For a Westphalia couple -- Terry and Mary Neuner -- 2005 has already seen the fulfillment of several dreams, but 2006 and 2007 should prove to be even more eventful.
In August 2005, with the formation of Westphalia Winery LLC, the Neuners officially started their winery business, thereby launching the first Osage County commercial winery since the Prohibition era. That was on paper. This spring, on their 400-acre Maries River farm located one mile west of Westphalia, they planted three varieties of grapes, starting what they plan to develop into a large vineyard. This fall they made their first wine with grapes they purchased and are currently aging that wine in barrels in the basement of the beautiful stone farmhouse which they have refurbished and enlarged.
This month they launched their Kobe beef business. Everyone knows what wine is. Relatively few know much about Kobe beef. At this point in the story we’ll just say that Kobe is world-famous beef which was developed in Kobe, Japan, with a special breed of cattle fed a special ration.
For 2006 Terry and Mary have their plates full. The wine that is aging in the basement of their home will be bottled in the next two or three months. Six additional varieties of grapes have been ordered and will be planted this spring. Also this spring the Neuners will begin the renovation of a 160-year-old barn that will house the winery. By the fall of 2006 they hope to be able to crush enough grapes for 600 to 800 gallons of wine.
Current plans are to establish a tasting room, probably in Westphalia, but no sooner than the spring of 2007.
The Neuners are working to establish the uniqueness of their products. “We are determined to make a superior wine” Terry says, “without the use of sulphites, which most wineries use.” The fact that Wagyus have 70 percent less cholesterol than most breeds is something the Neuners intend to emphasize.
The next few years will witness a large expansion of the winery operations, but a great deal of effort will also go into the beef business as they expand their cowherd and look for ways to market their beef.
As interesting as the development of a winery and beef business may be, an even more interesting aspect of this story is the lives of the people involved.
Terry and Mary Neuner are both natives of Osage County. Terry, who is the son of Fred and Betty Neuner, is from Linn and is a 1965 graduate of Linn High School. Mary is the son of Inno and the late Helen Hilkemeyer of Westphalia and is a 1964 graduate of Helias High School in Jefferson City.
After Terry Neuner graduated from Lincoln University in 1969, he started graduate work at the University of Missouri at Columbia, where he received his Masters in Biochemistry in 1973. During this time he was also doing research at UMC and later went to work for MFA as a research chemist.
While working at MFA he picked up “a lot of fermentation experience which will serve us well in the wine business.” One such project was a federal grant where MFA was to determine if ethanol production was feasible for a co-op or large farming operation. Using what he termed “a pretty simple process,” they were able to convert one bushel of corn into 2.6 gallons of ethanol in three to three-and-a-half days.
In 1981 Neuner had an opportunity to go to work for one of this country’s foremost business organizations, the 3M Company. Starting at 3M’s Columbia plant, Neuner later became director of business development, a position which took him to Europe for four years and Asia for six years.
While in Europe he negotiated a joint venture in telecommunications with Russia. “Everything went great until Russia fell,” Neuner said. When Russia fell apart, so did the project.
While serving in Asia from 1990 to 1996, Neuner worked in 14 Asian countries. For the last seven years he was with 3M – until his retirement in 2003, he was the director of 3M’s global telecommunications business and worked out of Austin, Texas.
Neuner’s globe-trotting business experience has had a major impact on the Neuner family. Their oldest son Eric, who is 36, is a graduate of Hickman High School in Columbia. Their 34-year-old son Paul attended high school in Europe and their daughter Christina went to high school in Singapore and married a native of Indonesia.
It was while working in Japan that Terry and Mary developed a taste for Kobe beef. Kobe, Japan, is the home of two of that country’s largest breweries – Kobe and Kirin. Farmers in that region used a local breed of cattle named Wagyu and fed them the corn gluten, or brewers’ grain, which was the byproduct of the breweries. The end product of that combination is beef which has become known throughout the world for its taste. The demand for this premium beef has caused the price to soar.
