Copyright © 2013 by Ralph F. Couey
The WeinstrasseJefferson City, MO – St. Charles, MO
140 miles, mainly US 50, Routes 100 and 94
When the words “Missouri Wine Country” are spoken, most people react with a blank stare, and if they’re from Napa, California, outright derision. But as John Adams once remarked, “Facts are stubborn things.” And the facts are these.
German settlers arrived in the area around 1801. The soil was rich, but the abundant hills in the area made agriculture difficult, but proved to ideal for viticulture. The first commercial grapes were grown prior to 1850. Napa got its start about 10 years later. Up till Prohibition, Missouri was actually the second largest wine producer in the United States. When the 21st Amendment was ratified, the vintner industry throughout the U.S. was pretty much destroyed. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the industry began to rebuild itself.
The Federal Government, recognizing the rebirth and vibrancy of American vintners, in 1983 began to establish American Viticultural Areas. The first one was in Missouri, not California.
Start this trek in Missouri’s capital city, Jefferson City, the only American capitol city not on an interstate highway. Head east on US 50 for just under 15 miles to the town of Loose Creek. There you take a left on County Route A.
The next 6.5 miles is sheer motorcycle joy. Route A has several deeply-dished right-angle turns, most of which have excellent visibility all the way through. Hazards here include critters and farm vehicles. Route A ends as you coast down a steep hill into Bonnots Mill. It’s a quiet town, somewhat quaint, lying along the Osage River, which parallels the Missouri River just before joining the Big Muddy just east of town. If you want a meal (and it’s after 3:00 p.m.) Johnny Mac’s Bar and Grill fills the bill. Known for their barbecue, the rest of the menu, while unremarkable, is all good, tasty stuff. If you just need a cool drink, there’s a grocery store with a large and inviting veranda owned by some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet.
Climb the steep hill out of Bonnots Mill and turn left on County Route C. This road is just as squiggly as Route A, but unfortunately the visibility is more restricted through those turns. And the road is on a ridge with no shoulders and steep drop-offs on either side, so close attention to navigation is highly recommended. 8 miles along, you pass through a small 30-souls town called Frankenstein. Despite its prepossessing name, the town is not named after Bram Stoker’s monster, but rather a wealthy German, Gottfried Franken, who donated land to build a church. There is still a rather large Catholic parish here.
Three miles further on, you leave Route C at Luystown and pick up State Route 100 with a left turn. As you pull away from the river, the steep hills give way to rolling countryside, dotted with farms and the occasional abandoned mansion. After 9 miles, the hills go away and you’re on dead flat land alongside the Missouri River. Route 100 also goes straight here, with only a could hard curves to deal with. The urge to open ‘er up here is nigh irresistible, but know that the local constabulary takes a dim view of motorcyclists who speed. You pass through several small towns – Chamois (pronounced Sha-moy), Morrison, and Gasconade before the road starts to climb again, weaving gently between picturesque hills and farms. Fencelines are right along the road, so you will find yourself being eyed by various species of four-legged beasts as you roar by.
Shortly, you’ll enter the town of Hermann.
The downtown area has a number of restaurants and shops that may interest you, but the big draw are the wineries. There are several nearby, Hermannhof, Oak Glen, and Adam Puchta, but my favorite is Stone Hill. It sits perched on nearly the highest point in town, and is a great place to break from the road. Here, you can take a winery tour, sample the local wines, eat a good meal, and relax under the shade of a tree while you drink and take in the view.
In town, there are 23 restaurants (if you count Hardee’s and Subway) of mainly German cuisine. My personal favorite is Montague’s Barbecue, and not just because it rhymes. The food is good, the service great, and they love motorcyclists. If you are in town in March, you need to attend the Wurst Fest. This is a sausage competition, and you get to wind your way through two large buildings and sample dozens of different kind of sausages, and buy the ones you like. They used to have an Oktoberfest, but it was canceled, or at least de-emphasized after several ugly incidents involving drunk visitors and the local gendarmes.
You leave Hermann by crossing the Missouri River on State Route 19 over a modern concrete and steel reinforced bridge which replaced the ancient narrow bridge that flexed mightily whenever the Big Rigs came across. Two miles along, turn right onto State Route 94.
Missouri 94 is known as The Weinstrasse, or the Wine Road. It’s here that you enter the designated AVA. The road winds along the banks of the Missouri while many wineries perch on the bluffs above. Marthasville, Dutzow, Augusta, and Matson mark this route. It’s a pretty ride, and the many opportunities to stop along the way make it an entertaining one as well.
About 70 miles along this road, you’ll arrive in St. Charles. Route 94 continues on to the Illinois line, but this makes a good stopping point.
St. Charles was founded in 1765, making it the oldest settlement west of the Mississippi. It was initially a stop for the fur trade, but grew in economic importance, due to its proximity to the River. Lewis and Clark stopped here in 1804, calling it “the last civilized stop.” As the area was shifted between Spain and France, it was known alternately as San Carlos and Saint Charles. When Missouri became a state in 1821, St. Charles was its first capital city, a distinction it held until 1826 when the permanent capital was built in Jefferson City.
Today, the history is preserved in a district that stretches for 10 blocks (about three-quarters miles) along Main Street. It’s filled with restaurants, shops, museums, all well worth a visit.
Twisties, hills, wine, and history. Not a bad way to spend a day. Or an entire weekend.