This past Sunday, some of the Smokes and Booze crew and I descended upon Native Stone Winery and Bull Rock Brewery as part of our Missouri Brew Tour.
There apparently was some lost communications between myself and Michele at Native Stone, so this was an “unannounced” visit. I have since had communication with her, and she was kind enough to provide comments and insight to everything we raised. I would also add that we had a great time and enjoyed the trip, which might not be reflected as well by the overall score. So keep in mind, that one of the things that brought the score down was the lack of beer…..which Michele points out below as being addressed. I guess this calls for a revisit later in the spring .
You can view more pictures at the Smokes and Booze Flicker account (HERE)
From the website-
The restaurant and microbrewery are operated by Michele & Chris Barrows. The Winery is owned by Cara and Larry Stauffer and was started in 2000. They still tend to the vineyards and make all of the wine. (Cara and Chris are brother and sister!)
In 1804, Lewis and Clark explored the riverside of Native Stone, where they found a large rock formation worth noting in their journals. That rock formation is “Bull Rock”.We named our microbrewery Bull Rock Brewery in honor of Lewis & Clark’s discovery. Native Stone will be offering tours of Bull Rock to the public, for the Lewis & Clark bicentennial.
<Ed>Located just north of Jefferson City off of Highway 50 West to Highway 179, I thought this would be an interesting site in my own back yard.
The drive from Ashland was really nice on this first day of spring. The Sun was shining and the wind kept the temps mild.
Debi’s GPS worked well (I had a map as a fallback), but it did have the location as being .5 Mile off of the actual site. So be warned.
Driving up the gravel lane lead us to find an old quaint farmhouse, which is not what we were expecting. If there wasn’t a car we recognized parked there, we would have continued to the warehouse you can barely make out in the distance that advertises “Native Stone Winery”.
I found it funny that TommyG noticed the same thing I did in the parking lot, empty Natural Light cans, and even included a picture with his submissions. We were showing up well after opening…so a little attention to detail and cleanup would have been appreciated>
Inside, you walk through a small gift shop and past the “Tasting Area” to get to the dining room. It did appear that there are several patios outside (we chose inside due to the wind).
From the dining area, there is a nice view overlooking part of the vineyard, but it is not as breathtaking as Les Bourgeois or Summit Lake Wineries.
<TommyG> Located 9 miles outside of Jefferson City, I had no trouble at all finding the winery based on the directions from the website. It was a gorgeous day, the first really warm and sunny of the year. It was a perfect day for a road trip, and Native Stone Winery was only 45 minutes from Columbia and about 15 minutes from downtown Jefferson City. It w...as the perfect distance for a Sunday afternoon getaway, and the drive was perfectly scenic with a great view of central Missouri’s rolling hills and farmland.
Pulling up to the winery we were a little thrown off as it looked more someone’s house than a place of business. The parking lot was tiny (and more of a gravel “suggestion” of a lot) and there was a couple of Natural Light cans scattered about. Now that is a bad sign for a supposed micro-brewery that it serves canned “Natties.” So we all manned up and walked up the front walkway to the farmhouse and found that inside was a really charming and intimate restaurant/bar/wine tasting gallery and gift shop and that the back side of the farmhouse was expanded seating and several spacious patios.
<Native Stone> Yes, the sign is old and weathered. I have actually been working on replacing the signs and of course, nothing goes without a hitch! Firstly, the screws used to attach the sign were not the correct ones, so they are rusted and not easily removed. I have been scraping paint and preparing the wood for it's new facelift. "Bull Rock Brewery" on the sign looks like it was added later because that is the first part I have been able to repaint. I can already hear your question...just replace it...I'm trying. Unfortunately, when the new section of Hwy 170 went it, they took a large chunk of land and we currently have a 105 foot road easement. Since I took over in July, I have been trying to by back a section of land to move the sign and make it more noticeable. However, I'm working with the City of Jefferson and I am at their mercy. The sign up by the winery is also in the process of a make over, which is why is says Native Stone Vineyards, inc. and ....but there is nothing after the and. Give me one more week and I should be done with that!
