Montelle Winery Celebrates 50 Years of Success in the Treetops

October 15, 2020

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Tucked away in the bluffs on the Osage Ridge just outside of Augusta, Montelle Winery offers breathtaking views and unique experiences for its customers. Over the last 50 years, Montelle may have changed ownership, names and locations, but the dedication to excellent service has remained unwavering.

The original stone house on Osage Ridge.

The original Montelle Winery was opened by Clayton and Nissel Byers in 1970 under the name Montelle Vineyards. A small A-frame tasting room sat perched on the bluff overlooking Augusta, while the main wine production facility could be found on the Augusta bottom road. The couple took on partners, Bob and Judy Slifer, and ran the winery together until 1984. After Clayton’s passing, the Slifers and partner Forrest Peak ran the winery as Osage Ridge Winery until 1998.

Tony and Cindy Kooyumjian (pronounced Coo-yum-gin), who were currently operating Augusta Winery in downtown Augusta, purchased Montelle Winery in 1998. Tony remembers his first time visiting the Montelle property for a wine trail meeting, and reveling in the spectacular views of the farmland and valley below the blufftop. He was on a small deck attached to a house on the property, and saw enormous potential with the hidden gem on the bluff. The Slifers later approached the Kooyumjians about buying the winery, and requested that the couple continue to produce quality wine using grapes from the appellation.

Montelle Winery Owners Tony and Cindy Kooyumjian (2009).

Since they became owners 22 years ago, the Kooyumjians have expanded the winery for continued growth. What was once a roughly 500 square-foot tasting room and small patio area has now been transformed into an expansive tasting area, kitchen and multilevel outdoor deck. An event center now welcomes up to 150 guests for celebrations or private events. In terms of infrastructure, additional storage space was added and a warehouse was built on the property. This property is kept running smoothly by the Kooyumjians and their staff, which includes a team of full-time members and anywhere from 45 to 60 part-time employees.

The team at Montelle Winery works to offer every guest an outstanding experience during their visit to the winery. Tony reminds the Montelle team that they are in the hospitality business, where customers are treated with respect and educated about Missouri wines and the surrounding Viticultural area. After traveling to many wineries throughout the country, the Kooyumjians were surprised to find that many tasting room employees struggled to provide information about wine; this discovery caused the owners to focus efforts on employee education and training. Montelle Winery goes above and beyond to help their employees offer next-level service and provide guests with an educational experience. The Montelle team gathers for an annual sales meeting that offers employees an opportunity to learn more about Montelle’s wine offerings and develop a posture of hospitality and service. Throughout the year, team-building events allow employees to connect, increase their wine knowledge and celebrate successful seasons on the production side of the business.

Montelle Distillery spirits.

Under previous ownership, 53 wines were produced at one time. The Kooyumjians decreased that offering to a more manageable 27 wines. From ice wines to reserve wines, sweet to dry, there’s a wine that will please nearly every visitor. In addition to a modified wine offering, the Kooyumjians opened a distillery on the property in 2000 to begin offering fruit brandy and grappa (a grape-based vodka). This microdistillery was the first in Missouri, and Montelle Winery was the first Missouri winery to also have a distillery on-site. Besides adjusting the wine offerings and adding spirits to the lineup at Montelle Winery, the Kooyumjians have been proud to open and operate the Klondike Café, which offers a full menu of appetizers and entrées that are selected to complement the wines offered in the tasting room. The idea of a restaurant occurred to Tony after seeing customers visit the winery with fast food or convenience-type foods that didn’t pair well with Montelle’s wine selection. The Kooyumjians wanted to offer healthy, fresh and well-paired food options and opened the restaurant in 2000. The menu offerings grew from meats and cheeses to fresh salads, pizzas, wraps and fresh-baked bread.

Enjoy a bottle of wine and fresh-baked pizza from the Klondike Café.

Some of Tony’s favorite events and traditions include annual holiday and Appellation Day celebrations at the winery. In honor of Montelle Winery’s 50th anniversary, a special Napoleon brandy release and other events can be expected. The winery is also collecting visitor stories and photos to be shared in commemoration of Montelle’s golden anniversary.

Expanded, paved outdoor seating allows for a scenic view of the valley below.

Producing exemplary wines and providing visitors with a great experience has always been at the heart of Montelle Winery’s mission. Tony is proud of how Montelle has grown to offer breathtaking views, live music, award-winning wines and carefully-selected food pairings. For the Kooyumjians, seeing visitors return year after year and share their memories is one of the most rewarding parts of operating Montelle Winery. Visit the hidden gem on the blufftop, enjoy a meal from the Klondike Café with your favorite wine and toast to another 50 years of success and service at Montelle Winery.