Saturday, September 25, 2021

Missouri Wine Experience

Missouri Wine Experience 

Last week, we took an extended getaway weekend to travel to neighboring Missouri to explore Missouri Wine. From Illinois, we traveled across the northern tier of the state from Hannibal to Kansas City, then back across the middle of the state with the focal point being the Missouri River. Our intent was to experience Missouri wine, learn the terroir that is distinctive to the Missouri wine producing areas, learn what grapes make up Missouri wine, and other factors about our neighbor and their industry.

Rather than an immersion in one appellation (AVA), which is our approach to visiting Napa or Bordeaux, after dozens of trips there, as an initial learning and discovery, we did a broad brush tour to get a high level understanding of the Missouri wine trade and its products. 

Our visits during our getaway weekend to Missouri were:

We learned the following about Missouri and wine:

Missouri producers craft all types of wines, red, white, blush, rose, sparkling, dessert, and fortified. 

We discovered and tasted wines from Missouri producers' vineyards sourced from the Missouri state grape Norton, and the Missouri St. Vincent grape. Other than those, they are not known for any specific varietal or suited to producing one specific variety of grapes such as Burgundy with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and Bordeaux with its select varietals. Furthermore, there are no appellation specified or directed grapes that need to be included in the bottle or the blend as in France, and sometimes in Italy. 

Le Bourgeois Richeport
Reserve offered
at $98 per bottle
Indeed, we tasted wines produced from a wide range of varietals: Chardonel, Cayuga, Chambourcin, Concord, Catawba, Muscat, Norton, Seyval, Syrah, Traminette, Valvin, Vidal, Vignoles, St. Vincent, Vivant, and traditional French varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. One producer Le Bourgeois produces an Aromella grape wine, from a hybrid white varietal, developed at Cornell University.

Lastly, we tasted wines that are 'estate', sourced from grapes grown on the property, 'Missouri' designated, crafted from others', or multiple growers across the state, and 'American', sourced from grapes outside the state of Missouri. 

We also tasted wines produced by Missouri producers, sourced from California grapes while at Le Bourgeois Winery. They produce an American Red Blend from traditionally Spanish varieties – Alvarelhão, Tinto Cao, and Souzao – all grown in Lodi, California, and a Syrah that they produce, also from fruit imported from Lodi.

We had Missouri wine aged twenty years, and wine with fruit from old aged vines as old as forty years, and Stone Hill Winery produces a limited release label with fruit from vines dating back to the Civil War. 

Missouri takes its wine and wine industry very seriously. They have formed the Missouri Vintners Association made up of winery owners throughout the state. MVA works with professional lobbyists in the state capital, Jefferson City to stay abreast of and address legislative issues facing commercial Missouri wineries. MVA communicates the needs of commercial Missouri wineries to the Missouri Wine and Grape Board, and is a state association member of Wine America. MVA keeps close ties with the Missouri Grape Growers Association and the Missouri Wine Technical Group to continually improve Missouri produced wines.

Missouri has more than 130 wineries spread across the state in eleven different regions, and is recognized by the government with four official AVAs - American Viticultural Areas. 

Many of the Missouri producers have grouped together in their areas to form 11 unique wine trails. 

Missouri has a long history of viticulture and winemaking dating back almost two centuries with some of the oldest wineries in the US, and some of the historic largest wineries and highest producing wine areas in the US. As early as 1850, there were nearly sixty wineries in the Hermann area producing more than 10,000 gallons of wine per year.

By 1904, there were more than 100 Missouri wineries, the Hermann area alone produced 3 million gallons of wine, mostly by small wine grower/producers.When France’s vineyards were plagued by the phylloxera louse that threatened their entire wine industry, it was Missouri that came to the rescue. When nearly all France's grape vines were destroyed, Missouri’s state entomologist, C.V. Riley, was among the first to discover that Native American grapes were resistant to the pest. Missouri winemakers shipped millions of phylloxera-resistant rootstocks across the Atlantic, ultimately saving the French wine industry.

Missouri is home to the first designated AVA, American Viticulture Area in the US. An American Viticultural Area (AVA) is a designated wine grape-growing region in the United States distinguishable by geographic features, with boundaries defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

The Augusta AVA was the first AVA in the United States, accorded to Augusta, Missouri in 1980. While seven California districts and one in Oregon had filed applications with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; the honor went to the 15 square mile area surrounding Augusta. The bureau cited the unique soil, climate and wines, as well as Augusta’s long history as one of America’s oldest and foremost grape and wine districts. In the mid-1800s German immigrants found the Missouri River area just west of St. Louis to be well suited for growing grapes. Napa Valley was granted the second AVA designation named after Augusta in February, 1981.

The other Missouri AVAs are 

  • The Ozark Mountain AVA, established in 1986, covering a vast 3,500,000 acres in southern Missouri, extending into northwest Arkansas and northeast Oklahoma. The Ozark Mountain AVA is so large, several smaller AVA’s lay within its borders, including Augusta, Hermann and Ozark Highlands. It is the sixth largest AVA in the United States.
  • The Hermann AVA, recognized in1987 and consists of 51,200 acres in the Hermann area between St. Louis and Jefferson City, Missouri. German immigrants settled the Missouri River Valley area in the 1830s and began planting vineyards in what is today one of the most historic wine regions.
  • The Ozark Highlands AVA, designated in 1987; although the grape growing tradition goes back to the 1870s. The fourth accorded AVA in Missouri encompasses 1,280,000 acres in south-central Missouri, covering portions of eleven Missouri counties including the town of St. James, Missouri.
  • The Loess Hills District AVA, established in 2016, encompassing 12,897 square miles of loess-based hills comprising a long, narrow region along the western banks of the Missouri and Big Sioux Rivers in western Iowa and northwestern Missouri. The topography is characterized by rolling to steep hills. The deep loess enables grape vine roots to reach deeply into the soil and allows water to drain quickly.

The eleven Missouri wine regions that have established wine trails for marketing promotion and travel assistance (with compliments and sourced from

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