Monday, April 11, 2011

Drink Local Wine 2011 Missouri Twitter Taste-off, USA

Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller with Jim and Jan O'Horo from the White Rose Winery; their Chardonel 2006 was my choice of best white wine held its third annual conference on April 1-3, 2011, in St. Louis, Missouri, and I was very happy to be able to participate in it. is about spotlighting wine made in the 47 States of the US that are not one of the big three: California, Washington State, and Oregon.

One of the highlights of the conference was the DLW 2011 Missouri Twitter Taste-off, which is the subject of this posting. 20 Wineries participated with 2 wines each. I have provided an overview about the Drink Local Wine Conference 2011 in Missouri here.

Wine Producer Missouri

Missouri’s wine history dates to the 1830s, when German immigrants established Hermann and the Missouri River as one of the main viticulture areas in the US, growing the American grapes that they found there when they arrived. 50 years later, more wine was produced in Missouri than in any other State in the US. But then came Prohibition and brought Missouri’s wine industry to a halt. However, Missouri’s wine industry came back, starting in the 1960s, in particular after French American hybrid grapes became available. Indeed, the Augusta AVA (American Viticultural Area, the American equivalent of the French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée - AOC) in Missouri is the first federally approved AVA (gaining the status on June 20, 1980, eight months before the Napa Valley AVA).

Today, Missouri has more than 1,400 acres planted in grapes and more than 100 wineries. Missouri is again a serious wine producer, relying heavily on French American hybrid grapes and native American grapes like Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc, and Norton - the latter one being the most prominent Missouri-grown variety. The State’s climate is harsh and humid and vinifera grapes – like Chardonnay and Merlot - have a hard time to thrive under these conditions, although recently there has been more interest in planting vinifera grape varieties.

However, overall, Missouri is a small player now, accounting for less than 0.5% of total wine production in the US.

Missouri Twitter Taste-off

Pictures: Russ Kane, Vintage Texas, and Eric V. Orange, Russ is on the left and Eric on the right

The Twitter Taste-off of Missouri wines was one of the highlights of the DLW2011. For a whole afternoon, participants were tasting the wines and blogging and tweeting about what they tasted, with the Twitter hash tag #DLWMO, with the tweets being shown on a large screen. The screen, changing constantly, was displaying real-time tweets by people present at the tasting, but also by people at home sitting in front of their computer and following the tasting via Twitter from there. These people could also sent tweets and participate in the discussion. And they did. Last year, at the DLW2010 in Virginia, 4 million Twitter impressions were recorded; this year’s number, I am sure, will be even higher.

The Wines we Tasted

7CS Winery
NV Midlife Crisis – Blackberry Mead, Missouri, 2010
Stagecoach, Vidal Blanc, Missouri, 2010

Adam Puchta Winery
Norton 2005, Estate Hermann, 2005
Signature Port, Missouri, NV

Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller with Tim Puchta, Owner of Adam Puchta and Sons Wine Company. Adam Puchata wines won in 2 categories.

Augusta Winery
Chambourcin, Augusta,2008
Vignoles, Missouri, 2010

Buck Mountain Winery
Marechal Foch, Ozark Mountain, 2009
Vidal Blanc, Ozark Mountain, 2010

Cave Vineyard/Strussione Wine
Norton, Ozark Mountain, 2008
Cave Rock Off Dry, Ozark Mountain, 2009

Chaumette Vineyards & Winery
Chambourcin, Missouri, 2009
Chardonel Reserve, Ozak Mountain, 2009

Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller with Hank Johnson, Owner of Chaumette Vineyards and Winery. Chaumette's Chardonel won in 2 categories.

Hermanshof Vineyards
Vidal Blanc, Hermann, 2008
Traminette, Missouri, 2006

Indian Creek Winery
Norton, Missouri, 2009
Vignoles, Missouri, 2009

Jowler Creek Winery
Norton, Missouri, 2008
Vignoles, Missouri, 2009

Les Bourgeois Vineyards
Norton, Missouri, 2008
Labelle (Vignoles), Missouri, 2010

Montelle Winery
Cynthiana, Missouri, 2009
Seyval Blanc, Montelle Winery, 2010

Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller with winemaker/owner Tony Kooyumjian at Montelle Winery.

Peaceful Bend Vineyard
Meramec, Missouri, NV
Whittenburg, Missouri, NV

Robller Vineyard Winery
Hillside Cuvee, Missouri, 2009
Hillside Blanc, Missouri, 2009

Seven Springs Winery
Seven’s Red Heaven, Ozak Highlands, 2008
Spring Fling, Ozak Highlands, 2007

St. James Winery
Chambourcin, Ozark Mountain, 2009
Vignoles, Ozark Mountain, 2010

Stone Hill Winery
Norton, Hermann, 2007
Vignoles, Missouri, 2010

Sugar Creek Vineyards & Winery
Cynthiana, St. Charles County, 2009
Chardonel, St. Charles County, 2009

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with owners Ken and Becky Miller at Sugar Creek Vineyards and Winery.

