This wooden wine barrel assembled in Hermann, Missouri, represents the heart and humble beginnings of the state’s historic wine industry. Carved into the face of the barrel is an image of a man surrounded by fruitful grapevines. This etching symbolized the grapevine-covered land that the first German settlers purportedly found when they arrived at Hermann’s future townsite on the Missouri River in the late 1830s.
When Hermann’s first settlers realized the land was too poor to farm, they cultivated a thriving wine industry instead. Although the first wines produced were not good enough to sell, the introduction of hybrid-grape varieties by German immigrant and Hermann resident George Hussman propelled the town’s wine to the next level. By the latter half of the 19th century, Hermann became one of the most productive winemakers globally and the top producer in the United States from 1865 to 1870. The world recognized the town’s success in 1873 when Hermann’s Stone Hill Winery won the first of eight gold medals at the World’s Fair in Vienna. In 1919, the passage of the Volstead Act brought Missouri winemaking to a halt and temporarily ended Hermann’s reign in the industry. Decades after the alcohol ban, Missourians revived the wine industry, and today Missouri boasts over 100 wineries across the state. This wine barrel survives as a symbol of Missouri’s prolific wine production and the German settlers who developed the 19th-century industry.