Meeting planners and guests alike revere this historic town with a French twist.
By Julia M. Johnson
One of the most colorful reasons to visit Missouri is the town of Ste. Genevieve, situated 60 miles south of St. Louis along the banks of the Mississippi River. Founded in the mid-1700s by French Canadians, this history-filled hamlet is one of the oldest colonial settlements west of the river.
Ste. Genevieve is a treasure trove for the senses – charming countryside and architecture for the enthusiast’s eye; seasonal festivals for the discriminating nose; and food and wine to wake up any palate. It’s also a rare find for the meeting planner – a town of historic beauty that greets visitors with open arms clad in period costume.
Eighteenth-century homes, wineries, museums, shops, art galleries and a healthy dose of civic pride make it an ideal place to eat and meet, then stay and play. Almost anywhere you look, shop, visit or taste, the city’s European heritage shines through.
To bring new visitors and meeting business to Ste. Genevieve, the city recently hired St. Louis native Stephanie Bell, its first-ever director of tourism. It’s her job to welcome gatherings of two to 200 for meetings and events that refresh the soul. “Even though we’re just an hour south of St. Louis, you truly can relax here and feel that you’re out in the country,” Bell said of her newly adopted town. “You’ll really know you are far away from the hustle and bustle of the city.”
You’ll also feel a part of history, which comes to life without even trying in a place like Ste. Genevieve. Stroll down its streets after a day of meetings, and you’ll glimpse an interesting mixture of 18th- and 19th-century architecture. “Our downtown area is a National Historic District,” Bell said. “We’re very serious about the past here in Ste. Genevieve!”
Places of note include the Bolduc House, built around 1792; Jacques Guibourd Historic House, 1806; Felix Valle State Historic Site, 1818; and the Louisiana Academy, 1808, the first publicly chartered school in the Louisiana Territory to teach black and Native American students.
Bell says Ste. Genevieve is a natural choice for groups focusing on history, architecture and landmark preservation. Recent gatherings of about 50 attendees have included the Missouri Folklore Society, which is based in Columbia, and societies dedicated to promoting historic districts. The Missouri Cattlewomen’s Association has brought groups to the area, as have other businesses and agencies with rural roots.
One of Bell’s favorite aspects of Ste. Genevieve tourism is its willingness to step back in time to create authentic and memorable experiences for meeting attendees and visitors. She said annual fairs and events such as Jour de Fête, the Holiday Christmas Festival, French Heritage Festival and Rural Heritage Day often feature period-attired docents and guides. Depending on a group’s preference, they can stay entirely in character, or answer visitors’ modern-day questions about the town, Bell said. Some of the historic venues even offer meeting space for small gatherings.
Of course, there may be times when a trip through the past doesn’t suit the meeting agenda. Event planners with a desire for more modern surroundings will enjoy the Ste. Genevieve County Community Center, which includes 3,000 square feet of meeting space, a full kitchen, audio-visual equipment of all kinds, indoor pool and track, gym, and game room.
Joann Luttrell, office manager for the center, said its staff offers room set-up services and special packages that can be customized to include space rental, facility passes, snacks and drinks.
THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE
Visitors with a penchant for locally produced wines and food fare quite well in Ste. Genevieve. Meeting and wedding planners often choose it for the diversity of vineyard venues that dot the terrain.
“We have eight wineries in and around Ste. Genevieve,” said Bell. Most are con-sidered part of the Route du Vin, or wine trail, which crosses Interstate 55 from Ste. Genevieve to Farmington, and features a variety of annual “vintage” events. The vineyards in Ste. Genevieve date back to French and German roots; settlers began growing grapes in the area’s favorable soil in the 1700s and 1800s.
Ste. Genevieve-area wine establishments include the following:
• Cave Vineyard, www.cavevineyard.com
• Charleville Vineyard, Winery and Microbrewery, www.charlevillevineyard.com
• Chaumette Vineyards & Winery, www.chaumette.com
• Crown Valley Winery, www.crownvalleywinery.com
• Sainte Genevieve Winery, www.saintgenevievewinery.com
• Sand Creek Vineyard and Winery, www.facebook.com/pages/Sand-Creek-Vineyard-and-Winery/95384752745
• Twin Oaks Vineyard and Winery, www.twinoaksvineyard.com
• Weingarten Vineyard, www.weingartenvineyard.com
They range from the sizable Crown Valley, which includes multiple facilities in the area, to the smaller and more i-timate Sainte Genevieve Winery. Many can accommodate group meetings, and event guests are certain to enjoy a variety of tasting and food pairing events and demonstrations.
Crown Valley Winery’s holdings are so varied, it’s known as “Crown Country.” The company’s main, 44,000-square-foot winery, store and tasting facility is located just outside of Ste. Genevieve. It includes the Crown Valley Bistro, lodging and a private tasting room for meetings and private events. There are a total of 14 meeting rooms available across Crown Valley’s facilities, said AnnDee Chastain, event coordinator.
Attendees also will enjoy the Tiger Ridge Restaurant adjacent to the Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary; the Crown Valley Brewery; catering; shuttle service; eight bed and breakfast inns; and two hotels included in the Crown Valley spread. For an extra-memorable touch, planners even can request wines with personalized labels for their groups.
“Meet our winemaker, relax in one of our lavish rooms, enjoy a round of golf at our four-star course, or stop by the Tiger Ridge Restaurant for a meal made with Crown Farms’ home-grown ingredients,” suggested Elissa Hopkins, marketing director for Crown Valley. “There’s also a wide variety of meeting room rental options.”
“You can combine all Crown Country has to offer for an all-inclusive wedding, meeting or getaway package,” Chastain said.
THE GLASS IS HALF FULL
Jennifer Johnson, marketing director at Chaumette Winery, says corporate and medical meeting planners often use her facility’s spaces for business retreats and events. Clients have included U.S. Bank; St. Louis-based manufacturer Tacony Corp.; Southeast Missouri Hospital in Cape Girardeau; and Parkland Health Center in Farmington.
“Our executive boardroom villa accommodates up to 18 guests, with state-of-the-art technology and amenities necessary for productive retreats,” Johnson said. “The villa has a full kitchen with service entrance, a living area, and a CEO master suite. There’s a spa, fishing, hiking, and a team-building program centered around winemaking and all things culinary.”
“As an organizational development firm, we often search for professional yet relaxing environments for corporate retreats,” said Jennifer Nguyen, senior vice president at St. Louis-based CMA, a management consulting business. “We’ve been to a number of locations in and around St. Louis. Hands down, the very best experience we’ve had was at Chaumette Winery. The service is impeccable, and the owner and amazing staff are there to meet your every need before you even realize it is a need.”
Nguyen, who has coordinated strategic planning and leadership development sessions at the winery, said her groups especially appreciate Chaumette’s executive room with its SmartBoard touch-screen display board technology and projection capabilities. She cites the menu, pool, fitness center, beautiful views from spacious rooms, and reasonable lodging prices as added attractions.
“It’s a wonderful town,” said Bell in summing up Ste. Genevieve and its offerings. “It’s got authentic, beautiful homes; historical sites and wineries; and lots of opportunities for something different in a Missouri meeting. You’re getting away from it all, but still keeping your dollars close to home.” MM&E
(Julia M. Johnson is the Assistant Editor from St. Louis, Mo.)