Before Prohibition, Missouri was ranked as the second largest wine producing state in the country. Currently the Missouri Wine and Grape Board recognizes 128 wineries in Missouri – we profile these adventurous and patient souls called to growing grapes and winemaking.
While winemaking and storytelling may not seem like they have much in common, for Asher and Jesse Dale they’re as intertwined as the roots of the grape vines they planted three years ago on family land. Their winery and vineyard, Dale Hollow, started as a passion project and has become a family affair built on their love of wine, each other and their small hometown of Stover.
“Growing up in a rural area we definitely had an appreciation for the outdoors and for growing things,” said Asher, 31. “There’s also a long history of grape growing in Missouri and in our area, too, and we wanted to build on that tradition.”
“For us it was never about having a glass of wine with dinner but more about the character, complexity and story behind the wine.”
“...Hollow: Term generally used to describe deep dips and valleys on a given plot of land. Also pronounced “holler” in some parts of the world.
There is something mystical about wine when it is fully experienced and enjoyed. To the French, this is summed up in the word terroir (ter-wahr), which is a sense of place.
TERROIR: A wine gets its individuality from a combination of climatic conditions, soil, topography, and native growth. Throughout history it was noted that grapes grown using the same methods but in different regions, vineyards, or even sections of vineyards could taste and smell remarkably different.
Wine is an experience enhanced by the people surrounding you, food you are eating, and even the mood you are in. This is the type of magic we want to create and as crazy (and old-world enraging) as it sounds, we are simply thrilled to explore the terroir in Missouri. We hope to bring out the rolling oak and dogwood lined hills laden with the foliage that feeds our famed wildlife, morel potent soil, and hints of primrose, coneflower, and hawthorn at the nose of every sip.
There you have it: experiences, memories, learning, tasting, all in the spirit of fully enjoying wine: a captivating story that is far from having an ending.” – What’s in a Name? April 11, 2013
The impetus to grow their own grapes started out as a discussion with his wife, Ana, a native of Guatemala and pharmacist who works in Sedalia. He met her in Belize, while both were college students.
“We were talking about putting some grapes at our house and then I talked to Jesse about it and it just snowballed from there. There was definitely some booze involved,” he said.
Asher, who graduated from the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg with a bachelors degree in aquatic ecology and chemistry, was interested in making small batches of wine; Jesse had bigger ambitions. After earning an MBA in finance from the University of Central Missouri, he worked at financial institutions in St. Louis and Kansas City. He met his wife, Katy, from Kentucky, literally over a bottle of wine while the two were training to be bank examiners in Washington D.C.
“While we were dating Katy and I fell in love with wine, visiting wineries and hearing the passion the people who make it have about it,” said Jesse, 28, who currently works as an assistant vice president at Citizen’s Bank of Eldon and Versailles.
“We had talked about moving back to Stover but the winery was the final push,” he said.
The brothers shared their interest with their parents Beth (Bauer), a retired school teacher, and Kenny Dale, who along with Asher works at the Stover Milling Company, co-founded by Beth’s great grandfather Bauer. Married for 33 years, the couple instilled their love of family, faith and strong community ties in their sons.
“The idea of Dale Hollow goes back to a time before my brother and I were involved with women, except for the only one that matters when you are young, momma. Her plan for my brother and I was to move out of our bedrooms and up the driveway into the woods where we could have our own houses and families. At the top of the driveway we could have one of those wooden signs that reads ‘Dale Hollow’.” – Jesse Dale
Even though they knew little about running a winery, what they lacked in knowledge they made up for in passion and determination. They researched and Jesse and Katy spent time at Westphalia Winery and visited Les Bourgeois in Columbia.
“We knew that we wanted to make wine from our own grapes that we have our hands on from the beginning to the end, and that also has our name on it,” said Asher.
“We also knew that we couldn’t grow French grapes in Missouri but my brother and I didn’t get into winemaking to make Chardonnay, we want to make good wine with Missouri grapes like the Norton,” he said.
