by Kelly Gates
The Missouri River Valley is a fertile strip of land originally settled by the Germans in the 1800s. Similar to the Rhine River region in Europe, the Missouri River Valley boasts land rich with loamy soil and an average of over 60 inches of rainfall per year.
These elements make Missouri a prime spot for growing grapes, which is why approximately 120 wineries operate there today. One of them, Yellow Farmhouse Vineyard and Winery, was founded in 2005 by former attorney Dale Rollings.
“I had been making wine as a hobby in my basement for about 35 years so when it came time to retire, I decided to open a winery,” Rollings told Wine & Grape Grower. “I started searching for land in St. Charles County and found an abandoned bed and breakfast on the corner of Highway 94 and the main road that leads into the town of Defiance. It is one of the first things people see when they come into the area, so it was the perfect location for a winery.”
Along with a large yellow farmhouse that was once used as the B&B’s main facility, Rollings acquired four acres of land with his initial purchase. He then added nearly six more acres-all land that had been used for hogs and cattle for over 100 years.
The longtime presence of livestock meant that fields were already very nutrient rich. And with a little bit of tilling and some added structures, the vineyard was ready to plant.
“I hired a company out of Illinois to come in and put the vineyard posts in place and stretch the wires,” he said. “Then, we were able to plant grapes and if necessary, we have the option of utilizing other local maintenance and contract companies. We do all of our planting, growing and harvesting ourselves, but we have had to hire a contractor once so far to spray our crops once when our sprayer wasn’t working properly.”
Because the valley has so many functioning wineries, it is able to support an extensive group of support contractors who are ready to lend a hand at a moment’s notice.
That said, Rollings and his wife Linda have done most of the work at their vineyards and winery with the help of their staff. They tend to the 9.7 acres at their main site and seven acres at another location about one mile away.
Between the two vineyards, Yellow Farmhouse Vineyard and Winery is capable of producing around 60 percent of the grapes used to make its assortment of wines. The remainder of the grapes are brought in from various sources locally and as far away as California.
“When we lost almost all of our crop to a great freeze in 2007, we discovered an amazing strain of red Barbera grapes and some Chardonnay grapes grown in California,” said Rollings. “We also brought in other varieties, but these two were so amazing that we continue bringing them in today. We also use grapes from other Missouri growers.”
While many Missouri vineyards grow Chardonel rather than the standard Chardonnay grapes, the owner opted to stick with Chardonnay. Norton is another variety grown there, a fruit that produces a bold, earthy wine that pairs well with many of the area’s staple foods like steak, red sauce pastas and barbecued cuisine.
The first major production of wine at Yellow Farmhouse in 2008 resulted in 6,000 bottles. Today, the winery makes 12,000 bottles or 1,000 cases annually, with 12 still wines and one dessert at price points ranging from $17 to $24 per bottle.
Each bottle is aged for at least three years before being released to the public.
“By nature, we are a dry wine house, with all dry wines except for one sweet red and one sweet white,” noted Rollings. “We make Norton, Traminette, Edelweiss, Vignoles and three wines from Chambourcin grapes, including a regular Chambourcin, a sweet red Rosso Dolce and a rosé, among others.”
At any given time, there are seven to 10 wines available for sampling in the winery’s tasting room. The space is a 30 ft. x 30 ft. building with an L-shaped tasting bar and a host of food products on hand for pairings, like cheeses, sauces and a private label mustard made for the company by a gourmet supplier on the west coast.
There are two certified sommeliers on staff to assist customers. All of the other employees that work the tasting room are required to spend several months in the production facilities learning the intricacies of making wine before they set foot on the tasting room floor.
“They learn to pump and punch down the wine, all about testing and sampling and the entire wine-making process,” said Rollings. “We do everything in house using equipment recommended to us by Prospero Equipment in New York. They helped us find the right sized equipment for where we hoped to be five to seven years after opening, including an Italian made bladder press and an Italian made crusher destemmer.”
The seven acre off-site vineyard is harvested using a mechanical harvester. But the grapes grown on the 9.7 acres at the main property are harvested by hand as the land there is too hilly for automated equipment.
The undulating hills at Yellow Farmhouse Vineyard and its position along the banks of the Missouri River make it the prime location for special events. According to the company’s owner, special efforts have been made to enhance the events offerings there in recent years.
“People have had weddings, birthday parties, reunions and other events here since we first opened, particularly because the views are so breathtaking,” he said. “But in 2012, we added a 45 ft. x 30 ft. event pavilion with a stone fireplace and five foot overhangs all around so inclement weather isn’t a problem.”
Rollings had western cedar cut from the western slopes of the mountains in Colorado and shipped in to Missouri to build the pavilion. The entire structure was stick built, creating a custom design that fits in well with the natural setting at the vineyard.
Along with party groups and a steady flow of wine enthusiasts, Yellow Farmhouse Vineyard & Winery also caters to a slew of bikers who utilize the 240 mile long Katy Trail which passes through Defiance and nearly touches Rollings’ property.
Many bikers stop in when they suddenly notice the winery along their route. Some are familiar with the place and make a point to stop there during their rides. Others use the parking lot across the street as a starting and ending point, wandering into the tasting room at the end of each ride for a glass or bottle of the company’s fine vino.
“We have really started gaining a stronghold in the area and our goal is to continue concentrating on wine making and great customer service,” said Rollings. “Our location has really helped draw attention so far and now as we are the first winery people run into when they come to the valley. Now, we want to focus on building our reputation as the winery people come back to time and time again because of the quality of our wines and the overall experience here at Yellow Farmhouse Vineyard & Winery.”
by Kelly Gates