Empty beer cans in the parking lot...yup...you just can't fix stupid. I do not know if it was there when the staff arrived or if the nice stiff wind blew it our way, but I often find an array of empty cans an bottles...and we don't even serve that brand of beer!
<Ed> The inside reminded me of a Bed & Breakfast or perhaps some of the German Gasthauses I have visited. The décor is nice, and I particularly enjoyed eating off of china than standard restaurant fare. The view was ok, and probably would have been better if it were later in the year and more green….perhaps we will go back and go walking next time. I can see the allure, so I give it a score of 3.5
<TommyG> This is where the place wins, I thought that the restaurant was very pleasant with plenty of natural lighting. You had views of rolling Missouri farmland and vineyard while you eat, and the wait staff (err, one waitress for the entire place) was polite and attentive despite having to cover all the tables herself. Apparently this place gets rather crowded in the late spring and summer, but on this delightfully sunny mid-March Sunday afternoon it was rather dead. I give the ambiance a hearty 4/5.
<Native Stone> Breathtaking view? Certainly everyone is entitled to their opinion...but I love it. Yes, Native Stone deserves another trip from you in the spring. It's simply amazing. I've already decided that WHEN I win the lottery, I will be building a house on that land, not somewhere where I can sit outside and listen to Highway 54 traffic. In addition, we have an amazing hike that takes you to the Missouri River and a view to die for. Along the way, you can enjoy the views of our 12 acres of grapes!
Parking lot is just a parking lot, that's true. However, there is another large parking lot in the rear of the building. The "Barn" you refered to is actually where all of the wine is made. We produce approximately 7500 gallons of wine per year, so yes, you would be correct in saying that we are more of a winery than a microbrewery.
<Ed> I believe the group as a whole found the food adequate. I got the impression that it was hit and miss. Rex had the breakfast buffet and when asked how it was…he shrugged and said “It’s Breakfast”. Debi had one of the Pizzas and I personally had the Portabella Quesada which I found quite delicious. Solid 3 for me.
<TommyG> The menu was a pretty basic winery/Americana mix. The appetizer menu had such offerings as a cheese and antipasto basket, nachos, artichoke dip, and other such light fare. We went for the artichoke dip and it was pleasantly light for a cheese based dip. The rest of the menu offered a small selection of pizzas, burgers, and a small steak menu. We went with the pizzas. Their chicken and artichoke pizza was pretty good, it had a sprinkling of feta cheese and even some surprise almond slivers. I would give the food a solid 3/5
<Native Stone> As for the food, we try to have something for everyone...pizza, burgers, seafood, pasta, quesadillas, wraps, steaks, salads and appetizers. And I am VERY proud to say that it is all made from scratch, including the salad dressings. I can't tell you how many patrons ask me when we are going to sell our pizzas "Papa Murphy" style. (Lemme get all of the signs re-done and maybe I can work on that!)
The Beer -
Our first disappointment of the day was finding out that they only had one beer on tap- The Extra Pale Ale (not listed on their website). We later learned that the establishment had gone through a transition from the original owners to their sister-in-law. It appears that there was an attempt to stay open through the winter, and (while this was never openly stated) they were trying to keep their overhead down while still maintaining cashflow. Therefore, the brewery was running on light staffing (more on that in a minute).
Therefore, our initial decision was made for us…..we all tried the only beer they had.
- Appearance – A weak head and a low amount of carbonation. Very little bubble movement within the glass as well. The color was a little darker than I would have expected, coming in at a SRM 16. Given the “Extra” Pale Ale moniker, I thought it should have been lighter. If anything, I would call it an American Pale Ale instead. I did notice a weak head and a low amount of carbonation. Very little bubble movement within the glass as well.
- Nose - Hoppy, yet not overly so, as would be expected again with APA.
