James Fashing, a photojournalist
and writer with MFA’s Today’s Farmer reviews the offerings
of St. James Winery with Ann Miller, the winery’s marketing
Four days, 18 wineries.
It’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it. Not one to
shy away from a difficult assignment, I volunteered.
It began when a postcard came in the mail. The Missouri
Grape and Wine Program and the state Division
of Tourism were inviting travel, food
and wine writers to participate in a media tour to showcase Missouri’s
$26 million wine industry. I like a glass of wine now and then and I’m
interested in agritourism. I’ll go.
As soon as I met the other participants I realized I was out of my league.
My knowledge about wine might fill a glass. White wines go with white
meat. Red wines for red meat. Refrigerate after opening. That’s
about the extent of my wine savvy — though I suspected my food
rules were wrong. (Turns out they were.)
Clearly, these people thought about wine a whole lot more than I did.
On our trip was an editor with a wine industry trade magazine, a publisher
of an Ohio wine magazine, a food and wine columnist from Texas, a freelance
food writer and an ag journalist who also grows a few acres of grapes.
I had a lot to learn.
The dump bucket is your friend
The first lesson came early. Tasting wine does not necessarily mean
drinking wine. With at least four winery stops each day — not
to mention lunches and dinners that included wine — you need to
Bomgaars, the winemaker at Les Bourgeois Winery in Rocheport,
answers questions from reporters during a barrel tasting in the
winery’s cellar. Six food and travel writers recently visited
Missouri wineries at the invitation of the Missouri Grape and
Wine Program. .
That crock that
sits on the counter of a tasting bar is not there to hold bottles. It’s
for emptying your glass. If the winery pours more than you need for
a taste, it’s OK to dump out the rest. If you want to spit, that’s
fine, too. It doesn’t mean you don’t like the wine.
Most of Missouri’s wineries offer tours of their production facility
(if they have one) and a scenic spot to picnic or enjoy a bottle of
wine with friends and family. But the tasting room is really the main
“When you go to the grocery store and look at wine it’s
confusing. Going to a winery allows people to taste and find something
they like,” says Tim Puchta, a sixth-generation winemaker and
chairman of the Missouri Department of Agriculture’s Grape and
Wine Advisory Board.
Drink like an expert
Before going on this trip I thought you drank wine like any other beverage.
It turns out there’s a method — what Clyde Gill, the winemaker
at Peaceful Bend Vineyard near Steelville, calls the “Five-S” method.
First, you swirl the wine in the glass to release its aroma. All my
companions could do this with aplomb. I was just as likely to swirl
the wine right out of the glass and onto my shirt. Here’s a tip
for you: Keep the glass on the table. It will swirl easier.
Second, sniff the wine. Put your nose right in there (but don’t
get your nose wet) and take a big wiff. Smell all those flavors? We
smelled flowers and citrus and berries and tobacco and a whole lot more
in the wines we sampled. Funny, I thought wine was made from grapes.
Next, sip the wine and, while it’s in your mouth, swish it around
a bit. Take account of all the tastes and textures of the wine. Tony
Kooyumjian, owner of both the Montelle Winery and Augusta Winery says
to enjoy the “terroir” — that’s a French term
that, loosely translated, means you can taste the dirt the grapes were
grown in. Finally, swallow the wine and notice the aftertaste.
That’s it: swirl, sniff, sip, swish, swallow. See, that wasn’t
Winery tastings usually start with dry wines and gradually move to sweeter
wines. Like most wine aficionados, my traveling companions preferred
dry or semi-dry wines. Most consumers like sweet wines. Fear not, all
Missouri wineries sell far more sweet wines than dry. Two million visitors
to the states’s wineries each year can’t be wrong.
Kooyumjian says the first thing people should do when selecting wine
is ignore any advice they may have received. “My philosophy of
wine is forget about the review, forget about what your neighbors like,
choose what you like,” he says.
The tastes of Missouri
and Katie Gill serve samples during a wine tasting at Peaceful Bend
Vineyard near Steelville.
Even if you know
wine you’ll likely find a trip to a Missouri winery a new experience.
“Missouri wineries are unique in that our wines are very different,”
says Patty Held-Uthlaut, daughter of Jim Held, who resurrected Missouri’s
wine industry when he reopened Stone Hill Winery in 1965. “We
have an education challenge ahead of us. My dad’s philosophy from
day one was to get visitors to our winery so we can get them to taste
our wines and show them how wonderful they are.”
