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Columnist
Wine, food and music are heavenly match in Hermann
By Mike Michaelson | Daily Herald Columnist

Cajun dancers in colorful costumes not only perform for the crowd, they teach others their tricky dance steps.

 

Grandchildren of Jim and Betty Held, owners of Stone Hill Winery, join in the grape stomp charity event, right.

 

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Published: 6/7/2008 11:56 AM

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Chilled wine and zesty Cajun dishes, such as jambalaya, adouille sausage and red beans and rice -- it's a match made in … well, in Missouri, in the picturesque river valley town of Hermann.

Find it -- along with authentic Cajun music and dancing -- at Stone Hill Winery at the 19th Annual Cajun Concert on the Hill. Scheduled for July 11-13, it is one of three major summer events at the winery which, in a region clustered with boutique wineries, is a major player.

Perched dramatically atop a hill where vineyards climb toward the three-story 1869 Federal-style main building, Stone Hill is Missouri's oldest and most widely recognized winery. It also is the state's second-largest, producing about 100,000 cases annually.

Recording artist Ed Gary and the Louisiana Cajun Aces will make the trek from the Louisiana bayous to perform the three-day Cajun concert at Hermann. They play irresistible, toe-tapping music that draws thousands of fans from far and wide as the event has evolved into a major summertime happening.

Known as "true Cajun," the band released to glowing reviews in 1999 its first compact disk titled "Cajun All-Time Favorites." The band's 2002 recording "C'est la vie" was nominated by the Cajun French Music Association as the best recording of the year in 2003 and Ed Gary was nominated for vocalist of the year.

The band's authentic Cajun music ranges from slow, poignant waltzes to heart-pounding, rug-cutting two-steps. Cajun dancers accompanying the band encourage guests to join in and learn the tricky steps to their dances. Free dance lessons are offered to pavilion ticket holders one hour before each concert.

Popular Cajun dishes such as gumbo and catfish are available in the pavilion. A more extensive menu is offered at Vintage restaurant, located next to the winery. Sunday afternoon brings a costumed Mardi Gras parade through the winery grounds (complete with traditional strings of colorful beads).

Next up is the 31st Annual Great Stone Hill Grape Stomp (Aug. 9). Color it purple. Or maybe green, since cash prizes are offered in five age categories.

Guests may register to stomp to the upbeat folk sounds of the Boney Goat Band or simply sit on the hill and cheer on the stompers. The latter are judged on the amount of juice produced and on "stomping style" (which includes some wild and crazy costumes and stomping techniques).

With the current interest in ballroom dancing fueled by such popular television shows as "Dancing With the Stars," you can bet that the 14th Annual Big Band Dance at Stone Hill Winery (Aug. 23, 8 p.m.) is another major event. It features the Blue Knights, a 12-piece orchestra from St. Louis returning for an encore presentation of "Swing's the Thing." Couples strut their stuff on the dance floor as the band performs chart-topping works by such swing-era favorites as the Dorseys, Count Basie and Glenn Miller.

Before Prohibition shuttered its wineries, Missouri was the second-largest wine-producing state in the Union, with no fewer than 100 wineries in this region alone. As early as the 1880s, it was producing 2 million gallons of wine annually (surpassed only by New York).

Originally established by German immigrants in 1847, Stone Hill was reopened in 1965 by Jim and Betty Held, who produced the first commercial wines in Missouri following the repeal of Prohibition. Its wines frequently are recognized for excellence and have captured more than 3,200 medals since 1993.

The winery offers tastings, as well as tours of its vast network of cavernous arched cellars. These are said to be the largest series of underground cellars in North America.

As always, the winery is ready to showcase Norton, Missouri's premier native grape variety.

"Norton wines from Missouri have been winning gold medals at international competitions since before Prohibition," says Patty Held-Uthlaut, who, along with two siblings, earned degrees in enology and viticulture and joined the family business. "Some of our Norton vines are more than a century old," she says.

Stone Hill Winery owns seven separate vineyards totaling 157 acres, six of which are within the Hermann Viticultural Appellation. With a commanding view of the town, the 13-acre complex includes the stately main building, the 161-year-old cellars and Vintage, a restaurant converted from a restored carriage house and horse barn that features German cuisine and steaks.

Hermann, tucked into the green hills and limestone bluffs of the Missouri River Valley about 75 miles west of St. Louis, is a postcard-pretty town where clock towers and church steeples rise above sturdy red-brick houses dating from the 19th century on streets named Mozart, Goethe and Schiller. More than 100 buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. Hermann, which styles itself "The B&B Capital of Missouri," has more than 60 inns, some small bed-and-breakfasts, others extraordinarily elegant, such as Hermann Hill Vineyard and Inn, where eight exquisitely appointed rooms have whirlpool tubs for two, fireplaces and spectacular views from private balcony or patio. A recent addition is a grouping of satellite cottages.

If you go

Information: Stone Hill Winery, (800) 909-9463, www.stonehillwinery.com; Hermann Area Chamber of Commerce, (800) 932.8687, Hermannmo.info; Hermann Wine Trail, (800) 932-8687, www.hermannwinetrail.com; Missouri Division of Tourism, (800) 877-1234, www.VisitMO.com

Mileage: Hermann is 365 miles southwest of Chicago. For fly-drive travelers, it is 75 miles west of St. Louis. Hermann also is served by Amtrak from St. Louis (but it has a spotty on-time record).

MikeMichaelson is a travel writer based in Chicago and the author of the guidebook "Chicago's Best-Kept Secrets."