- Taste- Overall taste wasn’t as full of hops as the nose. Rather mild, but refreshing with some robust malts creating an excellent mouth feel and ending with citrus aftertaste.
- Score 2.5
OK, for full disclosure I am sick with the flu; so everything I eat or drink tastes a little like a disgusting combination of phlegm and Ricola. So my palate may be a bit contaminated. That being said: The Extra Pale Ale beer that the brewery had on tap was a little bland for my taste. It has a very light hop character and its malt component was pretty much nonexistent. There was nothing unpleasant about the beer, and if I were in a more charitable mood I would call it “well balanced” or touts its inherent “drinkability.” As it was though, I am unimpressed. My score: 2.5/5
<Native Stone> As for the microbrewery...our brewer's name is Kevin Wren. Have a conversation with him and you'll learn a lot...trust me! After reading your blog, I asked him about the rice hulls. Lemme tell you that I was not prepared for his answer and could not type fast enough! I did, however, give him the blog info and he said he would be happy to explain it to you. I too, am disappointed in our lack of brews on tap. Unfortunately, my employees family lives are more important than my beer production. Kevin has been having some issues and I told him the beer can wait, and it can. He should be returning to us within two weeks at the most.
Hoping to cut our loses in only having one beer to try, we decided to give the wines a sample.
Native Stone has a unique sampling plan. They currently offer 6 different wines that are locally produced and three that imported from other wineries. You may sample three for free and for an additional $3, you can sample the other three as well. For $6, you can sample all wines.
<Ed> I think we all agree, the wine tasting was OK, but definitely not worth the money. IMO, this is a huge missed marketing opportunity. $3 for a sip (barely the bottom of the glass) didn’t inspire me to purchase any of the wines. The only wine we purchased was the one Debi had with Lunch. I would suggest dropping the price and letting customers really experience the range and return to ones they like to confirm their purchases.
<TommyG> So we were willing to overlook the lack of beer on tap since the place did sell itself more as a winery than a micro brewery. But their wine tasting was not well executed. They offered 3 samples for free, then an additional 3 samples for $3 (which covers all the wines they produce on site) and then for $5 you can sample everything they carry (they had about 1 or 2 other wines as well). This pricing plan sounds excellent, but unfortunately the samples were very very sparing. We were poured only a sip of each variety. I am more used to wine tastings in which you are given a quarter to a third of a glass to sip on, so that you can really make up your mind about the wine and so that your good senses are deadened and you are put into a more charitable mood with your wallet. But as it was I just left feeling a little ripped off for my $3. If I poured all six tastings in to one wineglass, I probably would have only had about half a glass total.
<Note> There were a few scorecards for the wines and have included them at the end of this post. We are currently awaiting feedback on two people, and it will be updated once that is in.
<Native Stone> The wine...well now you are talking MY language! I apologize that you feel you were ripped off of your $3. I will happily return that to you on your next visit, which I'm sure will be very soon! Without writing a short book, I cannot tell you all about the wines! I can summarize by saying that they are award winning year after year. Our Norton Port wins a medal every year. I had a customer in last week and he told me that we have the best port in Missouri, which is why he drives 3 hours to us and stocks up. I find that if you like Port, you love ours. Most people either love Port or hate it, regardless of whether or not it is ours. Estate Bottled Norton is my favorite, but they are all great..IMO.
As for the wine tasting fees, I will tell you my honest feelings about the situation. Until recently, there was never a charge for wine tastings. Let me share with you a few of my experiences during wine tastings. After asking what type of wine a customer likes, (I can pretty much narrow down what you will choose to three...hence the three complimentary samples), most people say, "sweet"...followed by, "I HATE dry wines", but sure enough, they wanted to try them all because they were FREE! They'd take a sip, wrinkle their noses, and dump the rest out. AHHH! Alcohol abuse! I've had people taste wines three and four times, groups of ten at a time tasting and leaving once their cards are stamped, others reach behind the counter and pour themselves several more samples, and ultimately choose what I figured they would...but hey...they're free! That's just a few good ones I can share.
