Grapes to glass in Hermann, Missouri

by Sonja Stark on October 21, 2014

Grape Harvester at Stone Hill Winery

Harvesting Grapes

Missouri has a whopping 126 wineries in the state and to keep up with supply and demand, wineries invest heavily in state-of-the-art machinery. Faster than hand-picking (nearly 10-times faster), this straddling monster is called a Grape Harvester and can strip a row of purple fruit in seconds. To see it in action is hypnotic.

Stone Hill Winery in the northeast region of Missouri demonstrated this quite well for our cameras. We got lucky too. Because of the formidable weather last week the remaining harvest was delayed just long enough for us to get to Hermann and document the activity.

The Grape Harvester moved up and down rows of bountiful trellises literally shaking the profits off the vine and onto conveyer trays, cups and belts and eventually into a catch bin. Field hands are still very much needed. Depending on the pitch of the hill or the spacing between rows or the variety of grapes, we saw as many as 10 laborers working frantically in teams to finish the workload.

CrusherAfterwards, we watched a forklift empty loads of wooden barrels into a silver hopper called the Corkscrew Crusher. We were nostalgically hoping to see a look-a-like Lucille Ball doing the iconic grape-stomping dance. But, romantic images of purple-stained toes hoisting overflowing juice buckets is no more. The Crusher can process hundreds of pounds of grapes in minutes. It separates the stems and then punctures the skin so that the pulp and juice turns into a soupy mixture that can be fermented.

There are several more stages before an actual glass of wine can be served but I’m getting a little thirsty and my time in Missouri is sadly coming to a close. For more information, visit: Stone Hill Winery and the Missouri Wines website.

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He’s the Wurst: a sausage maker in rural Missouri

by Sonja Stark on October 18, 2014

Wurst Haus

Wurstmeister Mike Sloan rushes to the front door when he sees new customers entering.

“Welcome to the Wurst Haus! Follow me for a sample of the best sausage in Missouri!” he proudly proclaims.

Everyone hurriedly surrounds a metal tray dressed with hanging links of smoked bratwurst, a tip jar and bottles of hand-batched wurst soda. Sloan cuts up bite-size morsels for everyone to feast on. He wears a small microphone to amplify his voice as he describes the ingredients.

“Try the Pineapple and Bacon bratwurst! You’re going to love our Bloody Mary Bratwurst! Oh, and now, how about a few forks of our Caramelized Pear and Gorgonzola Bratwurst!”

The restaurant and gourmet food store used to be struggling NAPA Auto Parts store in the middle of Hermann, Missouri but in 2011, Sloan revamped the brick warehouse into a smorgasbord of flavors – 46 to be exact. The menu on the chalkboard hanging over the glass display case reads much higher though.

Germans have a special bond with sausage, no different than, say, a Japanese sushi chef has with raw fish or an Italian pizza man with dough. Sloan has been curing, drying and smoking ground meat since he was a young boy growing up with parents who also owned their own store. Blutwurst, liverwurst, bierwurst, currywurst: you name the “wurst” and Sloan makes it the best.

For more information, visit: http://www.hermannwursthaus.com/

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Hermann, Missouri; cradle of the wine industry

by Sonja Stark on October 15, 2014

Hermann MissouriFounded by Germans in 1837, Hermann sits in a valley popularly known as the romantic Rhineland of Missouri. Tucked away on the longest river in America, early residents quickly took advantage of the sunny weather and fertile soil for growing grapes. The rocky nourishing dirt and steep slopes proved perfect for making award-winning white, light and sweet wines.

I’m even told that during the Civil War, the region ranked as the number one producer of wine in the nation. Today, Hermann holds the distinction of being one of two of America’s first ‘Viticultural Areas’ in the country. The cradle of the wine-growing industry is where I’m off to tomorrow afternoon.

I’ve been here twice before but never during Oktoberfest, the town’s most popular time of year. Every weekend in October, the region kicks up their clogs to traditional customs like beer gardens, polka bands and salty pretzels. Historic Bed-and-breakfasts and inns are filled to capacity. The underground cellars of famous wineries like Stone Hill, Hermannhof, Adam Puchta and Oak Glenn offer intimate tastings led by renowned wine-making pioneers.

Follow along this weekend as I showcase the Old-World charm of Hermann’s many wineries, restaurants, shops and museums. Or, visit “Experience Hermann” and plan your visit before the end of the month.

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Exploration Day: Climbing our country with foreigners

by Sonja Stark on October 13, 2014

Black Mountain

Black Mountain

Call it Columbus Day, Indigenous People’s Day or Exploration Day but despite the mixed legacy of Christopher Columbus, 1492 marked the beginning of trans-Atlantic journeys to the New World for millions. The age of discovery is still alive and well climbing in the Adirondacks on this beautiful holiday weekend.

It’s chief leaf-peeping season in Saratoga County. Brilliant shades of orange, yellow, gold and red dominate the Lake George area. At the summit of Black Mountain, on the east side of the lake, you’ll be greeted by a colorful views stretching in all directions including a ranger’s cabin, fire tower, random antennas and working solar panels.

As timing would have it, we (George, Mutti and little Renee) paired up with a diaspora of political science majors from all over Europe and Asia. Some were out of breath and panting, others had found their hiking rhythm and nearly all neglected to remember hiking sticks or comfortable hiking boots.

