What do Norton grapes, softball and hand sanitizer have to do with The Inns at St. Albans? They’re all connected to the beautiful vineyard growing below The Studio Inn, of course!
We recently sat down with The Inns owner David Herzog, a retired CFO at AIG, to get a closer look at this exciting venture, which he envisioned and bears sole responsibility for bringing to fruition. Read on for the history of, and exciting plans on the horizon for, the grapes grown right here on Studio Hill.
Q: I believe you started the vineyard, correct? How long ago was that?
David Herzog: My wife, Datra, actually oversaw the build out and planting of the vineyard in 2013. I was still working full time in New York, coming home on weekends.
Q: How did you decide where to plant the grapes?
David: I recall Datra and I were sitting on the patio at The Studio Inn one evening, enjoying a glass of wine and looking down on the property. I said, half jokingly, that Studio Hill was perfect for a vineyard. Just imagine the photos that brides would enjoy. Next thing I know, Datra has a crew building the infrastructure and planting the saplings she bought from a nursery in New York.
Q: So are you caring for the vineyard exclusively?
David: Yes, I care for all aspects of the vineyard. It is all done by hand. It starts with the winter pruning. Roughly 600 plants, one at a time. Every fruiting cane is chosen and pruned by me. That takes about 50 hours all in to prune the entire vineyard.
I am in the vineyard several times a week, keeping an eye on the plants for disease and bugs, both of which are challenging here in Missouri. I’ll spray when necessary. The birds are also a challenge. I install 300 or so [reflective] mylar strips to dissuade the birds, but they still eat about half the grapes.
Q: What kind(s) of grapes are grown at The Inns? And tell me a little about the harvesting process.
David: We grow Norton grapes. Norton is the Missouri state grape and makes a dry red wine that is full in body. For the harvest, I have a couple of longtime close friends and I “hire’” a local youth sports team. Last year, the Fontbonne University Softball Team worked the harvest. They were fantastic!
Q: Can you talk about your successes and struggles with this endeavor.
David: The greatest success of Studio Hill Vineyards is the joy it brings to our bridal parties and the lifelong memories they create there with wedding day photographs. As for the actual harvest, we have had our ups and downs. Our first production harvest was 2017, and a private label incorporated our crop in with others to produce their 2017 Norton. In 2018, the fruit had some “issues,” and we made hand sanitizer out of it. In 2019, with the floods sending all the deer and raccoons to higher ground, the entire crop was lost. These days, we’re focused on maintaining that picture-perfect backdrop for our wedding clientele and other events. We’re especially excited about our first Crush Party on the afternoon of October 3 where we’ll have live music, an appetizer buffet and cash bar on the grounds of The Studio Inn. It’ll give our guests an up-close look at our vineyard during one of the most beautiful times of the year around here. Stay tuned for more information on how to purchase tickets to the Crush Party.
Q: Any visions for the future with respect to The Inns and its vineyard?
David: I defer to Datra on that one!
Thanks, David, for the insider’s look at Studio Hill Vineyards at The Inns at St. Albans. We can’t wait to get our hands on the fruits of your labor someday soon!