The February issue of Southern Living has listed a local business as the South’s best wedding venue in Missouri — and there may not be a more beautiful spot to be found in the area.
Chaumette Vineyards and Winery in Ste. Genevieve County has stood out nationally for its wines and gourmet cuisine, however hosting wedding events has become its biggest businesses. With stunning pastoral views and facilities for several types of weddings including their own chapel, Chaumette has become internationally known.
Chaumette owner Hank Johnson explained how important the wedding business has become to the vineyard.
“We’re sold out all summer on weekends,” he said. “People come in from out of town. Most of our business is from St. Louis with the weddings. We had 78 weddings last year. It is an important part of our business. It is a driver, because it brings people down here that otherwise wouldn’t come to Chaumette.
“They come down, they experience the meal, they look around and enjoy our wines, and they come back. That’s an important part of having the wedding business here. Sometimes we’ll two have weddings on Friday, two weddings on Saturday, and two weddings on Sunday. That pushes us to the extreme.”
According to Johnson, one of the reasons Chaumette has so many weddings is the multiple choices provided for every ceremony. Due to its size, the chapel tends to handle smaller, more intimate weddings. Outdoor ceremonies are very popular, especially for the big weddings.
“The flat place out in front, that’s where a lot of the ceremonies are held,” he said. “We have different arbors we bring out there. We can put 200 chairs out there.”
When it comes to the receptions, two options are available for the wedding party. Johnson explained that the season or weather may dictate which one is used.
“We have two main venues,” he said. “The most popular one is our wedding barn. It is very popular — has been for years. The second one is right off of the tasting room. It’s two good size rooms, has its own restrooms and a place to be outside — a big deck. We just remodeled that last year. This is for people that want air-conditioning in the summer. In the wintertime we close the other location. Cool weather weddings we have in there.”
Johnson explained that the number of people attending the wedding is the biggest concern when planning and hosting an event.
“The kind of wedding that is best for us is around 150 to 175 people,” he said. “We’ve had as much as 280 — close to 300. That’s really more than we’re interested in.
“This room will hold around 140 people. When we have bigger weddings we’ll move some chairs in there [the second room], or we’ll put tents out here on the patio, and open up. In a standard wedding, these will all be closed. After the service, people will walk down from the chapel — and this is the first drink. Kind of a stand-up cocktail party.
“After a certain amount of time, when the pictures are taken, we say, ‘dinner is served!’ We pull back the curtains dramatically. All the waiters are standing at attention at the tables, all the glassware is polished and everybody is invited to come in and sit down. No sooner than when they get seated, it’s time for the bride and groom to arrive, we bring them in through another door and everybody has to stand up and applaud.”
Connected to the hall is an outside deck that is open for wedding guests to enjoy.
“It’s a way to get outdoors, with two fire pits out there,” Johnson said. “The lights up above — we turn them on and it’s pretty dramatic. People love it. It’s another stand-up cocktail party.”
Chaumette’s main building is designed to keep the wedding party separate from customers who are there to dine at the restaurant and enjoy the wine.
Restrooms were recently added for the reception area.
“The reason we did this with the restrooms is that nobody wanted to go through the other part of this building,” he said. “We keep it separate. It’s a matter of listening to our customers.”
Johnson also noted that the facility has two kitchens. The one in front is for a la carte dining and the one in back is for the events. With two kitchens and fine dining for such a large number of customers — whether wedding guests or tourists — he said he felt the need to have a highly trained professional chef in order to provide the high level of cuisine that he expects to provide.
“Our executive chef who is in charge of our complete culinary program is Rob Beasley,” Johnson said. “He has been a chef for over 30 years. He’s a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America Hyde Park [in New York].
“We have really exceptional food here in this restaurant, and the weddings, it’s just the same. No rubber chickens! People can’t believe the level of cuisine that goes with these weddings. We’re really proud of that, and it’s an important thing for people to understand when they come here.”
With the evolution and growth of the services Chaumette provides, Johnson has added several small buildings on site that offer suites for customers to stay in overnight.
“It’s a destination wedding,” he said. “That’s why the villas are so important. When we started this place, I said we will never be in the restaurant business. People came and said ‘we’re hungry.’ So we went into the restaurant business.
“Then, after a while they said, ‘We want to have one more glass of this wonderful wine. We don’t want to drive on these country roads. You have to build us a place to stay.'”
“That’s what gave rise to the villages at Chaumette. These are luxury villas. We have suites. We have one bedroom through five bedroom offerings.”
Currently, several new villas are being built. When they are finished in time for the summer season, Chaumette will have the capacity to sleep more than 100 people.
The chapel where some of the weddings are held is noteworthy in its own right. St. Vincent’s in-the-Vineyard is the official name of the chapel and is a registered Episcopal church. Everything except the wall and roof framing came from a chapel in St. Louis that was going to be demolished. The framing is an exact replica of the old building and everything else is original.
Johnson explained that Sunday services are held in the building.
“We have four retired Episcopal priests that come down in rotation from St. Louis,” he said. “It’s an all faith service in the Episcopal tradition. We use the Book of Common Prayer, which is used in all Episcopal churches. We have people from Chester, Illinois, Farmington, Ste. Genevieve, Festus, St. Louis and Perryville. We have an average attendance of 20 people. After services, we go down to the tasting room and have lunch together and wine. It’s kind of a continuation of the services. It’s more community togetherness.”
With the popularity and reputation that Chaumette has garnered, previous wedding events have resulted in its location and services becoming known internationally, as well as open to all religious beliefs.
“We’ve had Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, and about all branches of Christianity,” Johnson said. “We have not yet had a Hindu service. We’ve had two weddings of people from Japan. They bring a dozen to 20 people.
“We have one this year that just booked. They live in London. They’re from America, but they live over there. We had one — the groom is in L.A. and the bride is in New York. They came here. The thing they like about that is that it’s all together. You don’t have to go anywhere [else] you don’t have to worry about anything.”
A native of St. Louis, Johnson has developed a deep attachment to the scenery of the area.
“I’m never tired of this view,” he said. “Sometimes I just have a glass of wine and come out here.”
“They come down, they experience the meal, they look around and enjoy our wines, and they come back.” — Hank Johnson, Chaumette owner
Mark Marberry is a reporter for the Farmington Press and Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3629, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.