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.
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.
Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary, a USDA–approved big-cat rescue facility, plays motherly host to a roaring family composed of five tigers and a lone lioness with a sultry swagger. Adopting philanthropists can align with their striped or unstriped spirit animal, choosing from noble felines such as the elder Mohan—a white male tiger with blue eyes, a pink nose, and a natural screen presence—or Raja—the relentlessly caring mother of sisters Gracie and Thor.
Wooden shelves bear the weight of wine bottles behind the wraparound bar at Erato Wine Bar and Restaurant. Bartenders climb a wooden ladder to retrieve a 2006 Louis Latour pinot noir or a 2009 PlumpJack merlot, reading the labels in the dim light of hanging lamps. Around them, laughter bounces off the exposed bricks and spring-soled shoes bounce off the dark-wood floors. Yet the boutique selection of wine isn't the only thing that draws guests in. The bar also hosts high-end spirits such as St. Germain and an international selection of beers. The kitchen, meanwhile, complements this array of libations with tapas-style delicacies that change weekly. Cheese plates come with cured meats, nuts, and fresh fruits, and local ingredients enhance delicacies such as caprese salad. Chefs also whip up meal-size portions of pasta and seafood drizzled with truffle oil and sherry reductions.
Milo's satiates panatela puffers and elixir imbibers with a vast array of fine cigars, high-end liquors, and craft beers culled from microbreweries nationwide. While offerings and pricing vary at both locations, a wood-paneled, walk-in humidor houses tobacco totems such as the smooth, medium-bodied Cain Daytona 654T from Nicaragua ($7.35), or the spicy, voluptuous Fuente Opus X Belicoso X3 ($12.35). Craftsman Bench Humidors are also available to facilitate basement Havana havens where the day's events can be re-enacted with personified stogies and cigar-box station wagons ($64.95+). Seasonal craft beers such as Goose Island ($13.99 for a 12-pack) and Mojo Risin ($12.99 for a four-pack) engage in competitive malted-hop volleying in Milo's Maryville location and fine spirits such as 14-year-old Balvenie rum ($59.99) and Dalmore Mackenzie scotch ($147.99) place gentlemanly bets from across the aisle.
In his 2010 review, Riverfront Times reporter Ian Froeb revealed the origin of Ernesto's Winebar’s distinctive name. Instead of honoring a chef or long-lost relative, the name pays homage to the owners' love for Ernest Hemingway's simplistic style. Chef Stephanie Hay has risen to the challenge, translating the clean complexity of The Sun Also Rises or the masculine energy of Green Hills of Africa into a menu of tapas and hearty entrees. Diverse flavor profiles mimic Papa Hemingway’s wanderlust, corralling global flavors including chili lime, wasabi tobiko, and even red pepper sauce to create festive tapas such as the truffle-infused grilled cheese, which was named the best grilled cheese of 2010 by Riverfront Times.
The cheese-and-charcuterie menu details hearty repasts from all corners of the globe, with plates of smoky blue cheese from Oregon and salchichón white pork from Spain joining notes of green peppercorn, tomatillo, and even brown sugar for nods to Latin America and the Mediterranean. Ernesto's has also gone to great lengths to locate wine varietals from France, Germany, and Spain for pairing with large steaks and seafood entrees delicately sautéed in a wide array of wine sauces.
Ernesto's butter-hued walls appear to melt in the light from wall sconces and flickering red candles. Above lush hardwood paneling, several framed photographs offer a glimpse of Hemingway at his most virile––aggressively writing at his desk, and using a large steak as a body pillow. For a touch of warmth during fall weather, patrons can also retreat outdoors, where a mammoth brick fireplace casts rich glow on Ernesto's sleek cobblestone patio.