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Rural Missouri Magazine

A new vintage
Coffman’s Crown Valley Winery was
created to be the jewel of Missouri’s winemaking industry

by Bob McEowen
The 44,000-square-foot Crown Valley Winery is modeled after facilities in California’s Napa Valley. Four other wineries in the Ste. Genevieve area join with Crown Valley to comprise the “Route du Vin,” a cluster destinations for wine enthusiasts.

It’s not often that an industry changes overnight. But round the bend of Highway WW east of Coffman in Ste. Genevieve County and you’ll see where such an event took place on April 25, 2003. On that date a new winery raised the standard for Missouri agritourism destinations and challenged the supremacy of established wine producers.

Missouri’s grape and wine industry has never seen anything like Crown Valley Winery. Designed from the ground up with high-volume production in mind and boasting stunning architecture and landscaping, Crown Valley wows visitors with their first glance.

“It’s a showplace,” says Christopher Ruess, director of marketing for Crown Valley Winery, which looms over a picturesque valley filled with grapevines. “I think it’s one of Missouri’s treasures.”

Even if it is Ruess’ job to promote the winery, it’s impossible to dismiss his description as mere hype. Crown Valley is impressive.

Raymond Kern of Bloomsdale samples wines with his brother, Norman, sister-in-law, LaVerne, and wife, Margie. Unlike most wineries in Missouri, Crown Valley charges for tastings. Visitors pay $5 for seven samples and a souvenir glass.

The 44,000-square-foot winery gleams as the sun reflects off two-story-tall banks of windows. Wrought-iron railings welcome visitors to an expansive parking lot with plenty of space for tour buses. Inside, an elevated walkway leads guests over a shimmering display of stainless steel tanks that comprise one of the largest wine-production facilities in the state.

“This is very, very nice for a Missouri winery,” says Ron Williams of St. Louis, a wine enthusiast who visited Crown Valley in October and likened it to vineyards he toured in California.

“I would say that this compares most favorably to everything that we saw in Napa Valley,” he says. “It has a spectacular vista. The facility is first rate.”

Raymond Kern, a visitor from nearby Bloomsdale, agrees. “I didn’t expect anything this big,” he says. “This is right out of California. They just brought it here.”

A wrought iron gate welcomes visitors to Crown Valley Winery.

These visitors’ impressions are exactly what southeast Missouri businessman Joe Scott, Sr., intended when he created Crown Valley Winery. “He wanted to impress,” Ruess says of his boss. “Everything he does, he’s first class.”

Scott’s many enterprises are almost too numerous to list. He began his career selling windows and went on to own car and farm implement dealerships, corporate real estate, hotels and time-share resorts.

In the 1980s, Scott began acquiring land near Coffman, located about 15 miles west of Ste. Genevieve, where he spent boyhood summers at his grandfather’s farm. Eventually, he purchased nearly 8,000 acres of rolling hills and valleys where he raises Black Angus cattle, bison and a sizeable herd of elk.

After visiting wineries in Europe and California, Scott decided to add vineyards and planted his first grapes in 1998.

Australian-born winemaker Daniel Alcorso adds yeast to a 3,000-gallon vat of grape juice to begin the fermentation process required to make wine. The winery’s production facility is on display to guests visiting the tasting bar or bistro.

“One thing led to another and he said, ‘Why not build a winery?’” explains Ruess. “Not just a winery, but something that’s a destination, something that really raises the mark.”

Scott personally laid out the floor plan after visiting California wineries. Construction began in 2000 and the first grapes were crushed to make wine in 2002. In April 2003, Crown Valley Winery, which is served by Citizens’ Electric Corporation, opened its doors to the public for the first time.

At 165 acres, Crown Valley’s vineyard is the largest in the state and boasts more Norton, the official state grape, than any vineyard in the nation. The state-of-the art winery is computer monitored and temperature controlled. To oversee production, the winery hired a winemaker from France. Recently, that job has passed to a winemaker recruited from Australia’s Yellow Tail, which skyrocketed from obscurity to become the top imported wine brand in the United States.

Nearly all producers age wine in oak casks, but few can equal Crown Valley’s commitment to barrel aging. A small winery may have a dozen barrels while larger producers might use several hundred. Crown Valley has 846 barrels, each holding 58 gallons of wine.

