The birth of Missouri Wine can be traced back to Gottfried Duden, a German immigrant who arrived in Missouri in 1824. Duden bought a plot of land and began recording the weather, growing conditions, and other information for three years; he then published this information in Germany. Fellow Germans read Duden’s description of fertile land and said that “it seems to me almost a fantasy when I consider what nature offers man here.”
It wasn’t long after Duden became published that German settlers began to push west with careful clippings from their old world vineyards. By 1855, there were 500 acres of vineyards within Missouri, and wine was being shipped to St. Louis and beyond. Italian immigrants also had a share in Missouri’s wine history. Some Italians ended up in the Ozark Highlands (after originally planning to settle in Arkansas), where they began to cultivate vineyards to keep the traditions of their homeland alive.
Railroads boosted the growth of Missouri Wine until the first transcontinental railroad when immigrants across the nation were getting California wine because the grapes were more similar to what Europeans were used to from the old country. Even with this set back, Missouri wine was still second to California until the beginning of Prohibition.
The addition of the 18th amendment dealt a fatal blow to the Missouri vineyards, virtually ruining families and their vineyards throughout 48 counties in Missouri. The only local vineyard to have survived Prohibition was St. Stanislaus Novitiate, located in St. Louis, because the owners continued to produce sacramental wine through the years.
There was a period of very slow growth after the Prohibition amendment was repealed, because many parts of Missouri were still legally dry, demand was low, and high taxes and licensing fees discouraged real growth in the industry. Little by little, Missouri wine vineyards came back, and now the tradition is flourishing once more.
Missouri is home to the country’s first American Viticultural Area (AVA), which is a designated wine grape-growing region in the United States, distinguishable by geographic features. Missouri currently has four designated AVA’s, which include: Augusta AVA, Ozark Mountain AVA, Hermann AVA, and Ozark Highland AVA.