VISITING SILVER RAILS WINE COUNTRY
Story by Tom Anderson
Photos by Tom Anderson and Carl Morrison
Normally I'm leading a group of wine fans up to the city of Santa Barbara aboard the Santa Barbara Daylight Vino Train but on this trip I was on a different type of vino train.
On the evening of Monday March 8 th I boarded Amtrak's Southwest Chief in Fullerton California for La Plata Missouri. Also riding that evening were my traveling companions Carl Morrison and his wife Sue. It was an enjoyable trip with lots of beautiful scenery and interesting conversations with fellow rail travelers. On the morning of Wednesday March 10 th we arrived in La Plata.
We were fortunate to stay at probably the finest hotel facility in the area, The Depot Inn and Suites in La Plata. This is a railroad themed hotel with an ultra friendly staff, large rooms, a railroad inspired indoor pool and plenty of train memorabilia. There is the Chris Guenzler One Million Mile Lookout point nearby which features a heated cabin with a deck that overlooks the BNSF mainline for those who love to watch or photograph trains. Webcams mounted on the lookout are available to watch online or the hotel's in-house channel. If you choose to travel by train they will pick you up and drop you off at the depot. Nearby in La Plata you can visit the Silver Rails Gallery which is devoted to railroad themed art or if you are planning to host some sort of shindig you can book it at the Silver Rails Event Center also in La Plata.
Our first order of business was a trip to Hannibal. Originally this supposed to be the first stop in our Silver Rails Wine Country tour however the winery we were planning to visit en route, Indian Creek Winery in Monroe City, was closed for the winter and wouldn't reopen until April. Indian Creek Winery uses the traditional Missouri grape varietals such as Norton, Chambourcin, Vignoles and Chardonel as well as several fruit styles. We continued the rest of the way Hannibal and enjoyed this quaint little small town. Sue headed off to the quilt shop while Carl and I toured the town. We got in a few tastings of some Missouri wines at a local shop and viewed trains moving along the mighty Mississippi river.
Thursday morning we got up and headed down to Higbee which is the home to The Cooper's Oak Winery. What makes this winery so unique is that it has a cooperage on the property. In fact the cooperage has been around since the 70's and the winery is only three years old. Don't let the fact that they're a relatively new winery fool you, they make some fantastic wines here. Toasted Oak is a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend with grapes that come from California. It has a gentle smokiness that rivals some California Bordeaux type blends. Triple Oak Bliss blends the same Cab/Merlot with a touch of Missouri Norton. You'll also find some of the traditional wines you find in Missouri. The Norton is excellent as are the Chambourcin and St. Vincent. They also have the sweet red, white and rose wines that are the hit in Missouri.
The A&K Cooperage is in the next building. If you're lucky you can get a tour of the barrel making process. The cooperage is partly owned by Silver Oak Cellars in the Napa Valley. The wood used is primarily Missouri white oak which is air cured for two years before being incorporated into barrels. French oak barrel staves are occasionally imported for those who want French barrels. Most of the barrels make there way to California via the train. On our trip we got to see how the barrels were shaped and tested to make sure they don't leak. We then got a quick tour of some of the antique cooper tools and barrel memorabilia they have on hand by the owner's father.
Our next stop was Jacob's Vineyard located just outside of Kirksville. This is a newer winery having just opened in the fall of 2009. Most of the wines here are of the sweeter variety however I would classify the Norton as being dry. One interesting wine of note is the Vignoles which the winemaker called a bit of a mistake. Apparently there was some of the yeast left over and the bottle started to re-ferment. It has a touch of sweetness but you get the bubbles like a sparkling wine but in a lighter form. Overall the wines were very good. Being it is a small family run operation we dealt with the owners and they were most gracious. In fact, when I mentioned I was making my own wine and was planning on using blue bottles for it, two days later they dropped off two cases of blue Bordeaux bottles for me. I was stunned! I will have to say I've met some of the friendliest folk in Missouri.
The next day we headed down to Macon to visit the West Winery owned by Chris and Jennifer West. This is a new facility they've moved into in downtown Macon. The winery has a very hip vibe and quite a large tasting area. The wine is made in the back of the building and some of the production is viewable from the tasting room. They have two labels they produce here, West Winery and Loco Vino. The West Winery label has a fantastic 2006 Norton. For those who like sweet wines the Duck Creek series of wines are a good value, my favorite being the Duck Creek White. Duck Creek Rose and Duck Creek Red are also available. Apple wine is available in dry, sweet and spiced versions as well as apricot wine. The spiced apple wine would be fantastic in winter time. The Loco Vino label is inspired by the local railroad history in the area. Smokestack White is a dry white wine that would go well with fish and chicken. Little Red Caboose is a delightful semi-dry red that I'm sure would be a hit with those who don't typically like red wine. Roundhouse Red is an easy drinking dry red that would work with burgers, BBQ and steak. I also had the opportunity to barrel sample there 2009 Chambourcin that will be bottled in April and was blown away. It was the best example I've had of this variety. The winery puts on different events pairing food with wine and is hopefully the start of a very cool downtown Macon district.
After a brief stop back at the hotel for a little R&R we headed back towards Kirksville to visit the West Winery at Jackson Stables. Jackson Stables is a large classy barn type building used to host special events such as weddings. The same folks at West Winery in Macon decided to do a little business with the owners of Jackson Stables and added a tasting room in there. Future plans hope to include a second West Winery on the premises. The wines being served are the same as down at West Winery in Macon. This tasting room is convenient for those who are in the Kirksville area.
After an enjoyable five days in the La Plata area it was time to head back home. We were greeted with some absolutely fabulous winter scenes in Colorado and New Mexico. It really helped cap off a fantastic vacation. Hope to go back soon to try a few more Missouri wineries!
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