Life is Sweeter with St. James Wine: History of Our Area
Our hearts and souls are poured into each bottle of wine. The story of St. James is found in the Italian culture, and the winemaking and farming traditions of the Meramec Highlands. It’s a special place – like no other, where life is sweeter.
Grape and wine production have a long history in the St. James area. Known locally as the Meramec Highlands, our region is also fondly known as “Little Italy of the Ozarks” thanks to the establishment of an Italian settlement in the area more than 115 years ago. The Italians who settled here planted vineyards, and by the 1930s over 1,000 acres of grapes dotted the landscape.
These Italian immigrants were very important to Missouri’s wine industry. Instead of destroying their vineyards during Prohibition like others in Missouri, they formed a fruit grower’s association in order to keep growing and selling the grapes, as well as other fruits, to grocery stores in St. Louis.
During WWII, Welch’s® steps into the story. Welch’s remembered the quality of the area’s Concord grapes. When they received a government contract to supply the military with juice, jams and jellies, Welch’s contacted the Italian immigrants and set up an exclusive long-term contract for supplying them with grapes from 1941 to 1991.
Within Welch’s agreement, the Italians negotiated to be allowed to sell small quantities or quarts of their grapes to individuals. Every year during harvest, these Italian immigrants would set up grape stands along I-44 and Route 66 to sell their fruit to those living in the area and those traveling along the highways. The original Italian families still carry on the tradition to this day.
Throughout the years, making wine from the grapes they grew for family and community consumption was also part of the Italian tradition.
When Jim and Pat Hofherr established the St. James Winery in 1970, they were inspired by the Italian immigrants and the wines they made. Velvet Red, the winery’s first and still best-selling wine, was developed to pay homage to the Concord-based wines made by the Italian community.
The Friendship School House is the winery’s icon and represents a time when the Italians sent their children to the one-room school and where they gathered for community events. In addition to The Friendship School being our icon, it appears as a drawing on the Velvet Red, Velvet White and Pink Catawba labels.
On the Country Red, Country White and our new Concord wine labels, the drawing of the truck driving on Route 66 represents our vineyards, which are right along “The Mother Road.”
Today, Concord grapes still play a staring role in our Velvet Red, Country Red and Concord wines.
Today, through constant research and development, St. James Winery continues to sustainably grow flavors that reflect the natural character of each of our grape varieties and of the special place they are grown – the Meramec Highlands. This is where we make wine to make your life sweeter.
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