What they did bring were items from their home countries. The Czech Republic students proudly unfurled their nation’s flag in the wind. The Brits quenched their thirst with bottles of homegrown hops. And, the Chinese students nearly lost their balance on the cliffs taking countless selfies. Climbing the ‘daks brings out the adventurous spirit of all nationalities.

Black Mountain

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Retracing Roosevelt history in the rain

by Sonja Stark on October 6, 2014

SpringwoodRetracing the Roosevelt history takes time but much of it unfolds in nearby Dutchess County. And, thanks to the Ken Burns’ “The Roosevelts – An Intimate History” documentary that aired on PBS in September, tourism is topping out in Hyde Park. Like millions of others, I too watched (parts of) the popular 14-hour, seven-part series; taking notes of exciting places enjoyed by the greatest president in the history of the United States.

Weekends at the FDR Presidential Library and Museum are bursting at the seams on rainy Saturdays. “Oh, I’m sorry but all of our tours are completely sold out” a park ranger told us, regrettably. Instead, we were welcome to tour the grounds (had we had umbrellas) including the Rose Garden where Franklin and Eleanor are buried, free of charge. We lingered in the glass enclosed lobby of the Visitor and Education Center with just enough memorabilia, including a pictorial floor map in mosaic tile and an orientation film, to feel like we didn’t miss anything.

Wilderstein Mansion, 330 Morton Road, Rhinebeck, NYAfterwards we traveled north to the town of Rhinebeck with a stop at the Wilderstein Estate. As you might recall from the Bill Murray movie Hyde Park on Hudson, the Queen Anne style country house is where FDR’s distant relative, Margaret “Daisy” Suckley was born and lived. Matters of importance today have more to do with preservation than FDR’s romantic confidante. We crashed the tail end of an event commemorating the first phase of restoration of the 1888 Carriage House. The community raised a half-a-million dollars to save the building from collapse. There are breathtaking views of the Hudson from an expansive veranda and tours of the multi-gabled attic and dramatic five story circular tower.

Wilderstein Mansion, 330 Morton Road, Rhinebeck, NY

Wilderstein Mansion, 330 Morton Road, Rhinebeck, NY

Val-Kill Eleanor Roosevelt CottageAnother stop on the Roosevelt retrospective includes a modest stone house Eleanor enjoyed called Val-Kill. It’s the only National Historic Site dedicated to a first lady. Eleanor lived here from 1945, after the president passed, until her own death in 1962. Show your pay stubs from the FDR Library and Museum and the entrance fee is waived.

Albany XXThe Dutchess County Tourism website provides a vast inventory of more Roosevelt landmarks including: Top Cottage, the St. James’ Episcopal Church and the 1.8 mile Roosevelt Farm Lane Trail. There was no time left in our day but we’ll be happy to return.

Tip: Dry off from a retracing the Roosevelt history with a pint or two of Albany Ale XX on tap at the Mill House Brewing Company in Poughkeepsie. Remember, FDR accomplished the greatest feat of them all when he made the executive decision to repeal Prohibition!

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The newest celebrity sighting in Roxbury, NY: a rat!

by Sonja Stark on October 1, 2014

Roxbury RatRoxbury, NY might just be one of the most ‘happening-est’ hamlets in New York state. Narrow county roads leisurely wind through the renowned Catskill mountains traveling down from Albany or up from NYC.

The first time I visited was while shooting a feature story with CBS-affiliate WRGB, reporter Dan DiNicola. Bless his soul, DiNicola discovered a vintage baseball team that played traditional ball like it was played in 1898. We videotaped the “Roxbury Nine” at the beautiful Kirkside park. The boys caught pop flies and grounders with bare hands and only the catcher was allowed to use a poorly-padded mitt.

The second discovery was watching Animal Planet. A popular series called “Tanked” invited the show hosts to a fun and funky motel to install an Egyptian-style aquarium in one of the guest rooms. The Roxbury Motel has been dubbed “cool design,” “whimsical elegance” and “decadently over-the-top” for rooms decorated with a theme inspired by a famous TV series, film or cartoon of the 1960’s or 70’s. Someday, I’d love to spend the night in a suite inspired by Austin Powers: a ‘shagadelic’ yellow-and-orange checked floor, zebra-patterned sofa and metallic table and chairs.

And, yesterday, my third visit in Roxbury, was while shooting an episode of “Unlikely Animal Friends” for Nat Geo at a local farmhouse. A NYC Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator shared a heart-warming story about his adorable pet rat Olivia. Chris Durham is also a writer, artist and successful actor who divides his time between his city digs of Manhattan and his cozy upstate crash pad. No, he did not purposely befriend a rodent because he missed the subway system. I can’t divulge details until the show airs in early 2015 but be aware of the local connection when you see it.

When we arrived, the double french doors of Durham’s cottage were thrown open revealing a hillside ablaze in the peak colors. A trickling stream ran quietly through the property. It was like the perfect postcard setting for a movie.

Like Durham, other celebrity personalities have also found the peaceful and charming Roxbury close enough from the city to escape to on weekends. Past and present residents include playwright Arthur Miller, actor Walter Matthau, playwright Tom Cole and sculptor Alexander Calder. Actors Alan Cumming and Dustin Hoffman, musical theater composer Stephen Sondheim, soap opera actress Elizabeth Hubbard and, I’m sure, many, many more are current residents. But, unlike them, it’s Olivia, the cheeky rat, that’s the big star due to make her television premiere sometime in January.

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