I also spent a week in upstate NY at wineries all around the Finger Lakes region. Not one of them offered a single free sample. They did not even give us crackers to cleanse our pallets, we had to purchase them! But that didn't bother us one bit. We had a great time, met fun new people and tasted some interesting wines!
In addition, we could certainly absorb the cost of tastings by charging more. One local winery charges $9.50 for a glass of Norton and $26.00 for the bottle. We charge $6.50/$22.00. I personally would rather pay once and figure out what I like rather than pay for everyone who comes through the door to sample, but that's just me.
Finally, we got an opportunity to see the “Brewery”. The brew master was not present, so one of the staff members let us in and attempted to answer questions.
<Ed> WOW- Much smaller operation than I would have expected. We did learn from our guide that during the summer, he had been told that they run 4-5 Beers at a time. This again highlights the disappointment in only having one available at this time. The brew master appears to make rounds and was due in shortly (thus the empty kegs). The guide said he hadn’t been there a full season yet, and he had only seen the brew master a few times.
In addition, an interesting tidbit was that the brewery setup was repurposed dairy equipment. I don’t know if that is good or bad…it appears to work, but I personally feel that having the proper equipment is essential to an optimized and serious operation. I would also love to know why they had Rice Hulls in stock. I THINK it is to keep glue-y grains like oats and wheat from becoming an impenetrable clump. But I have never seen another brewer use it. If that is the case, this would have been a great discussion to have.
<TommyG> In one of the pictures above, that is all the supplies they had for their next beer run. They definitely are a small time maker. That is all the grain and malt they had in storage.
<Ed> I liked the ambiance and feel of the Restaurant. Food was good. But, at this time, I cannot see myself returning just for the wine or beer. Nothing overly wowed me….but I would probably give it a second chance later in the year.
Improved signage would help in taking the establishment seriously and I think management should look into their tasting practices. This should not be a revenue stream in any other way than empowering tasters to make the right choice.
The Website is desperately in need of a makeover. I went through several attempts to contact the Winery/Brewery prior to visiting and at no point did I get a reply. After arriving, this makes sense as it appears there has been a change in management, even though that is counter to what is on the site. I doubt anyone is even checking the associated email.
Finally, if they want to be a great brewery…hire a fulltime Brew Master.
<TommyG> If you live in Mid Missouri (anywhere around Jefferson City or Columbia) it is certainly more than worth the trip out to visit Native Stone Winery. Bring a host of friends and savor the short drive, sit outside and split a bottle of wine and some appetizers and just enjoy the afternoon. As the food and beer and wine itself was merely okay I don’t think that I will be back soon as there are plenty of other local wineries to try. But if you are looking for something do on a lazy afternoon it certainly gets my endorsement.
<Native Stone> Hey Ed...I've been working hard on that website and have had a TON of compliments, but then again, I guess you didn't see the last one! (It was BAAAD!)
We are in our slow season and have not needed more than one server on a Sunday since fall. Didn't you say you were the only car there?
It has nothing to do with paying overhead. (Waitresses don't get much of an hourly wage.) No beer has absolutely nothing to do with overhead. We will be having a staff meeting to make sure the issues you had are resolved, and next time, you will get a larger taste, I promise.
Yahoo emails are supposed to be forwarded to my personal account and I do get several every day. I don't know what happened to yours, but I do check email.
Although I'm sure I've missed some issues I need to address, let me summarize this all with how I see Native Stone...
Just far enough out of town without being too far. So much charm and history, a diamond in the rough, quiet when she needs to be and fun and loud when it's time, adventures all around, beautiful views and breath taking sunsets, and my dream waiting to come true. I believe in her and work many days until I can't keep my eyes open, but the next day, she waits for me with a whole another list of chores. She teaches me, my husband and four children patience, hard work, the value of elbow grease and so much more!
Score Card (on a 5 Scale).
Click Picture to Embiggen