Bunches of Norton grapes await harvest in Crown Valley’s vineyards, located about 15 miles west of Ste. Genevieve. The winery boasts the nation’s largest planting of Norton grapes, the official state grape of Missouri.

“I can’t think of many wineries east of California that would have as many barrels as we have,” says Bryan Siddle, operations manager for Crown Valley Winery. “I think if you added up all the barrels in all the Missouri wineries it still wouldn’t even come close.”

Clyde Gill of Steelville’s Peaceful Bend Winery, one of Missouri’s smallest, says he was initially cautious about Crown Valley but now sees it as a welcome addition to the state’s wine industry.

“I think what Joe Scott has done is nothing short of tremendous, not only in and of itself, but for the industry,” he says, adding that the addition of another large volume producer can only draw more attention to Missouri’s wine industry.

Crown Valley produced 16,000 cases of wine during its first year in operation. Last year it made 32,000 cases, or nearly 80,000 gallons. The facility’s 50,000-case capacity places it in the same league as No. 1 St. James Winery and second-place Stone Hill.

Vineyard workers load Norton grapes plucked from the vine by a mechanical picker during harvest at Crown Valley Winery. At 165 acres the winery’s vineyards are the largest in the state.

Like other wineries in Missouri, Crown Valley specializes in wines made from French-American hybrid grapes like Chardonel, Vignoles and Norton. But unlike most of its in-state competitors, the winery also produces Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and other familiar varieties from grapes imported from California.

Price-wise, Crown Valley’s offerings are a bit more expensive than many Missouri wines. Most average between $14 and $25 a bottle. Some limited-edition wines are costlier. The 2001 Crown Jewel, an estate-grown Chardonel aged in French oak barrels for 30 months, sells for $50.

Most of Crown Valley’s wines are sold at the winery itself, though liquor and grocery stores in larger cities carry the brand as well. Recently, the winery opened retail stores in Farmington and St. Louis.

One surprising way Crown Valley is similar to California wineries is that it charges for tastings, a practice adopted by only one other Missouri winery. For $5 visitors can sample seven wines from a list of 36 of Crown Valley’s offerings. A souvenir glass is included. “(The pours) are about an ounce and quarter each. It’s a fair amount of wine,” Ruess says.

Visitors to Crown Valley Winery take in the bucolic scenery while enjoying a glass of wine. The winery overlooks the owner’s Black Angus and bison farm operation as well as vineyards.

Besides the tasting bar, the winery offers deli meals, a gift shop and tours of both its production facility and vineyards.

The design of the winery immerses visitors in the winemaking process. The equipment used to destem and crush grapes is clearly visible from balcony scenic overlooks. To get from the gift shop to the tasting bar and bistro, guests pass across a walkway above the winery’s fermentation tanks.

Winemaking is not the only thing Scott wants visitors to see when they’re in the area. The developer is establishing “Crown Country,” a tourist destination with the winery as the main attraction. The company has opened four bed and breakfast inns and several antique shops. One facility, Crown Ridge, offers a tiger sanctuary, executive lodging and a fine dining restaurant where Scott’s bison, Angus beef and elk are served.

Scott also owns a motel, restaurant and the Eagle Lake Golf Course in Farmington. An upscale hotel currently under construction adjacent to the links will soon partner with Scott’s time-share resorts.

Bottles of Crown Valley Winery's product await purchase in the gift shop. Most of the company's wines are sold at the winery but it is working to expand distribution to grocery and liquor stores.

Jim Anderson is program director for the Missouri Grape and Wine Board, which promotes the state’s wineries, including five in the Ste. Genevieve area. He says the addition of all the extra amenities makes Crown Valley unique.

“They’re putting a lot of other things into value-added agriculture for consumers to see when they come out to visit,” Anderson says. “They’re very much a draw to bring people into the area.”

Last year 30,000 people visited Crown Valley Winery. That’s a fraction of the million visitors to Missouri wineries statewide but Crown Valley’s staff recognizes that word is just beginning to spread about the state’s newest large winery. As impressive as the beginning has been, there is more to come.

“We’re definitely in the embryo stage,” Siddle says. “We’re still in our infancy.”

For more information, log onto www.crownvalleywinery.com, write to Crown Valley Winery, 23589 State Route WW, Ste. Genevieve, MO 63670; or call 1-866-207-9463. For general information about Missouri’s wine industry log onto www.missouriwine.org.

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