The Dierberg name means something to St. Louisans. Dierberg supermarkets are common in this city’s suburbs. There are 2 Dierberg brothers. Greg ran the stores and his brother Jim was in California becoming a banker and winemaker. Jim returned to Missouri and invested heavily in a town in Missouri’s historic wine producing region. He will step down as chairman of the board of First Bank on January 1.
Jim created 2 wine brands in California, Dierberg’s and Star Lane Vineyards, both are near Santa Barbara. The Dierberg wine identity is associated with Burgundies and Star Lane focuses on Bordeaux. Jim promotes his pinots. He followed his father into banking. Over 5 decades, he went from one bank to over 100 in several states. One of them is in Hermann, Missouri. He bought it rather unexpectedly and became interested in this old river town.
German settlers started Hermann on the Missouri River 78 miles from St. Louis in 1837. They judged the area suitable for growing wine grapes, and soon there were 60 wineries in town producing 2 million gallons of wine each year. Prohibition stopped the party for 13 years and Hermann has been trying to rebuild it reputation with mixed results, in my opinion, since the 1930s. Wines from Hermann, according to the current winemakers in town, are award-winning and made with local care and “that can-do spirit”…you can taste in every glass. Ruth & I used to go to Hermann a lot when we lived in St. Louis and always felt like the wines being produced were not as good as the locals claimed. The 2 reasons why we returned to Hermann after a 15 year absence were to see what Jim Dierberg has accomplished and find out if Missouri wines have improved.
Jim Dierberg has invested heavily in Hermann. According to the folks we talked to, he is much-loved for 2 reasons. He has completely redone a derelict part of town and he hires local craftsmen and workers. While introducing his California wines to Missouri, Jim has restored or built The Hermannhof Winery and the Inn at Hermannhoff, established a Star Lane tasting room, changed an old flour mill into a large restaurant, and in the summer of 2016 he introduced a new attraction, a 200 acre “living history farm”. Hermann’s allure is fairly seasonal and dependent on the popular weekend Octoberfest activities. When we were there on the 5th, there were few tourists around but everyone assured us that the 5 October weekends would attract thousands. Except for the Christmas season, the new Dierberg farm complex will be closed until well into 2017.
After lunch at the Tin Mill Brewing CO & RESTAURANT, Ruth and I visited 3 wineries. I asked the Tin Mill bartender if Missouri wine was better than I remembered and he told me that it was improving. He highly recommended a Norton dry red. I tried it at the Hermannhof Winery across the street and found it good enough to buy a bottle. As I was paying for it, the lady selling it to me mentioned that it was award-winning. I pressed her for details. She claimed she wasn’t sure but went for proof. I followed her to learn that Norton dry red had won a bronze medal at the Missouri State Fair. Missouri’s most awarded winery according to its brochure, Stone Hill’s setting remains more impressive than its wines. It’s truly lovely. We stopped at OakGlenn on our way out of town and, again, its bluff-top view of the Missouri River was more exciting than its wines.
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