Get Thee To a Winery!

Area vintners serve happiness in a bottle

There's a lot of talk these days about the "Young Professionals" of St. Louis. People throw parties for this seemingly elite group. They write stories about them, and various local charities and institutions have even created special clubs for the Young Professionals to donate their time and money.

But all this attention to the Young Professionals has left another, less influential contingent out of the party, so to speak: the Young WINOS (Working Imbibers Notoriously Oblivious to Sipping). This ragtag bunch of folks spends a lot of time in the aisles of Starrs and holed up in the basement of Brennan's.

Yes, it's a tough life, having to be indoors all the time, wine key close at hand, the lights dimmed to obscure their purple-stained teeth, but they've managed thus far. Fortunately, thanks to our Summer Guide, they won't have to merely make do anymore; in fact, the RFT wants to raise a glass to the Young WINOS with this handy month-by-month winery guide that intends to get them out and about. So, without further ado....

First stop on the tour de vin is along Highway 94 where there are enough wineries with breath-taking views to get the Young WINOS through the entire month of June. Let's see: Montelle Winery at Osage Ridge (off Highway 94, Augusta; 888-595-9463 or www.montelle.com) features a spacious wraparound deck, lush valley views and, of course, many reasonably priced wines (nearly twenty), varying from the lip-smacking Cynthiana to the refreshing Seyval. Bands play Montelle every Saturday and Sunday beginning at 2 p.m. (there's no cover), and the winery is celebrating "Jazz in June." Plus, Montelle has a full-service café, so don't bother with your picnic basket (in fact, it isn't allowed).

A little further down Highway 94 in Augusta proper is Mount Pleasant Winery (5634 High Street; 800-467-9463 or www.mountpleasant.com). Perched on a hill that's perfectly suitable for rolling down, by the way, Mount Pleasant is simply that: pleasant. With free guided tours of the grounds offered Saturday and Sunday at 1 and 3 p.m., weekend entertainment ($5 cover charge, except on Saturday, June 17, when it's free), and a wide selection of wines — including the toast-worthy Vintage Port — this patriarch of the fertile region (Mount Pleasant was founded in 1859) provides more than enough good reasons to enjoy St. Charles County all month long. But take note: The cops out there have a pretty rigorous safe-driving campaign going. Best to take a bike on the Katy Trail, a bus, a cab, a sober driver or a limo. Or stay at one of Augusta's bed & breakfasts (visit www.augusta-chamber.org for more information), so you don't get thrown in the clink.

Now, July is the quintessential summer month, with the red, white and blue, and the fireworks, baseball and Cracker Jack. Sadly, the Young WINOS didn't get an allotment of Cardinals tickets this year (join the club), and Fair Saint Louis isn't big on the wine service. So, when driving downtown this month, our grownup gulpers shouldn't exit and try to buy a nose-bleed ticket for $500. They should just continue on across the bridge to Illinois' wine country. Seriously. Several wineries have begun to bloom on the other side of the river in recent years that are just perfect for honoring at least the red and the white.

Consider Ravissant Winery in Belleville (5950 Town Hall Road; 866-837-9463 or www .ravissantwinery.com): This budding winery celebrates its first anniversary on Saturday, June 24, but during July it offers a dance party under the stars almost every Friday night from 7 to 10 p.m. ($5). The wine will be buzz-worthy (Ravissant produces eight), the food will be delicious, and the music will be hot — but our wine-drinkers won't be because they're partying post-sunset. For more information about other Illinois wineries — such as Piasa Winery at 211 West Main Street right on the river in Grafton (618-786-9463 or www .piasawinery.com) — visit www.illinoiswine.com. And, if you plan to be, shall we say, "overserved" in Illinois, visit the Illinois Bed & Breakfast Association's Web site at www.go-illinois.com to research some accommodations.

So July's taken care of, but what about August, the month of unrelenting humidity, unforgiving heat and unsavory warm wine? During this part of summer, even nighttime revelers will suffer — it'll be so hot that magnum bottles will boil over! Luckily, the Cave Vineyard in Ste. Genevieve (21084 Cave Road; 573-543-5284 or www.cavevineyard.com) comes to the rescue — or, rather, its Saltpeter Cave provides a respite. Save from the walk from the parking lot, the only sunlight the Young WINOS have to endure here comes from the bottle (all eight choices are sure to please, including the White Chambourcin, a rose wine, which is guaranteed to stay at optimum temperature underground). Plus, bands play in the cave on the weekends all summer long to help you let off steam (no charge, but a wine purchase is required). Now, that's the kind of August our twentysomething tipplers can truly enjoy.

By the time September rolls around, there's a decent chance that people will be able to once again hit the bottle out-of-doors — during the daytime, no less — and our fermented friends should head out to Missouri's own little bit of Germany: Hermann. See, in Munich, Oktoberfest begins on Saturday, September 16, and runs only through the very beginning of October, contrary to popular belief, so the Young WINOS should strive to get that party started on time (and before the crowds flood Hermann throughout October for Missouri's version of the famous German party).

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