“Wine, compared to beer, is a much more rigid, traditional thing,” Hilmer says. “You look at the craft-beer industry, and there’s no place it won’t go. The imperative is: Is it good? Does it taste good? And in wine, people get freaked out if it doesn’t fit into a little box of what’s proper and what’s not. I think you’re seeing that strangeness in wine is being embraced a little more.”
Sam Hilmer‘s Soif debut came on soft, pouring just one wine at the fair, but I heard buzz growing throughout the afternoon. A native of Eureka, Missouri—some 30 minutes or so outside St. Louis—Hilmer’s Rosé Pet-Nat is drawn from grapes like Norton, Chambourcin, Seyval, and Petite Verdot, using only natural yeasts and minimal sulfur. The result is a kind of technicolor party punch, effortlessly moreish and delicious—a wine you might find yourself going back to again and again for more, as I did throughout the festival.
Closer to home, Claverach Farm in Eureka, Missouri, is one of the few regional wineries producing natural wines. Farm manager and winemaker Sam Hilmer says Claverach uses what he considers a fusion of radical natural methods and low-impact conventional techniques to produce primarily still rosé and white, red and rosé Pétillant Naturel wines.
This refreshing dry rosé comes from Claverach Farm, which has been using organic and biological methods for many years. Claverach Farm also practices sustainable viticulture techniques and this rosé is unfined, unfiltered, and has minimal sulfites. A unique rosé bottled with a crown cap, it tastes of watermelon, citrus and spice. It would go well with appetizers, fish and chicken. Although the 2016 vintage has been sold out at the farm since early May, it’s still available at certain retailers.
For Shulman, if you’re going to put wine in your body, then you should know what’s in your wine. ‘Wine is an agricultural product,’ Shulman said.
For the past few years, the owners have shared their passion for producing delicious and artful food with the community in a refurbished 100-year-old barn with weekly ‘farm dinners’ under the direction of chef Sam Hilmer. Menus change for each meal and are inspired by the produce harvested that week.
The nonpareil experience of Claverach Farm raises a thorny question: Once I’ve attended one of the popular Saturday suppers, should I share the experience with others or keep it all to myself? Located near Eureka, the farm is close enough for convenience but isolated enough for a true escape—an escape rooted in geography and gastronomy that not only arouses all the senses, but also awakens childhood memories of cookouts, camping, and a slower time when food was enjoyed among others, close to the land. Proprietor Sam Hilmer understands that great dining is about far more than the food.
To find the farm in Eureka, leave the beaten path behind. Cross a rickety one-lane bridge, then drive down a narrow private road along the Meramec River, gravel popping and grinding under tires, until you see the magnificent barn. Its bones are original, at least a century old, the posts and beams made of rough-hewn cedar logs harvested from the 300-acre farm’s rocky hillsides. Sam Hilmer’s family has tended Claverach Farm for generations.
Twenty miles outside of St. Louis, the 300-acre Claverach Farm got its start by growing specialty produce and microgreens and selling to local restaurants, such as Sidney Street Cafe, Stellina, Oceano Bistro and Farmhaus, and at farmers’ markets. Today owner and chef Sam Hilmer shares his passion of producing farm-to-table meals for the community in his 100-year-old refurbished barn with Saturday ‘farm dinners’ featuring fruits and vegetables from his farm.
Today Claverach shares its passion for producing delicious and artful food with the community in its refurbished 100-year-old barn with weekly ‘farm dinners.’ Four courses, drinks and hors d’oeuvres are served at long communal tables, with ample time for touring the property’s gardens, orchards and vineyards.
Overseeing the fields at Claverach Farm is a passion for [Sam] Hilmer, but that passion certainly doesn’t end there. ‘I love having the ability to go out to the field and pick something that’s at its absolute, most perfect expression,’ he explains. ‘But then to prepare it with respect, put it on a plate and then to see peoples’ reactions—because a lot of people have never really experienced something like that before—that’s what keeps me motivated.’
Claverach Farms, St. Louis’ purest incarnation of the slow-food movement, is the place to truly experience the often touted but not-so-often realized farm-to-table movement.
The St. Louis area is blessed with bountiful agriculture and sustainably raised animals, and right now the most exciting thing for me is to watch it unfold at Claverach Farm. Sam Hilmer is growing beautiful produce, raising delicious eggs, producing French-style Rosé, all the while hosting great events like Slow Food St. Louis’ Feast in the Field and their own monthly Sunday Suppers. If you haven’t been there, you are missing out.
Once night fell, the barn glowed magically in the dark, and the fire pit’s smoke wafted through the air, recalling memories of bonfires past. Lit hurricanes lining the path guided us to our car as we walked away, reluctant to leave such a special place.
Hilmer attended Chaminade High School, then earned an anthropology degree from Webster University. ‘When Sam graduated from college, he told us he wanted to be a farmer. We about died,’ said his mother, Jean Hilmer. But his mom needn’t have worried. Apparently Hilmer had thought the idea through, and the farm has been a big success in the St. Louis organic gardening and slow foods movement.
Claverach produce doesn’t just allure [Gerard] Craft with its looks. ‘You can eat the salad greens without dressing,’ he said. ‘Joanna and Sam know how food is supposed to taste.’Impeccable flavor requires impeccable soil. At Claverach Farm, the soil is naturally high in calcium and is amended with compost and minerals.