The traditional European grapes California and New York wineries use
to make Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon don’t grow well
in Missouri. Instead, our wineries grow native American and French hybrid
Funny thing about
French hybrid grapes — in Europe they’re called American
hybrids. That’s because, in the late 1800s, France’s wine
industry was decimated by an aphid that attacked their vine roots. They
were saved by the importation of hearty American rootstock from Missouri.
Small world, huh?
Winemakers in Missouri have spent about 150 years figuring out what
grows well here. One of the best, it seems, is the Norton. Also called
Cynthiana, the Norton is Missouri’s official state grape and produces
a slightly spicy, berry-like dry red wine that wins lots of awards in
competitions. Nortons go well with red meat or game.
Other varieties you’ll see at Missouri wineries include Vidal,
Seyval, Vignoles, Chardonnel and Chambercin. While they differ from
more common wines they serve the same purpose. Each wine complements
or contrasts well with particular foods. A visit to a winery will help
you sort this out.
old white with chicken and fish, red with beef rule isn’t entirely
wrong, it’s limiting. Red wine might be a better choice for chicken
with a hearty sauce, for example.
Wines named after grape varieties (Seyval, for example) contain just
that grape, or nearly so. When you see a name that describes the winery’s
scenery or conjures up some bucolic image — Riverboat Red or Velvet
White — that’s usually a blended wine. These tend to be
sweeter and aimed more at the casual wine drinker.
Blended wines may or may not be made mostly with Missouri grapes. By
law, to be labeled a Missouri wine the bottle must contain 75 percent
homegrown grapes. Otherwise it’s an American wine.
Like most wineries in the state,
Charleville Vineyards near Ste. Genevieve grows American and French
hybrid variety grapes.
Nearly every winery offers a full range of wines, both red and white,
dry to sweet. A few offer wines made from fruits other than grapes.
Sainte Genevieve Winery has 12 fruit wines, including cherry, elderberry,
pear, strawberry and an incredible cranberry wine. Some wineries offer
champagne. Others make dessert wines like port (a wine fortified with
brandy) or late harvest wines — the longer the grapes stay on
the vine, the sweeter the wine. Ice wines are made with grapes picked
after a frost. They’re like candy with a kick.
One of the striking things about this trip was how much a particular
wine can vary from winery to winery. We tasted at least 18 Nortons and
no two were exactly alike. Since wines vary so much you’ll want
to sample offerings from several wineries.
“People are not going to like every winery. They’re not
going to like every wine,” says Puchta. “I have no qualms
about sending somebody down the road to another winery if they don’t
like my product. We’ll find you something that you like.”
For what it’s worth, this group of traveling writers liked Adam
Puchta wines quite a bit. But his comments speak to an attitude prevalent
among Missouri wine makers. They don’t care whose wines you buy
just as long as you’re drinking Missouri wine.
“One of the things we try to do here at the winery is promote
a wine culture. We want people to drink wine,” says Puchta, whose
Bavarian ancestors considered wine an essential part of everyday life.
One thing clear
on this trip is that Missouri is not lacking for places to sample wines.
We have 52 wineries in this state, the 10th highest number of any state
in the nation. Many of Missouri’s wineries are grouped in clusters
(that’s a little grape lingo). This makes it easy to plan a day
trip exploring a wine region. The Hermann and Augusta districts are
well-known. New on the scene is Ste. Genevieve’s “Route
du Vin,” an easy 40-mile loop linking five wineries near this
French settlement south of St. Louis.
The shining star in this region is Crown Valley. Seemingly overnight,
local entrepreneur Joe Scott built a state-of-the-art 44,000-square-foot
winery on a 330-acre estate near Coffman. With a French winemaker and
a facility that rivals any in California’s Napa Valley, Crown
Valley is a
Three remaining area wineries couldn’t be more varied. Chaumette
Vineyard and Winery is upscale and sophisticated. At Charleville Vineyard
(and micro-brewery) tastings are held in a small metal building and
the owners will likely show you a log cabin they’re restoring.
Cave Winery features a picnic area in a cave.
Diversity is the hallmark of Missouri wineries. There are large production
facilities like St. James Winery (which recently overtook Stone Hill
as the state’s No. 1 wine seller) and tiny boutique wineries like
Katie and Clyde Gill’s Peaceful Bend near Steelville.
