to plant vineyards and make wine.  To their disgust, the vines withered and died from unknown causes.  Generation after generation struggled, sure that it only required the right European grape variety or the land over the next hill to solve the problem.  All failed to find the solution, because they were fighting enemies they could not see: phylloxera and other American pests and diseases.


Others sought to work with native American varieties, but were put off by the “foxy” taste of most native grapes.  Only the determination of Nicholas Longworth created an American wine industry in the Ohio Valley in the 1840s with the Catawba grape –and that area fell prey to disease as the Civil War struck.


Fortunately, others were at work.  In Germany in 1833, a man named Friedrich Muench was a leader in the Giessen Black Society, a political group opposed to the backlash against liberalism in the German states after Napoleon’s overthrow.  He and others decided to emigrate to America.  Their idea was to set up one or more states within the US, Germanic in nature, loosely affiliated with the Federal government, and use them to prepare for a revolution in Germany.  It seemed like a good idea from where they sat in Germany, but America was a bit different than they thought when they got there.  The group swiftly fell apart.


Friedrich Muench and his friend Paul Follen moved on, bringing a group of countrymen with them, to settle in Warren County, Missouri.  Follen died young, but Muench had found his home.  In the years that followed, he became a prosperous and well-respected man, a poet, a farmer, a state senator, and a wine connoisseur.  After the Revolutions in Europe in 1848-49, he was prominent in organizing immigration societies to bring more German settlers to the Missouri country.


That country was rapidly becoming wine country.  The German settlers saw the high bluffs and thought of the Rhine.  Difficult to farm for most crops, they seemed perfect for vineyards.  One of those places was Hermann, founded in 1837, where the trustees of the German Settlement Society sold tracks of land with the proviso that they would be planted as vineyards.


The later generation was a little wilder in their political views after the bloodshed in Europe.  There was some difficulty on attitudes, but they all seem to have liked wine.  By 1859, Muench’s “American Grape Culture” was published.  Germans in Missouri sang his songs in their halls, including his “Catawba Song” with the refrain:


O brothers far on the Rhine

If only you were here with us

If you, too, drank Missouri wine

If you were free, free like us!


As the Civil War came, Missouri was becoming the prime wine producing state in the country.  War devastation set her back, but growth returned.  By 1919, there were more than 100 wineries in Missouri.  By the end of Prohibition, only one was still in business: St. Stanislaus Seminary, selling sacramental wine.  Some wineries tried to restart, but little came of it for the next few decades. 


Stone Hill Winery reopened in 1965, followed by Mount Pleasant Winery.  Just as in other areas, wineries began to start up again in the 1970s as American tastes changed.  By 1980, Augusta became the first official American Viticultural Area, with Hermann following as the second in 1983.  In 2005, Missouri has 64 wineries, a great many concentrated along Highway 94 between Defiance and Marthasville.  The density here has led to the highway being called the Weinstrasse (the wine road).


For the most part, Missouri is known for their success with American varietals and French-American hybrids.  Concord, Catawba, Vignoles, Seyval and Chambourcin are all well-known there.  Their greatest and most unusual success is said to be from the Norton grape, which many consider the only native American varietal to make good red table wine.


What about Friedrich Muench, you say?  While old Nicholas Longworth in the Ohio dismissed the Norton, Muench said it was worth millions to Missouri and that “when three or four years old, is hardly to be surpassed.”  I wonder what he would say to us today, if he could taste the current vintages.


Friedrich Muench  passed away in 1881, while pruning his vineyards, at the age of 82. 


 Last modified: August 07, 2007