In order to learn, they operated Grey Bear winery for a while, which allowed the brothers to work a mature vineyard.
“The owners took us under their wing and showed us the whole process,” Jesse said.
When they decided to plant their own vineyard the best soil samples ended up coming from the five acres of land their father inherited from his parents LeAnne and Melvin Dale.
“You can stick a shovel in the dirt and you don’t hit rock and clay immediately,” said Asher. “It’s not the best ground but it worked and it happened to be what we had access to.”
…It is best to let the vines experience the hard times early on and toughen up for the long life ahead of them. I feel like we are raising 1,000 kids. – Long Winter’s Nap • November 5, 2013
They planted five mostly hybrid varietals, including Cayuga White, Norton, Baco Noir, St Vincent and Concord grapes. They currently have a total of 1,250 plants spread over on three acres.
They planted their first seedlings on Mother’s Day in 2013, helped by their parents, aunts and cousins.
“From day one everybody has pitched in to help us,” said Jesse, who started a blog to document the entire process from vine to wine.
They’ve endured one of the worst winters on record, a drought and Japanese Beetles, but have persevered – so did their plants.
“…A number of the smaller plants that looked like they were struggling even had some leaves now. We noted an important lesson from this: don’t give up on the little plants just because they appear lifeless at first glance; you don’t know what’s going on underneath the surface as roots are growing deep and they are realizing their potential. Not dead, just in need of a little time and nourishment through sunshine and water. We also discovered that when your own lawnmower is in a state of rest, your father doesn’t appreciate it when you borrow his and attempt to mow a field full of rocks waiting like mines to devour the blades. I have said it before and I will say it again: lesson learned. – Summer in the North Vineyard • September 21, 2013
“The vineyard is exciting because it’s constantly changing,” said Asher. “We’ve had our good days and our bad days. It’s not like regular farming because how you treat your grape this year affects your success in the years to come. Believe me, we’ve worried plenty.”
“…Grape Vines? Check. Identifiable rows? Check. We have been doing lots of work in the vineyard this year and we are proud to say that it’s starting to look like a vineyard. This is the third growing season and as we promised a few years back, we should have some grapes by year three or four. It will probably be a small harvest being the first one, but we are excited for anything at this stage. Who knows? Could be a good old-fashioned grape stomping party this fall. Just kidding.. Maybe. You never know around here!” – It’s a Field…It’s Grass…It’s a Vineyard! • June 23 2015
For Jesse, the more type-A personality of the two, learning to give up a sense of control has been difficult.
“Sometimes I get excited or worked up but I’ve had to learn to let go of some things,” he said. “I’m out there pulling weeds with my bare hands but it’s so rewarding to see the fruits of your labor and to be out there working with the land.”
Even though the brothers have had their differences, their partnership seems to be thriving, too.
“Asher is creative, his passion is in the wine making but the business side doesn’t interest him that much. With his science mind and my business mind we make it work,” he said.
“We haven’t always had a lot in common but this has made us much closer.”
So far, they’ve made three different wines with grapes from Grey Bear that they’ve sold to family and friends, usually around Christmas. For Asher, the high point was making the vignoles, a semi-sweet white wine with a citrus finish. They’ve also purchased fruit and concentrates to bottle Hiawatha Peach and Blackberry Patch.
“We all get together around a meal at our house and brainstorm names that have significance to us,” said Beth. “Blackberry Patch is a road in the country that was rumored to be a good parking spot, and Hiawatha Beach is at the Lake of the Ozarks where we have a cabin.”
Katy handles the mountains of paperwork involved in being licensed with the state and digitizes and scans the labels.
For each label, Beth makes subtle changes in the logo she created that’s become the face for the winery and the blog. For her it was important to convey a sense of place and also utilize the crescent moon, which she loves.
“I wanted to do something whimsical that fit my sons’ personalities and also tell the story of our family,” she said.