Wenwood Farm Winery
Century Farm Red, NA, NV
Country Estate White, NA, NV

Westphalia Vineyards
Norton Reserve, Osage County, 2006
Marie’s River Red, Osage County, 2009

White Rose Winery
Marechal Foch, Ozark Mountain, 2006
Chardonel, Ozark Mountain, 2006

Grape Varieties: American Grapes and French American Hybrid Grapes

When people think about American wine, they think about Merlot, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, to name a few. None of these grape varieties could be found on the list of the Missouri Twitter Taste-off. Why? Merlot, Chardonnay and Zinfandel belong to the group of vitis vinifera (European) grapes and are - until now - rarely grown in Missouri as they have a hard time to thrive under the climatic conditions of Missouri.

When the German settlers arrived in Missouri in the 1800s and started to grow wine, they did this with the American grapes varieties they found in Missouri. So, before prohibition, when Missouri was a dominant wine producer in the US, Missouri was this with American grapes, like Concord.

Then came the phylloxera crisis in Europe and biologists fought to rescue European winemaking. One route they went was crossing the European grapes with American grapes. They developed what is now called French American hybrid grapes. These try to combine the elegance of the European grapes with the robustness of the American grapes. Eventually, Europe went the way of grafting European grape vines on American rootstocks, which solved its problem, but at the same time these French American hybrid grapes came into existence. Missouri is taking advantage of them. The overwhelming majority at the Missouri Twitter Taste-off were French American hybrid grape wines:

Chambourcin - Its parentage is uncertain; it is one of the parents of the new disease resistant variety, Regent, which is increasing in popularity among German grape growers. See here. Andrew Meggitt, executive winemaker, St. James Winery said: “Chambourcin is much less fragile than Norton.”

Seyval Blanc – One of the first French American hybrid grapes; is popular in England and the Finger Lakes region. “When I started to grow Seyval Blanc, 80% of the wines were fermented in a sweet style at my winery; now it is the opposite” said winemaker/owner Tony Kooyumjian of Montelle Winery and Augusta Winery.

Chardonel - Is a late ripening white wine hybrid grape, developed in New York State as a crossing of Seyval Blanc and Chardonnay.

Traminette - Developed by Cornell University; Gewürztraminer is one of its parents; a rather new grape variety.

Vignoles – Popular in the Finger Lakes region and along the Missouri River; another very aromatic grape variety. "Lends itself well to a slightly sweet wine.” said Tony Kooyumjian.

Marechal Foch – Developed by the Alsatian Eugene Kuhlmann in France.

Vidal Blanc - Cory Bomgaars, head winemaker, Les Bourgeois Vineyards said: “This is one of my favorites. It is such a workhorse. And I do not see the volume affecting the flavor.”

In addition to the French American hybrids, there were a number of Norton wines. It is the most prominent Missouri-grown grape variety, Missouri’s signature grape, and also known under the name Cynthiana. It is believed to be a variety of vitis aestivalis. Among the two dozen or so grape species native to North America, only one has proven itself capable of good dry table wines. That grape is Norton. “American grape varities are good for sweet wine but they are not good for dry wines” said Tony Kooyumjian.

Recently there has been a renewed interest in vinifera (European) grape varieties in Missouri and I indeed tasted some. But often the Merlots and Chardonnays made by Missouri wineries are wines made with fruit brought in from California, i.e., wines made from grapes grown in California and fermented and aged in Missouri. Such wines are identified as American wines on the back label, as opposed to Missouri wines or even more restrictive appellations. But advances in vine growing have furthered the prospects of planting vinifera grapes in Missouri. But this is a slow process. And Missouri winemakers may prefer to stick with French American hybrids.

Pictures: The founder of Mount Pleasant Winery, Frederic Muensch; "American" Cabernet Sauvignon and "Missouri" Norton from Mount Pleasant Estates.

Missouri Wine Regions

None of the wines at the Missouri Wine Twitter Taste-off was labeled as American wines, i.e. made from grapes coming from out of state. A number of wines were labeled as Missouri wines, i.e. made from grapes from various wine regions in Missouri. Most wines were from more restrictively defined regions in Missouri. However, one should not forget that under the AVA regulations, only at least 85% of the wines has to originate there and up to 15% can sourced from elsewhere.

There are now 4 American Viticultural Areas (AVA) in Missouri.

Augusta AVA: The first AVA in the United States. In the mid-1800s German immigrants found the Missouri River area just west of St. Louis to be well suited for growing grapes.

Ozark Mountain AVA: A large AVA with several smaller AVAs within its borders, including Augusta, Hermann and Ozark Highlands. It is the sixth largest AVA in the US.

Hermann AVA: One of the most historic wine regions in the US.

Ozark Highlands AVA: The fourth accorded AVA in Missouri.

The Winners

Best White Wine: Chaumette Chardonel 2009
Best Red Wine: Adam Puchta Norton 2005
Media Choice Wine: Chaumette Chardonel 2009
People Choice Wine: Adam Puchta Port NV
C.G.E.Schiller Choice Red: Adam Puchta Winery Norton 2005
C.G.E. Schiller Choice White: White Rose Winery, Chardonel, Ozark Mountain, 2006

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