Shawnee Bluff Winery: A Little Gem at Lake of the Ozarks
Discovering Shawnee Bluff
My family has a long history of heading to Lake of the Ozarks. We started going to Missouri's Ozarks in 1990, and it became our staple family vacation for nearly twenty years. Although we do not spend a week at a time down there anymore, we still go once or twice a year for quick weekend trips. Even though I consider myself a regular tourist in the area, it wasn't until a few years ago that I discovered Shawnee Bluff Winery. This little gem of The Ozarks is nestled among the trees on top of a spectacular bluff. With excellent views, killer food, and delicious wine, Shawnee Bluff quickly became a favorite.
Even though I have been to this area of The Lake many times, I never noticed the huge "WINE" sign along Bagnell Dam Boulevard. I found this place the way other tourists find their favorites -- on the internet. When I realized where it was located, I couldn't believe we had never noticed it or gone there. The steep asphalt driveway is a little intimidating at first, but once you reach the top, it's like you discovered a hidden oasis, and you won't want to leave any time soon.
The Total Package
I guess what I love most about this little place is, it is a little place. So many of the restaurants and hotels in the area are huge, commercialized facilities. Shawnee Bluff is just big enough to have a lively atmosphere without the cookie-cutter feel of some bars and wineries.
The bar is small because the outdoor area is the primary feature. The bar, however, frequently features local musical talent, usually one-person bands due to space. A vast deck with rail seating connects the bar to the tasting room. This area is a favorite spot to catch a bird's eye view of the pool, platform deck, and that breath-taking lake.
In the tasting room, you can purchase Shawnee Bluff garb such as t-shirts, hats, tumblers, and koozies in addition to finding your favorite wine. The entire staff at Shawnee Bluff is friendly and accommodating. That's another reason it is one of my favorites; they are genuinely delighted you are there, and with all of the places people can go on The Lake, that kind of hospitality matters.
The Outdoor Space
There is no better place to sit and relax with a bottle of wine than on the platform deck at Shawnee Bluff. The combination of the lake view with the lively but not overzealous atmosphere puts me in a happy place. The newest toll bridge connecting the two sides of the lake is in full view when sitting on the deck as well as a vast expanse of pristine water. Shawnee Bluff sits way up high, with a relaxing aerial view of the boats below.
The outdoor space also has a pool, strategically placed between the bar and the platform deck. An outdoor bar sits off to the side, creating more seating and access to drinks. All of the outdoor seating areas have the right combination of sun and shade. Even though there is usually a cool breeze coming off the lake, it can get quite hot in the summer months, and the shaded spots are a premium. Visiting in the fall, however, will have you seeking some warmth, so people flock to the sunny tables and rail spots. For the colder months, visitors will also enjoy the extra warmth of outdoor heaters, making those crisp fall visits comfortable. I highly recommend a fall visit. The leaf colors are absolutely gorgeous.
Sometimes smaller establishments have inadequate parking -- not Shawnee Bluff. The closest spots are reserved for patrons staying in the cabins right onsite. Still, a vast parking lot accommodates the daily travelers with more parking available across Bagnell Dam Blvd. if necessary.
Food & Drink
Shawnee Bluff was my first experience with wood-fired pizza. When you pull onto the grounds, you instantly smell that delicious aroma coming from their outdoor oven, which sits between the bar and the tasting room. Strategically placed, no one can escape the mesmerizing wafts. Sooner or later, you'll be ordering a pizza.
Pizza is not their only specialty, though. They also have delicious appetizers and salads. If my husband and I just want a snack and not a full meal, we usually order the pretzel breadsticks and beer cheese. Of course, the drinks are delicious, too.
One of my favorite drinks of all time is only at Shawnee Bluff. They have a carbonated wine on tap called Bluff Breeze that is unique and perfect. Not too sweet, and not too dry -- they made this creation just right. Of course, they have a full bar with mixed drinks and beer. You can purchase wine by the bottle, carafe, or glass.
I highly recommend visiting Shawnee Bluff if you are in the area, but I also highly recommend staying in one of their eight cabins right next to all the action. These cabins are literally built on the edge of the bluff, and the balcony views are unmatched anywhere at The Lake.
Staying on the grounds keeps you close to the action, and more importantly, you don't have to drive anywhere after you've had a couple of drinks. If you want to branch out and see what the area has to offer, you are ideally located near Dog Patch, a popular tourist area with souvenir shopping and great bars and restaurants. You are also relatively close to a considerable Outlet Mall to scratch that shopping itch if you have one.
The cabins have all been recently remodeled. The bathrooms are quite small, with a vintage flair. I was cautious at first because I was afraid the noise from the outdoor space would bother us; however, it has never been an issue. All of the cabins we have stayed in have two double beds or a king-sized bed. Again, the rooms are small but priced reasonably. My sister-in-law and my girls and I stayed there one time, and it was pretty cramped in one room. Still, the space is perfect for couples.
The vineyard is just a few miles away if you want a little different experience than the bluffs. The vineyard is a more traditional, sprawling space with a tasting barn that can be rented for events. This venue hosts concerts as well. At the vineyard, you can get all of the same excellent service and beverages with a different view.
A new venue is in the works, located in Camdenton, which is just a few miles down the road on a different portion of The Lake. Riverbird Winery, according to the website, is coming soon.
Over the past 25 years, many businesses have come and gone at The Lake. However, it seems the low-key, classic establishments have remained because they have a unique vibe that cannot be duplicated. Shawnee Bluff Winery is actually a 1931 renovated resort, built from native stone. This uniqueness is the source for much of the charm it exudes. Shawnee Bluff Winery’s popularity has skyrocketed over the past few years, jeopardizing its "best-kept secret" status. Nonetheless, this little gem is a fabulous place to visit and stay in The Lake of the Ozarks.
© 2020 Marcy Bialeschki