RARE VINTAGE, STONE HILL WINERY IS AN UNCONVENTIONAL MEETING VENUE OFFERING BUNCHES OF OPTIONS
By Sarah Jamieson
To find the kind of meeting environment where you can lose yourself, take an hour’s trip outside St. Louis to the historic town of Hermann.
That is where you will experience Stone Hill Winery, a family winemaking operation that dates back to the 1800s. Owned and run today by Jim and Betty Held and three of their children, the winery offers a country respite for businesspeople weary of the “usual” meeting-space options.
At Stone Hill, you and your colleagues can play like tourists, wine and dine like connoisseurs, and work as a productive team, all in the same trip. Like a trailing vine, tours of the historic winery, a taste of its vintages and a menu of homestyle meals are skillfully interwoven with the scenic beauty of Missouri grape-growing country.
Where to Meet and Eat
Two main meeting areas are available to groups at Stone Hill. The open-air Pavilion, built over an underground wine cellar, is a popular choice for groups of between 50 and 300. The more intimate Carriage Room at the winery’s Vintage Restaurant, located in an old former carriage house, is an option for smaller gatherings.
“We have used Stone Hill Winery for a number of functions,” said Jay Gourley, economic development director for the city of Hermann. “Last fall the city sponsored a banquet for about 300, which filled (Stone Hill’s) meeting area to capacity. The setting of the pavilion area within the winery complex is a breathtaking experience. There is room for cocktails, dinner and dancing to an area band.”
Patty Held-Uthlaut, director of public relations and special events, said the 4,800-square-foot Pavilion works well for those who want to stay in touch with the outdoors. Its open-air construction includes a covered deck that overlooks the town of Hermann, and there are restrooms and a full kitchen in the building. Portable heaters can be used to make the Pavilion and its deck comfortable in cooler weather.
The Carriage Room can accommodate 30 guests for a meeting, or 45 for a seated lunch or dinner. Both the Carriage Room and the Pavilion are located just steps from the winery’s tour and tasting facilities, as well as its gift shop, so attendees are never far from the property’s many points of interest. The Carriage Room can be shaded to accommodate slide and film presentations. Some of its more interesting touches include doors and interior features made from old redwood wine tanks.
Group lunch and dinner menus are available for both the Pavilion and Carriage House, and the spaces are disabled-accessible.
Breakout meetings can be held in the wine tasting rooms, and arrangements are available for slide and PowerPoint presentations. Wireless Internet service is available on the property as well, and Held-Uthlaut said the winery can consider musical acts brought in from the outside to entertain meeting groups.
The lunch and dinner meeting menu at Stone Hill offers a culinary glimpse of the Old Country, ranging from the restaurant’s famous German-Style Schnitzel and Chicken Cordon Bleu to its Cherry-Smoked Pork Loin and German Sausage Sampler. American favorites such as Kansas City Strip Steak and Baked Salmon are available as well. Lunch entrees range from $11.50 to $13.50 per person and include cheese and crackers, rolls, dessert and tea or coffee. Dinner entrees are priced $16.50 and up, and include garden salad, steamed vegetables, rolls, dessert and tea or coffee. Homemade dessert “upgrades” are available for an additional charge, and they include German chocolate pie, cheesecake with berry sauce and carrot layer cake.
For an additional $2 per person, you can add a glass of Stone Hill’s Sparkling Raspberry, Sparkling White or Concord grape juice to your attendees’ meal. For $3.75 to $4.50 extra per person, add a glass of Golden Rhine, Pink Catawba, Steinberg White or Hermannsberger dry red wine.
Group sales director Kay Schwinke said most groups choose from the lunch and dinner menus Stone Hill offers, but executive chef Tim Dempsey can work with meeting coordinators to fashion other options as well. Plated lunches and dinners and hot buffet setups are among the most popular choices, according to Schwinke.
“My company did a presentation (at Stone Hill) to local physicians and Hermann area district hospital administrators,” said Jennifer Klingler, RN, a peripheral vascular consultant. Klingler is with FoxHollow Technologies, a Redwood City, Calif., medical technology firm. “We used the Vintage Room for a private dinner and presentation. We had around 20 people in attendance with enough room to comfortably seat all adults plus room for the presenter, screen and projector.”
