Tipple Hill Winery: Rural Missouri Farmers Find Success With Wine
For more than a century in Easton, Missouri, generations of Schreibers have been known for raising corn, soybeans and cattle. Now, they’re in the wine business.
Roxyann and Bill Schreiber planted their first vineyard in 2010 with Chambourcin, Vignoles, and Concord grapes. “Thus began the challenge of growing and making wine with Missouri grapes,” the couple said.
The Schreibers took in their first harvest in 2014, and they produced a dry Chambourcin wine and an Antique Harvesters wine – a Chambourcin Concord blend – that has proven popular. For the first couple of years, they primarily sold their wines at local wine events, festivals and grocery stores. In 2015, they opened Tipple Hill Winery & Vineyard along a rural stretch of U.S. Highway 36, about 5 miles east of St. Joseph, Missouri.
“We started slowly because we didn’t want to shove a bunch of money out there, so we started making small batches just to see how it goes,” said owner Roxyann Schreiber.
The winery building sits atop a hill adjacent to a one-acre vineyard with an expansive seating capacity of 70. The building features big picture windows that – thanks to the facility’s elevated perch – allow unobstructed views of the sprawling rolling hills of Northwest Missouri.
A Saturday-afternoon gathering over Thanksgiving weekend drew a near-capacity crowd, with guests milling about, inside and out, occupying tables on a deck that rings the exterior of the building, on a sun-splashed day that saw temperatures climb into the mid-60s.
“We’ve been coming since they opened,” customer Roger Johnston said, noting he had known Roxyann Schreiber since high school. “The atmosphere is great; it’s clean.”
Charity Wampler sat at a table with Johnston and his wife, Susan. She sipped on a glass of Laura’s Peach Longing, a Chardonnay.
“It’s peachy but not strong, not too sweet,” Wampler said.
There are specialty wines at the winery as well.
“They had one wine, a deep red, that they made specifically for the solar eclipse (in August 2017),” said Susan Johnson.
Tipple Hill lists 10 varietals on its wine list, along with several fruit-accented reds and whites. The winery procures grapes from other growers in Missouri and Kansas as well as Wisconsin and California.
“We’ve got 16 wines – we started with seven fruit wines,” Schreiber said. “We do a blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, green apple and peach; then, once we figured out they were selling pretty good, we started doing more of the varietal wines to offer people.”
Customer tastes lean toward sweet wines, Schreiber told The Grapevine Magazine.
“We have quite a few customers that like the dry wines, but our moneymaker is the fruit wines,” she said. “In this area, they typically like sweet wines better, so we offer a lot of sweet wines.”
The Schreibers continue to work on a relatively small scale, but there’s plenty of room to grow, since theirs is the only winery near St. Joseph, a metropolitan market with about 127,000 residents.
“Our customers are mostly local,” Schreiber said. “Our biggest city is St. Joe, and we get a lot of country folk, a lot of Farmers that come in.”
The surrounding farming community has been supportive.
“Most customers come from St. Joe, but because my husband is a full-time farmer and we have that farming background, we get a lot of the farming community around here that really like it here,” said Schreiber. “They keep coming back.”
Everything is still small-scale at the moment, Schreiber said, pointing out that they label all the bottles by hand. The Schreibers have been using 18-gallon tanks, which have an output of 90 bottles, but they have moved up to 54-gallon vessels, each of which produces 270 bottles. The next step will be kegs that churn out 900 bottles.
“So, we’re slowly progressing,” said Schreiber. “We’re slowly eliminating the small and gradually moving to the bigger.”
For bottling, the next step will be to get more mechanized.
“Our bottler always fills five bottles at a time, a gravity feed,” she said. “From there, they go over to our corker. Each bottle is hand-corked. Then, each bottle is hand-labeled. So, our next phase is, like last year, we bought the bigger tanks. This year, we’ll update our bottling system and at least get a pneumatic corker.”
