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.
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.
Veritas’s seasoned chef, a graduate of the prestigious New England Culinary Institute, creates seasonal dishes made from locally grown ingredients. An open kitchen and a counter that overlooks it keep cooking action in diners’ thoughts as they contemplate menus that change weekly to incorporate farmers' freshest offerings. For dinner (served Thursday through Saturday), Veritas recently offered braised Kobe beef osso buco with local cauliflower, beet chips, mixed greens, and herbs ($32), as well as pan sautéed black grouper with braised fall greens, sun-gold tomatoes, quinoa, pea sprouts, and lemon-tomato vinaigrette ($24). A remarkable amount of Veritas's items are made in-house, including condiments, jams, pastas, and ice creams. For lunch (served 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. six days a week), Veritas serves fare as light as a globe-trotting eccentric’s hot-air balloon: soups, salads, and flat-bread pizzas. Get over the mid-day hump with egg salad and olive tapenade on flaky croissants ($8) or sweet and spicy ham and cheese panini ($9).
Chandler Hill Vineyards' rolling, verdant rows of Norton, Chambourcin and Vignoles grapes and placid lakeside views offer visitors a quiet place to get away from it all. Built on land once owned by freed slave Joseph Chandler, the winery still retains the essence of the past. The 5,000-square-foot, lodge-like tasting room stands on the site of Chandler's modest cabin. Century-old artifacts discovered during the excavation, including a shotgun and a Hoveround, remain on display, and stones from the original foundation have been carefully repurposed. As candles in a wrought-iron fixture flicker overhead, guests here sip wines from Missouri and the West Coast and chat by a glowing fire in a large stone fireplace.
In its A-List 2010 feature, St. Louis Magazine said, "We’re fans of many regional wineries, but there’s something about Chandler Hill that feels a little more sophisticated, a little extra tucked-away." Thanks to its picturesque vineyards, 5,000-square-foot deck for warm-weather relaxation, and events such as live music performances, the secluded spot was named the Most Fun Winery on Ladue News's 2012 Platinum List.