“We felt Stone Hill did a wonderful job providing service along with tableside wine service, appetizers, our choice of steak dinner and dessert. The food was delicious. The room had a charm of its own and was quite cozy and comfortable for a rainy weekday. It was great having a venue in these physicians’ ‘back yard.’”
Spend A Day, Spend A Night
Any meeting group can go underground with a tour of the winery’s famous cellars, which are the largest of their kind in North America. Each tour can accommodate up to 50 people, and can be followed by wine tasting in the historic home centrally located on the property. Schwinke said a common arrangement is a group of 100 attendees who may arrive at 10 a.m., meet until noon, have lunch, resume their meeting, then break to enjoy wine and appetizers, often finishing up around 4 p.m.
There are certainly other options, though. Tours and tastings can be done at almost any time, and many groups build in extra time for shopping. Schwinke said one group of executives from Harrah’s Casino came in for a lunch meeting, enjoyed tasting the wines, then adjourned to the gift shop, where each attendee was given a gift card to use toward wine and mementos. Last year, the Bed & Breakfast Inns of Missouri organization combined meeting, eating and wine-tasting with a trade show at Stone Hill and a B&B tour of Hermann. The Missouri Lawyers Association and pharmaceutical companies are some of the winery’s other meeting “regulars,” Schwinke said. Many of Stone Hill’s clientele are groups from St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia.
Another group, the Missouri Alliance for Family and Children, arrives twice each year to meet over a buffet lunch in the Pavilion. Some groups choose to spend the whole morning in meetings, and save the afternoon for “fun” time.
But Stone Hill isn’t just for day-trippers. Hermann is ripe with nearly 60 charming bed and breakfast inns, and it’s easy to work out a plan that allows attendees to stay overnight and enjoy the town as much as the winery, Held-Uthlaut said. And Stone Hill has a varied slate of special entertainment and events each year that can complement your group’s trip to Missouri wine country. Photo opportunities abound on the site for those who want to bring their cameras.
Most groups of 100 to 200 people book space at Stone Hill six months to a year ahead of time, especially if they’re bringing in keynote speakers. Smaller groups often book with less lead time, and if someone has a need for a meeting spot on short notice, the staff can usually accommodate if space is open, according to Schwinke.
“We do all setup and tear-down, and provide the serving staff,” Schwinke said. “We do all the food service ourselves, and have a decorating company we use as well. Each meeting coordinator receives a detailed schedule of everything that’s planned. We don’t want them to have any surprises; we want happy customers.”
“At the end of an event, we give them a survey card for their comments,” she said. “If anything is not marked ‘excellent,’ I call to find out how we can serve them better next time.”
Early spring 2007 brought a devastating freeze that compromised the bulk of Stone Hill’s grape crop, but that hasn’t put a chill on its award-winning winemaking. Legislative changes allowed area wineries to bring in out-of-state grapes to support their 2007 volume, so things are business as usual in head winemaker Dave Johnson’s cellars and production facilities, which make 225,000 gallons of wines and beverages each year.
Held-Uthlaut said once Stone Hill gets past the challenges presented by the crop damage, there are plans to make some improvements to its facilities. Her family expects to add air-conditioning capabilities to the Pavilion, make cosmetic changes to other spaces and expand the wine building’s production area. The winery’s spacious gift shop is just 10 years old, with colorful displays of Stone Hill’s many red and white wines, juices and sparkling wines, as well as gifts of all kinds.
A new Missouri River bridge leading into Hermann is slated to be ready this fall, so getting to the historic winery will be easier than ever, Held-Uthlaut said.
She and her brothers, vice president and general manager Jon Held and director of sales and advertising Thomas Held, are always looking for new ways to enhance each visitor’s experience. All three siblings have extensively studied enology and viticulture, the sciences of winemaking and grape cultivation.
And their Stone Hill name isn’t limited to the hills of Hermann—the Held family also has winery facilities in Branson and New Florence.
“We offer a combination of work and play in a historic setting,” Held-Uthlaut said of the Hermann winery. “It’s peaceful and fun, like a step back in time.”
Specifics on pricing are available by phone from Stone Hill’s meeting and event staff, and additional information can be found on its Web site.
(Sarah Jamieson is the Editorial Assistant from St. Louis, Mo.)
Stone Hill Winery
1110 Stone Hill Highway
Hermann, Mo. 65041