Chandler Hill Vineyards, Defiance

Chandler Hill Vineyards describes itself as Tuscan-inspired, with a Napa twist and a Missouri soul. As my husband and I stepped into the impressive tasting room and then out onto the expansive deck, it was just that. The vineyards, a spring-fed lake and the Osage Valley fanned out below us. Worlds away from the city, Chandler Hill is a convenient 45 minutes from downtown St. Louis.

The vineyard’s fascinating history dates to the early-1870s. Freed slave Joseph Chandler traveled north on the Mississippi River from the Civil War-torn South and settled near Defiance. Befriended by the Fluesmeier family, who farmed the property, Chandler helped work the land for many years. He died in 1952 at age 98.

The tasting room and winery stand on the site of Joseph Chandler’s modest cabin. Stones from its foundation surround the waterfall at the winery’s entrance. When the tasting room was built in 2007, artifacts were uncovered including a shotgun, rifle, tools and china—now proudly displayed.

Chandler Hill’s wine list features award-winning Missouri labels from its own Chambourcin, Vignoles, Seyval Blanc and Norton grapes. They also produce a Norton port and a refreshing, Vignoles white port. West Coast wines round out the offering. Several labels produced by the vineyard take their names from the property’s heritage. The smoky, “Savage” Norton commemorates a .22 rifle hanging in the tasting room. And smooth, crisp “Gray House” Vignoles refers to a German immigrant who lived on-site.

The vaulted tasting room accommodates diners and large parties. At one end, above the sizeable, U-shaped bar hangs a handcrafted candelabra. A floor-to-ceiling, stone fireplace flanks the opposite end. In warmer months, the deck makes the perfect spot for relaxing or dining.

An excellent menu offers seasonal choices highlighting local bounty, produce from an on-site garden and newly-released wines. We ordered the well-prepared salmon with lemon caper butter, a still-sizzling flat iron steak and the King Buck Burger, a house specialty, topped with caramelized onions, cheddar cheese and house King Buck barbecue sauce. A Vidal Blanc and Norton paired perfectly with our entrees. House-made desserts rotate through the menu, and the blueberry banana crème pie and carrot cake with cinnamon frosting were both delicious.

Chandler Hill hosts a number of events: themed dinners, monthly wine club dinners, live entertainment on weekends and private tours accompanied by tastings and an optional lunch.

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