Friday, December 14, 2007


By Tony Brockmeyer
Photos by Tony Brockmeyer

Little Hills Winery of St. Charles now has a new home in which to make and store their famous wines. Although the location may be new to Little Hills Winery it has been a fixture in St. Charles since 1851. Little Hills Winery wines are now stored and produced about 50 feet underground in historic St. Charles in about 5000 to 7000 square feet of caverns under Water Street.

Until the early 60’s the caverns were the home of the Fishback Brewing Company. In 1965 Nick Van Dyke purchased them from the Fishback family and began brewing batches of Van Dyke Beer. After the Van Dyke Brewing Company closed the caverns were purchased by Jim Reed of Cavern Springs Winery. Now they are the new home of the Little Hills Winery production division.

Ten years ago David Campbell and his family purchased the Little Hills Winery Restaurant at 501 South Main Street and operate it on a daily basis. “When we bought the restaurant 10 years ago there was a gentleman who made our wine for us and put our label on it,” David Campbell told the First Capitol News. “In the last three years we have made the change over to producing our own wine. Making sure it really is a legitimate winery.” The Campbell family also operates the Little Hills Winery Wine Shop at 710 South Main Street in St. Charles.

According to David Campbell, “Little Hills Winery sells about 8,000 cases of wine in the wine shop and restaurant a year. A case is 2.3 gallons of wine. In the caverns we are only going to do about 3,000 gallons. Anything more than that would be difficult because the caverns are really not designed for a heavy commercial production. We are somewhat limited.”

Little Hills Winery has a secondary bottling line in the St. James area where they will do another 3,000 cases. “We may be able to get production a little bit higher in the caverns but this will be more intended for red aging in barrels,” he said.

When asked if wine was good for your health David said, “Typically the red wines more than white. The tannins are very good I drink a glass in the evening. They have some other scientific components in there but it is the red. White wine is okay but it is the tannins that help digest your food and help lower the blood pressure.”

Little Hills Winery can bottle about 50 bottles an hour in their cavern production area. They have a small vineyard in Eolia, Missouri where Vignoles and Norton are grown and they have just purchased a small farm in Wentzville where they will be planting more grapes next year. “As grapes are a popular crop, there are many available for our purchase,” David said. “We get grapes from Mountain Grove, St. James and Augusta, Missouri areas.”

The only power equipment used by Little Hills Winery in the caverns is a corker. The machine that places the corks in the bottle. Everything else is pretty much gravity driven. “We pump the wine into tanks,” he said. “The wine then gravity feeds into our filler where we can fill six bottles at a time. They get corked and then we put labels on by hand. We place capsules over the corks and the top of the bottles and a heat gun is used to shrink the capsules onto the bottles which are then placed in a case and they are stored in the driest room in the caverns.”

The caverns usually maintain a temperature of about 64 degrees year round. In the lower chamber of the caverns a spring flows at a rate of about 85 gallons a minute. According to David that is why the street was named Water Street.

When we visited the winery David and his crew along with his wine maker, Phil Grazyk, were bottling Alpenglow and Alpenglow Blanc, a holiday wine best served warm, that Little Hills has produced for almost 20 years.

Grapes are usually obtained in the fall. Some juices and concentrates are available throughout the year and are used for fruit wines like Little Hills Winery Strawberry that is usually made in July. Traditionally the grape crop isn’t ready until the last part of September through October.

When asked if he was planning on expanding his restaurant operation into the caverns, David said, “I think one restaurant is enough. The goal is to be able to get the caverns to a point where we can share them back to the community because they are truly historic. Our intention is to do some private wine tasting activities down here but we will not be making this into a restaurant.”

The caverns also contain beer brewing barrels that are thought to be over 100 years old.