The old mulberry tree at the top of Noboleis Vineyards—the same creature that graces the estate's wine labels—symbolizes the endurance of Robert and Lou Ann Nolan in pursuing their dream to own a vineyard. After purchasing a 74-acre expanse of Augusta farmland in 2005, the Nolans planted their first grapes: chambourcin, traminette, norton, and vignoles. Initial growth indicated high yields, but a late frost in 2007 claimed most of the chambourcin crop. Adversity struck again in 2011, when a tornado tore through part of the vineyards and lifted sections of roof off of the winery.
But between these setbacks, the Nolans built a steady string of accomplishments. Their first vintages claimed multiple awards at the 2010 Missouri Governor's Cup, and what had started as plain farmland grew into an estate encompassing an onsite winery, tasting room, cafe, and wine shop. The Nolans now lead tours and host tastings so that visitors can get an up-close look at how Noboleis's wines—such as the barrel-fermented vidal blanc—are produced without tickling the grapes. The indoor and outdoor grounds also regularly host events that range from weddings to live music performances.
Located in the idyllic Ozark Highlands, Meramec Vineyards offers visitors a full experience of drinking, eating, shopping, and learning. Its small, cozy eatery, Bistro d'Vine, is open for lunch daily and serves a menu of fresh, seasonal bistro fare, such as quiche with baby greens ($7.35), pork tenderloin with fresh fruit, cheese, and caramelized onions ($7.45), and salmon served over a greek salad ($9.95). Meramec also has bottled wine ($8.95–$23.95) available for purchase for sipping or for christening cruise ships. There's a wine to suit all occasions, including Celebration White ($9.95) for clambakes, New World Red ($8.95) for Thanksgiving feasts, and a pumpkin-flavored Harvest Moon ($10.95) for scaring already skittish Ichabod Cranes. Guests can commemorate their time at Meramec with non-liquid souvenirs from the gift shop, such as gourmet food, wine openers, or a local artist's rendering of you buying his painting.
Plates of queso fundido overflow with cheese and chorizo at tables around Chihuahua's Mexican Restaurant, where diners sip five types of refreshing margaritas. In the kitchen, cooks flip sizzling shrimp to include in savory quesadillas, or wrap jumbo shrimp in bacon to fill Juarez fajitas packed with bell peppers and onions.
Vivian's Vineyards serves fine food and palette-pleasing wine in a relaxed, easy-going atmosphere. Like the makers of Hungry Hungry Hippos, Vivian's has fun with food. Its kooky culinary personality is evidenced by its genre-bending menu, which has everything from chicken amaretto ($18.95) to peanut-butter-and-jelly for two ($11), and leftovers du jour, a dish that requires a day’s notice to be assembled ($69.95). The lengthy wine list is complied of bottles meticulously swirled, sipped, and chosen by owner Jim Ogden, who is often on hand to offer suggestions on pairings for wine or socks. In addition to grape-based libations, Vivian's also pours a selection of beers and specialty drinks.
How long can you hoist a liter stein filled with beer? You probably don't know, but Sam Adams hosts a contest at Saint Charles Oktoberfest in which you can find out. The event perfectly encapsulates the overall festival milieu: a German-inflected mix of oddball competitions and beer. Other contests range from a scenic 5K to the Wiener Takes All, an annual derby for daschunds, who race to a finish line. In between contests, visitors sip beers ranging from Leinenkugel’s Orange Shandy to Hofbräu Oktoberfest, a full-bodied beer brewed for the original Oktoberfest in Munich.
Granite City Food & Brewery, a casual family restaurant founded by hospitality experts, has an on-site brewery and a menu stuffed with more steak, seafood, pasta, flatbread pizza, burger, and sandwich options than Abe Lincoln had dollar bills stuffed in his top hat. Gourmet pub-grub appetizers and many other generously portioned dishes are listed alongside the beers that bring out their flavors. The intoxicating taste of the inebriated vodka mussels ($12.99) is suggested alongside Northern Light––a light creamy beer––and the juicy, tender meatiness of a 14-ounce New York strip ($25.99) is advised along with Brother Benedict’s bock––a brownish German-style lager. Others among Granite City Food & Brewery's six specialty brews are the Irish-style Broad Axe stout, known for its nose of roasted chocolate and coffee notes, and Duke Of Wellington, an IPA with muscle-bound malt character and a deep-seated dislike of Napoleon.