In 1974, Curtis and Martha Bourgeois purchased 15 acres of blufftop property on the Missouri River near Rocheport.
On the property was an old, rustic A-Frame with no running water or indoor plumbing. After the addition of a well, and other minor renovations, the Bourgeois’ and their four children moved from Columbia into the tiny structure, where they lived for nearly two years while their new home was built.
Years later, after their older children were off to college, the Bourgeois’ and their youngest son, Stephen, planted a vineyard on the hilltop in front of their blufftop home. Their intentions were to beautify the property. It wasn’t until after the first significant grape harvest in 1985 that the Bourgeois’ casual hobby of making homemade wine showed the potential to become more than a diversion.
That year’s five-ton harvest yielded nearly 500 gallons of red wine, which was made at a small winery in Rolla. The following summer, the family renovated the abandoned A-frame, outfitting it with a sales counter, coolers and a small food kitchen. They placed some modest ads in the local newspapers, announcing the “Les Bourgeois Winery” was open for business.
In October 1986, Les Bourgeois sold its entire sole vintage, “Jeunette Rouge,” in just two months. That same year the eldest son, Curtis Bourgeois, Jr. returned from an internship at a New York television station and took a managing interest in the family business.
In 1987, the family tripled production to 1,500 gallons and expanded the Les Bourgeois line to include Pink Fox, Seyval, and Jeunette Rouge. By the end of November, they had once again sold all the wine they had produced.
Over the next four years, the family acquired its own winemaking equipment: an old fashioned crusher / stemmer, fermentation tanks, and a small bottling line. During harvest, grapes were crushed in the driveway; the garage housed the barrels and fermentation tanks, and when it was time to bottle, the bottling line was set up (in the kitchen), then dismantled and stored.
By its sixth year, the operation had outgrown its domestic locale. In 1991, when production reached more than 7,000 gallons, the company purchased seven acres of property and a 10,000-square-foot brick building just off I-70 at the Rocheport exit, and converted this into a winery. An adjacent 10,000 square feet of abandoned hotel space was claimed for warehouse space.
This strategic purchase cleared the way for the extraordinary growth that followed, with production skyrocketing to more than 20,000 gallons annually. In addition to fruit harvested from their own vineyards, the company entered into lease agreements with other grape growers to support their ever-growing higher production demands.
To overcome the seasonal limitations of the A-frame, in 1993 the company entered into a wholesale agreement with Boone Distributing, a local distributor of wines and spirits. It wasn’t long before Les Bourgeois wine appeared on grocery store shelves and restaurant wine lists in nearby Columbia and surrounding communities.
In 1994, the company purchased an additional 15 acres of bluff property adjacent to the family home. This property became the site for a new, year-round restaurant. Stephen Bourgeois, a licensed architect who then resided in Denver, Colorado, designed the 6,000-square-foot winegarden and Blufftop Bistro.
This spectacular timber frame structure was completed and opened for business in November, 1996. Earlier that same year, Stephen, his wife, Kristein, and their two children relocated to Columbia. Kristein joined the company on a part-time basis to develop and carry out its advertising strategy.
In 1998, the company made another major purchase: a 180-acre farm on the south side of Interstate 70 at the Rocheport exit. As of summer 2000, a total of 35 acres had been planted in grapes. These new vineyards would help support Les Bourgeois’ wine production goals in the future, as well as help ensure the ever-improving quality of their wines.
By owning and managing their own grape growing operations, the company has maintained better control over fruit quality, and is less dependent on their growers.
During the late 1990’s, wholesale distribution of Les Bourgeois expanded to St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, and Joplin through arrangements with regional wine distributors. The company also began selling its wine in the state of Louisiana in 1999, in Kansas in 2000, and in Illinois in 2002. Future focus for expansion will include Iowa, Nebraska, and Arkansas.
Today Les Bourgeois Vineyards is the third largest winery in Missouri, with more than 90,000 gallons produced and 75,000 gallons sold in 2005. Approximately 50% of this wine is sold through their own retail outlets, with the remaining sold through wholesale distribution.
Properties owned by the company include a 35-acre resort area — which includes six acres of vineyards — a fine dining restaurant, the A-frame and casual picnic/outdoor wine garden area, a fishing pond, and ample parking.
The company owns seven acres of commercially zoned property on the northeast corner of Interstate 70 and Route BB, which houses their 20,000-square-foot winery and storage facility, in addition to a 180-acre farm, 35 acres of which is planted in grapes.