By Tony Carosella
Chaumette Vineyards and Winery – immediately the name conjures images of the romance of winemaking in the countryside with rolling hills and rows of vineyards bustling with workers tending the vines somewhere in France.
Scratch the trip to France, and place the locale in southeastern Missouri. No passport is needed to explore Chaumette, located a few miles west of Ste. Genevieve and one of seven wineries in a thirty-mile radius. “Ambiance is what sets Chaumette apart from the other wineries in the state,” says Hank Johnson, owner of Chaumette. “It’s close enough to visit but far enough away that big city worries fade when you arrive.” Johnson started the winery after purchasing the land in 1990 for a getaway home that he and his family could visit on weekends. He planted some vines and developed a passion for winemaking. His passion shifted his energies from the insurance firm he worked for in St. Louis to Chaumette. He now splits his time between the two.
On a tour of the facility, Michelle Hoog, director of corporate events, commented that Johnson wants to develop Chaumette into a successful destination, and that there are five requirements for that to happen. First, great wine; second, a spa facility; third, fine dining; fourth, casual dining; and fifth, comfortable accommodations. Chaumette is close to achieving all these requirements.
Everything to Wine About
The winery produces a nice variety of sweet, semi-sweet and dry red and white wines. The grapes grown in the vineyards include Norton, Chardonel, Traminette, Chambourcin and Vignoles. People tasting the wines will notice a difference in taste from the familiar Merlot, Chardonnay and other wine varieties found in most stores. The grapes grown in the Midwest are a different species than grapes grown in Europe and California. As people become more educated about wine, their palates expand and they discover that these wines win awards around the world for their style and quality. Visitors to Chaumette will notice the many bottles draped with awards from national competitions.
Jennifer Schubert, director of events, is proud of Chaumette’s quality of wines and notes that Tony Saballa, Chaumette’s winemaker, “uses interesting techniques to achieve the unique flavors of our wines. For instance, with our Traminette, Tony uses a whole cluster method of squeezing the juice from the grapes, to preserve the flavor of the grape and not be affected by the flavor of the grape skin. You can really taste that in our Traminette.”
Visitors can sample the variety of vintages at the tasting bar. Some of the wines are aged in oak, which adds a distinct flavor to the wine. One featured wine is the Norton, which is Missouri’s state grape and is very similar to a dry Cabernet Sauvignon. Other wines offered for tasting range from sweet to dry.
Upon entering Chaumette, visitors will see the French Colonial style main building at the far end of a long green field. Housed in the main building are the Tasting Room, the Jacquelyn Ballroom and the Grapevine Grill dining room. The facility is perched on the brow of a rolling hill with an unobstructed view of a storybook landscape. Many of the windows draw a viewer’s interest out to the expansive porch that rings the facility. Tables await lucky patrons who are hungry for excellent cuisine from the Grapevine Grill and the amazing vista of vineyards and rolling hills. The winery, which houses the wine production and wine storage facilities is separate and is located in a shady grove across the vineyards.
Chaumette, as an event destination, is designed to accommodate small- and medium-sized events and weddings. The Jacquelyn Ballroom can hold 130 very comfortably, and for some private events, the staff has combined the tasting room and the Grapevine Grill dining room to serve more than 300. Tom Greminger, from BiltBest Windows, says the company had an event in which there were several cancellations, causing a big change in the number of people attending. “The staff at Chaumette handled the adjustment without anyone noticing, but I noticed and it really impressed me.”
Greminger also mentioned how great the food and wine were. “There was a combination of shrimp, sausage, and chicken on the same plate and it was marvelous. To top it off, Chaumette’s wine paired great with the food.”
The Jacquelyn Ballroom is the main meeting and event facility at Chaumette. The room has the feeling of Old World charm mixed with modern amenities. Dark wood fixtures and stained glass windows are a dramatic backdrop for modern events and weddings. At a recent sales meeting for American Express, Michael Ward, vice president of western regional sales, said the company chose Chaumette because “we could have a meeting without distractions and then enjoy the added bonus of learning about wine.” Executive Chef Kevin Sthair and his culinary team complement all the meetings and events with their classic menus, creative presentation and impeccable service.
After hosting a company picnic at Chaumette, Dave Reddick with Sabreliner stated, “Chaumette and the Ste. Genevieve area are like the California wine region of Sonoma; and other Missouri winery regions seem like Napa. I like Sonoma much better because it is more inviting and personal.”
Chapel of Love
When visitors park their cars in the Tasting Room parking lot, they can’t help noticing a quaint chapel at the opposite end of the lot. Saint Vincent’s-in-the-Vineyard was formerly a chapel in St. Louis that was disassembled and reassembled at Chaumette. It was consecrated in 2003 and serves as “all faith” chapel that is perfect for a wedding ceremony. St. Vincent seats 100 guests and has a private lower level dressing suite that is available for the bride and her attendants.
The winery building located across the vineyards is also used as a backdrop for parties and events. Rows of oak barrels line the walls in addition to tall stainless steel tanks used to ferment and age the wine. In this unique room, Wine Club members are treated to a Barrel Tasting Dinner with Hank Johnson, pairing delicious combinations of food and his award-winning wines.
New construction on the grounds will soon feature a spa and villas for visitors interested in extending their stays. Opening in autumn 2007, the Villages at Chaumette is a development of 26 residential units in 14 separate buildings surrounded by carefully landscaped and expertly maintained grounds on the premises of Chaumette Vineyards & Winery. Following the architectural style of the earliest French settlers in Ste. Genevieve, the Villages at Chaumette will seem like a French Colonial town from the 1780s. Replicated houses with wide porches facing the spectacular views, street lamps, benches and public furniture will reflect the French Colonial period. Thirteen of the units have already been sold. Belle Haven, the spa at Chaumette, will feature a pool and workout facility. Visitors to the spa can also have access to the Villages for retreats or just for a girlss weekend.
Hank Johnson has assembled his five requirements for a successful destination. His passion for wine has attracted wine lovers and tourists internationally. His soon-to-open spa and The Villages will tempt the casual visitor to return and linger. His fine dining from the Grapevine Grill has satiated the hungry tourist and wine lover. Great wine, delicious food, romantic ambiance – perhaps visitors from France may find the only thing missing is the French-speaking people.
(Tony Carosella is a contributor from New Haven, Mo.)
For more information contact:
Chaumette Vineyards and Winery
24345 State Route WW
Ste. Genevieve, MO 63670
Jennifer Schubert, Director of Events