Worth the Trip: Clay & Ray County Wineries

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Did you know that Missouri wine saved French vineyards?

Or how about the fact that Napa, California was the second US designated wine district in America, garnering that distinction three years after Augusta, Missouri. Does it surprise you to know that by 1900, Missouri was home to the third largest winery in the world? If you’re a Missouri wine bu , you might know these things. But to the rest of us, the story of Missouri wines holds a few surprises.

As German immigrants began to settle Missouri, they found the terrain along the Missouri river to be ideal for grape growing.  e town of Hermann was home to the  rst wine produced in the state in 1846. A year later, Stone Hill Winery was founded and grew into the second largest winery in America and third largest in the world, producing one million gallons of wine a year.

During this time, Missouri wines dominated the world scene earning eight gold medals at world’s fairs. And, when Missouri entomologist Charles V. Riley identi ed the louse devastating French vineyards in the 1870s, it was rootstock of Missouri grapes, shipped by the millions, which saved the French wine industry.

It was Prohibition more than any other factor that eroded the  ourishing wine industry in Missouri. By 1920 Missouri was home to over 100 wineries, but legislation criminalizing the production and consumption of alcohol obliterated the trade. Stone Hill Winery, once an international giant, was forced to destroy all of their vineyards.

And, so too popular Independence wine makers such as Sha er’s Winery and Lohse’s Native Wine Garden. Even after the repeal of the act in 1934, Missouri wine growers struggled to rise again due to restrictive alcohol fees and taxes in a state where many counties continued to be legally dry.  e good news is that today Missouri is home to 128 wineries, three of which we feature here as worth the trip.

Part of the Northwest Missouri Wine Trail, Belvoir Winery in Liberty, Fence Stile Vineyards & Winery in Excelsior Springs, and Van Till Family Farm Winery in Rayville o er a variety of activities and plenty of great wine. From point to point, you’ll travel 30 miles through the rolling countryside of Clay and Ray counties. Since Van Till is closed on Sundays, we recommend you set out early on a Friday evening or take a leisurely Saturday drive.

Van Till Family Farm Winery
13986 State Highway C
Rayville, Missouri

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It might sound odd, but the best thing about this winery might just be the pizza. Owners Cliff and Debbie Van Till have found their niche somewhat by accident. Several years ago, the Van Tills put out a sign announcing pizza at the winery that night. Thanks to very low over night temperatures, the sign was stuck in the ground. “Pizza Tonight” lived another day. Several years later, Friday and Saturday pizza in the wine garden continues to flourish.

The Van Tills planted their vineyards in 2006 and started making wine three years later. While new to both Missouri and wine making, the couple had spent their lives bringing wholesome food to their community. In California, they raised organic vegetables and almonds and sold baked goods made with organic flour at a farm market in San Francisco. When they migrated to Missouri, they brought with them the entire bakery setup and founded Rayville Baking Co. Now they have a proprietary pizza crust made with organic grain, they grow many of the vegetables used for their pizzas, and they make all of their own salad dressings using non-GMO ingredients.

Enjoy it all in their exquisite wine garden. And, save room for the carrot cake.

Belvoir Winery
1325 Odd Fellows Road
Liberty, Missouri

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When you catch your first sight of the historic building that is now Belvoir Winery, you might find yourself thinking of Downtown Abbey or Hogwarts. Its Jacobean Revival architectural style was popular for educational and institutional buildings designed by William Ittner of St. Louis at the turn of the century. Built in 1900 by the International Order of Odd Fellows, it served as a children’s home and nursing home to the orphans and widows of the fraternal organization’s members.

In 1993, Dr. John Bean and his wife Marsha purchased the building and grounds with the dream of turning it into a vineyard, winery, and bed & breakfast. The next year they planted their vineyards. This summer will see the fruition of another part of their dream when a nine-room inn opens on the third floor of the building.

In addition to free wine tastings, a number of special events are hosted at Belvoir. You might have seen the site on Ghost Hunters. A hotbed of ghostly activity, the winery hosts the Strange Escapes weekend in early April and periodic ghost hunts. If ghosts aren’t your thing, how about murder? Monthly murder mystery dinners feature a multi-course meal, two drinks, and an unforgettable evening of entertainment in a one of a kind setting.

Fence Stile
Vineyards & Winery

31010 W 124th Street
Excelsior Springs, Missouri

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Owners Shriti and William Plimpton and their lovely Goldendoodle, Becca, will greet you at Fence Stile. Located just outside of Excelsior Springs, this destination features a large patio and a breeze. Always a breeze. In fact, that breeze is integral to the health of the vineyard. In humid Missouri, plants are vulnerable to molds. Shriti looked at 57 properties before finding just the right place. High elevation, sloping terrain, and low-lying areas allow the vineyard to exist in a symbiotic relationship with nature. Nearly a third of the acreage is wooded, providing a natural habitat for bluebirds, wild turkeys, red-tailed hawks, and bats.

By working with nature, the Plimptons have been able to avoid the regular use of pesticides and fungicides in their vineyards. Fence Stile wines are featured in several KC area restaurants. They intentionally feature drier wines than are typically found in Missouri. After a free tasting, you can pair a bottle with a snack of local cheeses and meats while taking in a movie. Fence Stile’s Friday Night Wine-In Movie on the patio or Saturday’s local singer-songwriter gigs ensure a great visit. On cooler nights, gather around the fire pit and enjoy the quiet countryside. Visitors are always welcome to bring their own picnic

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