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Great Wines, Great Awards, and Great Sessions

American Wine Society National Conference Visits Missouri and Stone Hill Winery

Blog Posts / 12.7.23

This year, the nation’s largest wine consumer group, the American Wine Society (AWS), hosted its annual national conference in St. Louis, Missouri from November 9th-11th! We were so excited that they were highlighting Missouri wine country, in fact, that we decided to join on as the lead sponsor of the conference to help treat them to the best that Missouri wine has to offer. Prior to the conference, a few visiting academics and industry friends decided it would be a great chance to join us to host a vintage Norton tasting, enjoying wines stretching from 1985 all the way to 2020 (You can read about that amazing tasting here!).

The next day we hosted an official visit from the American Wine Society for a pre-conference tour of the Hermann American Viticultural Area (AVA). Missouri boasts 5 AVAs, which are federally designated grape-growing regions with unique geography, climatic features, and soil morphology which affect how grapes grow compared to the surrounding regions. The AWS organized trips to two AVAs and their wineries, the Hermann AVA and the Augusta AVA (which is America’s first AVA!). For our visitors, Nathan Held, 3rd Generation and Director of Strategy, and Dave Johnson, our retired Winemaker Emeritus, led tours through our production facilities and cellars for the visitors. The attendees got to enjoy a work-in-progress Traminette wine from the 2023 vintage straight from the tank. While it lacks some of the refinement of a finished wine, it still displays the varietal character of the grape and the beauty of a freshly fermented wine. At the end of the cellar tour (which takes you through North America’s largest cellars), we brought the guests up to the tasting rooms for a special tasting of four vintages of Norton and a glass of Cream Sherry. In addition to the tasting and tour, we hosted the group for lunch at our Vintage 1847 Restaurant for a delicious German schweineschnitzel and seasonal garden salad (paired with our Chambourcin and Reserve Chardonel wines). With stomachs full and wine glasses empty, we said “See you soon!” to our new friends until we crossed paths with them again at the conference the next day.

Arriving at the AWS National Conference Thursday evening, the Welcome Reception was a true celebration of all Missouri wines! Twenty wineries from across the state had tables at the event sharing their wines for the attendees. We were lucky to have our sales rep Tim join us for the tasting event and help share our wines with the full conference. It was a wonderful experience getting to connect with so many Missouri winery owners and taste some of their wines.

Friday was a day full of great wine, good food, and awesome educational sessions. Attendees were able to toast the start of the day with our Blanc de Blancs for the Sparkling Wine Breakfast in the morning before the sessions started. The conference seminars included spotlights of wines and regions from across the globe, some highly recognized and others which are more unknown. Our winery owner Karen Held and Nathan started the conference with the 75-Minute Wine Expert session hosted by Drs. Joe Fiola and Gary Pavlis (who both helped host the amazing vintage Norton tasting earlier in the week) and enjoyed an entertaining overview of wine enjoyment and analysis. Midday, we were able to share more of our wines at lunch and give a few words about the winery and how thankful we were that they were visiting Missouri! The next sessions explored topics such as the dessert wines of Madeira, Blaufränkisch wines from New York, Austria, and Hungary, and Lodi, California wine pairings with exquisite barbeque (every dish was fantastic!). Friday evening finished with another wine reception, though this time it featured wines from across the globe instead of just Missouri. The standout of the evening was the Illyrian native wines!

Saturday started enthusiastically with a seminar hosted by Nathan entitled “Norton At Stone Hill Winery – A Study In Modern Viticulture & Vinification” and featured five Stone Hill Winery Norton wines to taste through. As Norton is Missouri’s state grape and the flagship of the industry and our winery, it made sense to spotlight this great grape. The talk examined the history of Norton, including its start in Virginia, its move across the country through Ohio and to Missouri, its early adoption at Stone Hill Winery in the 1850s, and its ultimate success on the international stage as the “Best Red of All Nations” at the 1873 Vienna World’s Fair. Then, Nathan turned toward its disappearance with Prohibition and its reemergence in 1965 with the reestablishment of Stone Hill Winery at the hands of Jim and Betty Held.

Wines Featured:

The history was paired with the modern production of Norton at the winery, both in the vineyard and in the cellar. To emphasize this, incomplete wines from the 2023 vintage were tasted to showcase how young, unfinished wine tastes compared to a released vintage. By tasting the two separate vineyards of the 2023 vintage, one is able to notice a distinct terroir of each site present within the wines and can envision how a winemaker works through synthesizing them together to create the final blend. People seemed to greatly enjoy the session on Norton!

Following this were two more session blocks to finish out the conference. Nathan featured as a panelist in another session hosted by Tastemaker’s Cat Neville focused on her documentary “Winemaking In Missouri: A Well-Cultivated History” (which you can watch here!). Joining Nathan on the panel were Glenn Bardgett, Wine Director of Annie Gunn’s Restaurant, and Angie Geis, co-owner of Noboleis Vineyards in Augusta, Missouri. The panel session shared excerpts from the documentary, covered questions from Cat and the attendees, and tasted wines from six Missouri wineries, including our Chambourcin.

The conference ended with a final delectable dinner with more great wines. While there, we learned the results of the 2023 American Wine Society Commercial Wine Competition. As in years past, we were excited to enter and were floored by the results. Our wines walked away with 21 great awards, including the Best of Class Sparkling Wine for our Blanc de Blancs, Best of Class Rosé for our soon to be released Steinberg Rosé, and double gold for our Ozark Hellbender! Stay tuned for a blog featuring the full awards and wine list.

Overall, the conference was an incredible experience full of wine, new friends, and great times! If you are a wine fanatic, we would highly suggest joining a local chapter or starting your own.