In 1973, the year Terry completed his masters, the Neuners tried to purchase the farm where they now live. At that time the farm was owned by some of the heirs of Albert Hilkemeyer, a Westphalia man who amassed a considerable fortune in the chicken hatchery business, but the farm was simply not available. Mary Neuner was a distance relative of Albert Hilkemeyer and that gave them the inside track on being able to eventually end up with the farm. Eighteen years later, with the Neuners now in Europe, the farm did become available and the Neuners jumped at the opportunity.
During the pressure-packed years of working for 3M, “The farm was always my salvation,” Neuner said. While he enjoyed working for 3M -- he described it as “fast and exciting” -- there was a downside. “It was 24 hours a day and it was not the real world,” he added, “but getting back to the farm helped me get my head screwed back on.” When early retirement became a possibility, “I took the chance to get out.” That was August, 2003.
Well before Terry Neuner retired, the Neuners knew they wanted to start a Kobe beef business when they moved back to Westphalia. They saw Kobe beef as a way to utilize the farm they loved so much.
Starting an Angus operation in Osage County is not too difficult. It’s quite easy to find Angus cattle in this area, but there aren’t many Wagyus. For that matter, there aren’t many Wagyus in the entire country, so the Neuners imported semen and artificially bred 12 cows in December, 2003. Eight calves were born the following September and one of those was slaughtered earlier this month. “It’s what we hoped it would be,” Terry said of the meat, and then laughingly added, “but we’ve got to get other people to agree with that.”
Since that original artificial insemination experience, the Neuners have purchased a registered Wagyu bull, which they have bred to 50 cows and have 14 calves on the ground. At this point the Neuners feel they have a quality product and the challenge for the beef business is to market the product.
While Terry and Mary were working on their beef business, they were also buying several older properties in Westphalia and restoring them. One of the buildings they restored is the old Holterman blacksmith shop. This restoration led to the opening of three businesses in that building, Mary’s antique business which is named Ever Changing Antiques, the Main St. Salon and Spa and the Blacksmith Shop Café. With the opening of these and other businesses in town, the Neuners feel optimistic about Westphalia’s prospects.
The Neuners are by nature upbeat folks who enjoy a challenge. They are excited about the prospects of the Kobe beef business. They greatly enjoyed restoring their home over the past 14 years. But more than anything else, the Neuners look forward to going into business with their sons, and possibly even their daughter.
For years sons Eric and Paul, both of whom live in San Diego, have wanted to start a family business. Paul says as a young man he always dreamed of opening a brewery on the farm. By throwing around terms such as “self-sufficient” and “living off the land” Paul says his mother got him interested in the idea of starting a brewery because everything necessary for brewing beer was present on the farm, including a good spring.
The first owners of the farm, the Porth family, operated a brewery out of a cave that can be seen from the road leading to the house. That was from approximately 1845 to 1870. Not much remains of that original operation, but the Neuners plan to restore what they can.
At one point in time Paul was positively convinced that between the desire to have a family business and the farm’s Porth tradition, a brewery would be the inevitable result. He was so convinced of this that when college economics classes got boring he would design labels for the beers he thought they should produce. “Neunerbrau” and “Westphalia Gold” are just two of the brews that are no longer in the business plan.
Eric was just as interested as Paul in going into business with his father and brother. Eric, however, thought the business might end up being a factory in Asia, rather than something in Westphalia. With that in mind Eric got his Masters in International Business at the University of San Diego. Eric’s idea did not miss the mark by much, as his father on two occasions almost bought a business in Asia.
At this point in planning for the family business, both sons are on the same page. Both think the winery and Kobe beef business make a great deal of sense and are looking forward to the future. Both are convinced they can turn out premier wines and both think the popularity of Kobe beef will continue to grow.
Don’t expect to see either Eric or Paul in Westphalia on a permanent basis any time in the next year or two. Eric, who operates a shoe renewal business with over 50 employees, and Paul, who is a senior vice president for investments at A.G. Edwards & Sons, think it will be from three to five years before it will be necessary for them to spend as much as three months a year working on the winery and beef business.
However, with the enthusiasm these two young men have for the idea of working together in a family-owned business to produce wine and beef of unsurpassed quality and taste, it’s hard to imagine the Neuner brothers working in San Diego too many more years.