I like to think of winemaking as our little stamp on the world. We also have a certain passion for our faith, family and small town living. When you mix all this together and the right opportunity comes along, you come to the conclusion that it is time to take some risks and follow your dreams.
A little scary? You betcha. Risks were never supposed to be a simple, sure thing… If they were they wouldn’t be called risks; they would be called things like “safe” and “easy”. You never hear the people that chase their dreams say it happened by waiting idly by. Of course, you also never hear about the people that decided to go for it and it didn’t work out, and we certainly hope this won’t be that kind of story. – The Next Chapter March 8, 2014
It’s a story that continues to develop. Their new production facility with an area for wine tasting is almost completed and their vision extends beyond.
“Eventually we want to have a bar and a few tables so people can enjoy the view of the vineyards and the pond. We hope to introduce Stover to new people that may come visit the winery,” Jesse said.
They would also like to hold outdoor events and tastings and establish an official wine trail with other wineries in their area, too.
Just another day in Dale Hollow.
Although her grape vines are still “babies” and snug in their grow tubes, Stephanie Beck is banking on these yearlings to be plentiful. An assistant vice president in the IT division at an investment brokerage firm in Kansas City, Beck is pursuing a second career as a vintner.
Currently studying enology and viticulture in the on-line VESTA Program through Missouri State University, she’s interned at several wineries near Kansas City, including Holy-Field Vineyard & Winery and Joweler Creek Vineyard & Winery in Platte City.
“I’ve been in corporate America for 20 years and I really wanted to make a lifestyle change so I started growing grapes,” said Beck, a Jefferson City native.
She planted 300 vines on a half-acre of land she owns in Centertown.
While growing grapes and making wine is very trendy right now, whether as a hobby or a business, Beck grew up in a winemaking family.
“My grandfather made wine in his basement since 1921 and my father always wanted to own a winery,” she said.
Allen Beck, who retired after 41 years as a Jefferson City fireman, set up an LLC for Firehaus Cellars Winery but was sidelined by injuries from a fall.
“My father’s accident prompted me to move forward and I began taking classes and looking for land,” she said.
The cost of land in and around Kansas City was far too pricey so she decided to look near her parents who had moved to St. Martins. Family friend Reid Millard saw the property for sale and thought it would be perfect for Beck’s operation.
“Reid called me as he was driving by the land and I ended up buying it,” Beck said.
She chose to plant Valvin Musat, nicknamed the Muscato of the Midwest, a heartier and more disease-resistant white wine grape. The plants were purchased from a nursery in New York, but developed at Cornell University.
“It’s harder to find and wineries that do grow it are winning awards for their wines made from this newer variety of grape,” she said. “I’m a fan of the sweet, white wines and so are 60 percent of women who make up the majority of wine purchases. So I thought it would be a good seller when I do open my winery.”
Already plagued with Japanese Beetles and an extremely wet summer, she makes frequent visits to the vineyard to spray and tend to the plants that despite the conditions continue to survive and thrive. The purchase of a used 4-wheeler helps her get around the vineyard more efficiently when she’s checking the plants.
“It’s hard work but I’m not stuck in a cubicle anymore and I love being outdoors,” said Beck.
A capital intensive business, she knows she’ll need to continue in corporate America for a while longer but remains optimistic about her investment.
“I take it as a very good sign that Phyllis Meagher, who owns Meramec Vineyards in St James, also left the IT world to open up a winery,” said Beck. “If I do well with these plants and they survive everything, the turkeys, the deer and the beetles, I hope to plant more.”
During the next phase of the project, she plans to put up end posts in anticipation of the plants being tall enough to reach a trellis by the spring of 2016.
“If things go well I might have a test harvest in 2017 when the vines are 3 years old, but most likely they won’t be mature enough until 2018,” she said.
“When getting into this business I knew I would have to be patient, so I will continue my studies and learn as much as I can while my grapes grow.”