Once again, as soon as we crossed the state boarder, the landscape changed dramatically. Gone were the open, flat fields of Kansas and they were replaced by woods and rolling hills which were very reminiscent of Southern Ontario, where I grew up.
Our plan today was to drive to Lebanon, Missouri and take a tour of the Cooperage Barrel making factory before continuing on to Newburg where we’d be spending the night with our friend Zach and his family on their property.
Alex’s dad is an accomplished wine maker in the Napa Valley of California and he gets all of his wine barrels from this factory in Missouri, so he offered to organize a tour for us. The dense woods that we’d be driving through make for perfect barrels and Missouri has been known for their wine and bourbon barrels for many years. When we arrived, they told us that we, sadly, couldn’t take photos inside the factory so we tucked our cameras away and focused on learning everything we could. We got to see every stage of production from sanding, to basic assembly, to toasting, stamping and packaging, and everything in between.
I will tell you that while the experience was illuminating, I have no desire to return to a barrel-making factory. The conditions are horribly hot and dusty and the workers can do ten hour shifts of intense manual labor. This was just in the wine barrel section. We didn’t even see the bourbon area because we were told that it was hotter than we would ever want to experience. Bourbon barrels are actually charred inside and not just toasted over flame. We left with a lot of knowledge about barrel making (who would have ever expected me to have that) and continued on to rural Missouri to visit Zach at “The Grotto.”
The Grotto is a beautiful house and surrounding property that’s been in Zach’s mom (the lovely Carol)’s family for years. She and her siblings live on this incredible property with multiple houses, allowing for family closeness, but also privacy. It’s a perfect setup and we were thrilled to get to stay.
When we had originally planned this trip, Zach let us know that his mom and step-dad would be happy to have us stay, but he wasn’t going to be there. However, a freak family vacation accident involving a jet ski left Zach with a shattered ankle and an inability to fly back to Los Angeles. He was still there recovering when we arrived in mid-August. It was a wonderful treat to get to see Zach in his home state and have him tour us around their massive property, I only wish it had been under different circumstances. We drove all around the fields, went swimming, saw an old iron works and placed pennies on the railway track in the hopes that a train would flatten them. It was every 12-year old’s dream day. So, as you can imagine, we had the best time.
That night we had an amazing dinner with Pat and Carol and Zach’s other relatives all dropped by and chatted with us as well until we all toddled off to bed. But, not before Alex and I snuck out to take some photos by the railway tracks (and to look for our rogue pennies). After a fantastic rest we woke up, ate breakfast and planned to set off, but weren’t looking forward to leaving this magical place.
On Zach and his family’s recommendation we stopped at an incredible brewery for flights and lunch and then headed to the Onondaga caves for a tour. Missouri is apparently a state full of magnificent caves and this one was no exception. After we’d had our fill of caving, we headed into St. Louis to see the Gateway to the Midwest before getting back on the road, crossing into Illinois and ending our day at a motel near Terre Haute, Indiana. We both missed the Grotto already. Just two days to go in this road trip! Next week we hit more of Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.