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Missouri Wine Pioneer Jim Held Dies

Jim Held, owner of Stone Hill Winery, died on November 8
by Linda Jones McKee
November 12, 2019
Jim Held in the 1980s, photo by Linda Jones McKee

Jim Held and his wife Betty Ann were two of the modern-day pioneers in the Missouri wine industry. Held passed away at the age of 86 on November 8, 2019 in Hermann, MO after a long battle with Leukemia and cancer.

The original Stone Hill Winery in Hermann, MO dates back to 1847. After the Civil War, it became the second largest winery in the country, producing over 1,000,000 gallons a year, and Stone Hill wines won eight gold medals at various world fairs and expositions between 1873 and 1904. However, during Prohibition the industry in Missouri shut down, and Stone Hill closed as a winery. Its underground wine cellars were used instead for the commercial production of mushrooms.

Early in the wine revival in Missouri in the mid-1960s, Jim and Betty Ann Held bought the Stone Hill Winery property and made a commitment to preserve the historic property, to restore the main winery building, and to clean out the eight mushroom cellars that previously housed barrels of wine. They moved their family of four children into the second floor of the former winery office building and started to plant more vineyards.

Neither one of the Helds had a background in winemaking, although they had planted a Catawba vineyard of 4½ acres on the family farm in Pershing, MO. They added acres of Norton, Catawba, Missouri Riesling and Niagara, and began to make wine. However, at that time there was a 5,000-gallon cap on the amount of wine that could be sold retail at the winery, and this soon became a limitation on the growth of Stone Hill.

With the assistance of his local representative in the Missouri legislature, Held was able to get legislation passed that raised the cap on retail sales at the winery to 75,000 gallons. That cap was increased in 1980 to 500,000 gallons. By 1981, Stone Hill had about 30 grape-bearing acres and was producing 57,000 gallons, an amount that made Stone Hill the largest winery in the state.

Held retired in 2011. His eldest son, Jonathan, graduated from the University of California at Fresno in 1980, and today, the winery is run by Jonathan and his wife Karen. According to Wines Vines Analytics, the winery now has 190 acres of vineyard and produces 110,00 cases of wine per year.

In addition to running the winery, Held served as president of the Missouri Vintners Association, the Hermann Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Junior Chamber of Commerce. He also was a past chair of the Grape and Wine Advisory Board and served for five years on the Missouri Tourism Commission.

The contributions Held made to the wine industry have been recognized with numerous awards. For example, President Ronald Reagan gave Stone Hill Winery an award in 1982 as Missouri’s Small Business of the Year; the first Hall of Fame Award from the Missouri Division of Tourism was presented to Jim and Betty Held in 1988; and the Held family was recognized as the Wine Growing Family of the Year at the Wineries Unlimited conference in 1995.

Held is survived by his wife, Betty Ann; four children, Jonathan Held and his wife Karen, Patty Held, Thomas Held and his wife Andrea, all in Hermann, MO, and Julie Brandfield and husband Steve, of New York City; nine grandchildren; five step-grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren. Funeral services will be held on November 15, 2019 at 1:00 p.m. at St. Paul United Church of Christ in Hermann, MO.

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