The Schreibers currently have one acre next to their winery, and they also have “a couple of acres” on another plot, south of St. Joseph. “We have an acre here with three varieties in it,” said Schreiber. “We might have 300 bottles of each variety, and when it’s sold out, it’s out until the next harvest.”
The other vineyard they’ve planted Petite Pearl grapes, a newcomer to Missouri. “When that’s ready, we’re going to submit it to the wine competition, because there’s no other Petite Pearl in Missouri,” she said.
Small-scale though it is, the winery operation is the culmination of a dream for the Schreibers, who, until recently were content to raise cattle, corn and soybeans.
“It kind of started as a family thing because we really loved visiting wineries around the Herrman [Missouri] area and loved trying different wines,” said Schreiber. “My son is actually the winemaker here, and he started as a home hobbyist making wine, and people told him they really loved it. I was getting ready to retire and wanted to do something and thought a winery would be a great thing to get into.”
The family first started making wine in a truck shed on the farm. They distributed the finished product to area grocery stores and, then, took it to wine festivals.
“We just wanted to get an idea if it was going to sell before we invested in a building,” Schreiber said. “We found out it was very popular.”
When it became evident that people liked the wines that the Schreibers had on offer, it set in motion plans to make it available on a larger scale. “When I did retire, we went ahead and started our building plans,” she said.
First up in the plan was to plant a vineyard. “We wanted to make sure we could grow grapes here,” Schreiber said. “Once that was established, we sat down and talked about what we liked and what we didn’t like at all of the wineries we had visited in the Midwest. We decided we wanted a tasting room that had plenty of seating indoors, so, if the weather was bad, they could still come and enjoy the wine. We wanted plenty of windows, so they could enjoy the view because we’re up on a hill that overlooks the countryside. So, if you’re inside or on the deck or on the patio, you still have a nice view.”
Next, the couple had to decide what wines they would offer. “We knew what was selling in this area. We knew the list had to include wine slushies. Originally we thought we’d offer them only through the summer. They’re getting more and more popular,” Schreiber said.
Although the business has been a success, the Schreibers are still waiting to break even, although Mrs. Schreiber is confident the profits will come. “When we sat down and did our business plan, we figured it would be five years, and we can tell we’re getting closer and closer to paying off the loan.”
The winery building already in a growth spurt; the Schreibers are converting a lower level into a conference room to rent out for events.
Tipple Hill attracts a diverse customer base, said Schreiber. “We get all age groups. We get a lot of young girls doing bachelorette parties, bridal showers, even baby showers. When we have our music on Saturday, it’s a mixture of anywhere from the late 20s to early 60s. We get a lot of travelers because we’re located right here on Highway 36. They stop in.”
The tasting room allows for reserved seating, but it also is big enough to remain open to others simultaneously. “The tasting room is so big; I can reserve half for a special party and still stay open for the public. I try not to close; what I do is reserve seating for parties,” said Schreiber.
The new venture is fulfilling, but it is a challenge, she said. “I hate to say this, but think about giving up your social life, because it is 24-7. When I retired, I thought I’d do this three days a week, and still have time for me. But it has really snowballed into making wines, bottling wines, bookkeeping, promotions, coordinating all the activities and parties we have here. It’s definitely a full-time-plus job.”
Her advice to others contemplating starting a winery? “You want to make sure you’re financially set – to not look for a profit the first five years.”
The Schreibers sought guidance from other winery operators when they decided to launch their enterprise. “We had the James Arthur Vineyards in [Raymond], Nebraska mentor us a bit, and we had Stonehaus [Farms Winery] in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, give us a lot of good advice when we were starting out,” Schreiber said. “Because they were so good to us, we’ve carried on that tradition and helped a couple of other new wineries in the area, and we’re there to help them out.”
There’s a learning curve to be expected, according to Schreiber.
“We’ve certainly had a lot of fun, but it’s been a lot of learning,” she says. “There’s been a few disappointments, but most of all, it has been fun. We make new friends every day.”