Friday, May 31, 2019

Missouri Wine: The Basics

Source: Missouri Wine and Grape Board
In the 1870s, 6 million acres of French vineyards were destroyed by a mysterious plague. Desperate, the French government invited Missouri's first entomologist Charles V. Riley to diagnose the situation. He determined that the vines were suffering by an infestation of phylloxera, most likely introduced by imported American vines. Riley also suggested the idea of grafting vinifera vines to native American rootskocks were immune to the louse and introduced French authorities to growes such as George Husmann, Hermann Jaeger, and Isador Bush. Subsequently, millions of cuttings of Missouri rootstock saved the French wine industry from disaster. (1)

Source: Missouri Wine and Grape Board
At the time seeking out a Missouri specialist was a logical choice as the state was one of the largest producers in the country.  Early in American history, European immigrants brought their wine-making skills with them as they settled west of the Mississippi River. In 1699 French immigrants founded Ste. Genevieve, situated on the Mississippi River. German immigrants settled along the Missouri River and in 1837 founding Hermann (Missouri's Rhine Village) whereas Italian immigrants settled slightly south near St. James. These three areas became focal points of early Missouri wine production.  Wines from Stone Hill Winery, which the German immigrant Michael Poeschel began building in 1847, won eight gold medals at world fairs between 1873 and 1904. And by the turn of the century, Missouri was the second largest producer just behind California. Then came Prohibition and the end of the Missouri wine industry.

Source: Missouri Wine and Grape Board
In modern times the Missouri wine industry has rebounded thanks to the work of individual proprietors and the Missouri Wine and Grape Board.  According to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), in 2017, Missouri produced 1.2 million gallons of bottled wine making it the 18th most prolific producer in the U.S. This production derives from over 130 wineries with even more grape growers (425) resulting in 1,700 acres under vine. The economic impact is substantial, providing $3.2 billion to the local economy. Geographically, Missouri contains five American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) Augusta, Hermann, Ozark Highlands, the Ozark Mountain AVA which resides jointly in the Ozark Highlands and the Hermann AVA, and the Loess Hills AVA shared with Iowa.
Source: Missouri Wine and Grape Board
The Show Me State is a difficult climate to grow wines with micro-climates near rivers best able to moderate harsh winter conditions.  Vinifera grapes are very rare with a majority of the grapes hardier French hybrids, native labrusca, and Vitis aestivalis -- the signature Norton grape. It was this Norton grape that most likely was awarded the world fair medals and quite possibly the culprit in introducing phylloxera to Europe. The grape was first discovered in Richmond in 1823 by Dr. Daniel Norborne Norton and is thought to be a result of random pollination between Pinot Meunier and a now extinct hybrid known as Bland. The grape became a staple at nurseries where European immigrants procured vines on their journey west. See below for descriptions of the most planted Missouri wine grapes.

In Missouri, most of the wineries are located in the east, particularly around the towns mentioned above: Hermann, St. James, and Ste. Genevieve. However, there are wineries sprinkled throughout the state with several located in the northwest around Kansas City. These wineries encompass two wine trails, the Northwest Missouri Wine Trail and the Kansas City Wine Trail. Next week I will be visiting a half dozen of these wineries as well as sampling wines from several others during a trip sponsored by Visit Kansas City and the Missouri Wine and Grape Board. Follow #mowine on all social media platforms and Missouri Wine for subsequent posts on the trip. Cheers.


Wine Grapes
Catawba
Catawba is an American Vitis labruscana grape that was discovered near the Catawba River in North Carolina. It is a pinkish blue grape that is processed as a white wine grape. The 180-day growing season in southern Missouri allows Catawba to ripen fully and avoid the high acid levels encountered in other eastern grape growing areas. It is one of the "foxiest" of labrusca grapes and is usually used to make sweet or sparkling wine.

Chambourcin
This is a French-American hybrid grape that is flexible in that it can produce full-bodied dry red wines, medium bodied off-dry wines, structured ros├ę wines, and even sweeter wines. In general, the wines are characterized by juicy cherries, earthiness, and soft tannins.

Chardonel
This hybrid grape is a cross between Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc developed in 1996 at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station at Geneva, New York. Like both its parents it can be fermented in oak or stainless steel barrels, and the grapes produce a dry and full-bodied wine.

Norton
Genetically the same, this wine may be bottled as either Norton or Cynthiana. Norton/Cynthiana is an American grape, Vitis aestivalis, which was found in 1835 near Richmond, Virginia. The clusters are small to medium-sized with small blue-black berries, hardy, and extremely vigorous. It is one of the most disease resistant grape varieties, with some resistance even to black rot. Generally, Norton is made into medium-full bodied dry red wines with plenty of aging ability because of its high acid content.

Seyval Blanc
This is a French-American hybrid grape that makes a good all-purpose neutral, crisp, white wine that is light to medium in body. Barrel fermented Seyval Blanc wines take on an oak complexity indicative of Chardonel.

Traminette
This wine is known for its floral character and is made in a range from dry to semi-dry or even semi-sweet. It was developed in 1996 at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York and is a cross between Joannes Seyve 23.416 and Gew├╝rztraminer. Export floral aromas, citrus, tangy acidity and a touch of spice.

Vidal Blanc
Vidal Blanc is a French-American hybrid grape that is generally made from dry to semi-dry to sweet. The wines are generally clean with floral notes, citrus and apple flavors, and juicy acidity. It is also known for dessert style and late harvest wines.

Vignoles
This is another French-American hybrid and versatile grape as it produces wines ranging from dry to sweet, late harvest dessert wines. Vignoles provides an abundant floral aroma and pineapple and apricot flavors. The vines have good cold hardiness and a later bud opening period than most wine grape cultivars, thus making it less susceptible to late frost damage. Thus a popular wine for both the consumer and producer.


(1) The History of Missouri Wine

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