Some wineries — such as Les Bourgeois in Rocheport, Native Stone
near Jefferson City and OakGlenn near Hermann — offer stunning
vistas. Other wineries are steeped in history. Tour the arched stone
cellars at Hermann’s Stone Hill or Hermannhof wineries and you’ll
step back to Missouri’s pre-Prohibition days when the state was
America’s No. 2 winemaker and Stone Hill was the third largest
winery in the world.
wine and travel writers on a tour of Missouri’s wineries
take notes while Paul LeRoy, winemaker at Hermann’s Hermannhof
Vineyards pours a sample. The group tasted more than 100 wines
at 18 wineries in four days..
The Adam Puchta
and Son Wine Company turns 150 this year, making it the state’s
oldest continually operating family winery (if you count a few years
of illicit winemaking). Even relatively new player OakGlenn is rich
in tradition. This winery features an 1850s cellar built by George Hussman,
the man who shipped all that rootstock to France.
Clearly, Missouri’s wineries offer something for everyone.
“The Missouri wine industry is so diverse,” says Mary-Colleen
Tinney, of Wine Business Monthly. “If you’re looking for
a good time and a great view, a place like Les Bourgeois is a great
place to go. If you’re interested in the big tasting rooms you’ve
got Mount Pleasant and Chaumette. If you just want to be stunned with
what a winery can do, go to Crown Valley.”
Eighteen wineries in four days? Few people will ever attempt such a
hedonistic adventure but a day or weekend spent in one of Missouri’s
wine regions is time well-spent.
Frankly, I was blown away. I thought because I had been to Hermann and
Augusta I knew about Missouri’s wine industry. I had no idea of
the growth and dedication taking place. I was glad my out-of-state companions
saw it, too.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” says Tinney. “I didn’t
expect to see such an influx of people, planting vines and creating
wineries. They seem to be pretty gung-ho about recreating the wine industry
they had before Prohibition. That’s a great thing.”
For a map and complete listing of Missouri’s wineries write
the Missouri Grape & Wine Program, P.O. Box 630, Jefferson City,
MO 65102; log onto www.missouriwine.org or call 1-800-392-9463.
the writers who toured Missouri's wineries to reflect on
their favorite wines and wineries. Some made up their own
categories. One writer, a member of the Missouri Grape and
Wine Program's Advisory Board, declined to take sides. Otherwise,
what follows are their impressions:
TheWineBuzz, Cleveland, Ohio
Stone Hill Missouri Champagne
Peaceful Bend Late Harvest Chardonel
Adam Puchta Norton
Showcase winery: Crown Valley (Ste. Genevieve).
of the Earth": Peaceful Bend (Steelville).
get a good picture of Missouri wines and the history of Missouri
wines all in one experience, I think my choice would be Hermannhof.”
Business Monthly, Sonoma, Calif.
Puchta’s wines are awesome. Mount Pleasant’s
wines are really good. I think Crown Valley
has some really good wines, too. Hermannhof had great wines.
A lot of the Hermann wineries had great wines.”
Overall (Tie): — Mount Pleasant (Augusta)/Hermannhof (Hermann)
Scenic: OakGlenn (Hermann)
Fun: Les Bourgeois (Rocheport)
Wine/travel writer, wine judge, cooking school owner,
Stone Hill Missouri Champagne
Augusta Vidal Blanc
Mount Pleasant Vintage Port
Sainte Genevieve Winery Cranberry
“Native Stone and Peaceful Bend.
Hermannhof was my overall favorite, without a doubt.”
and grape grower, board member of the Missouri Grape
Growers Association, Columbia, Mo.
Adam Puchta Norton
Peaceful Bend Late Harvest Chardonel
OakGlenn White Port
“I’d say the quintessential Missouri wineries would
be one of the Hermann ones, either Hermannhof or Stone Hill. Hermannhof
was a pleasant surprise. The cellars were awesome and the winemaker
was genuine. Probably Hermahoff was my favorite. The
neatest one would have to be Crown Valley. But two that I liked
that were the most friendly were Peaceful Bend and St. Genevieve.”
view of a non-expert . . .
Rural Missouri managing editor, Jefferson City,
Adam Puchta Norton
Stone Hill Seyval
remains one of my favorite Missouri wineries, not just
for its wines but for its historic charm.
Hermannhof's cellars are rivaled only by those of Stone Hill. In
my view, Stone Hill deserves its reputation as Missouri's flagship
winery. Stone Hill's Hermann location
has it all — scenery, historic cellars, a great restaurant and
excellent wines. Furthermore, the Held family deserves recognition
for what they've done to resurrect the Missouri wine industry.