Monday, June 6, 2011

In the Oldest AVA - American Viticultural Area - Augusta in Missouri

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Charles Dressel, President, at Mount Pleasant Winery in Missouri

Not many people now this, but Augusta in Missouri was the first AVA gaining the status eight months before the Napa Valley AVA .

I visited the Augusta AVA recently with fellow participants of the Drink Local Wine Conference 2011 in Missouri. – which is about 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 - held its third annual conference on April 1-3, 2011, in St. Louis, Missouri. I have provided an overview about the Drink Local Wine Conference 2011 in Missouri here. One of the highlights of the conference was the DLW 2011 Missouri Twitter Taste-off; 20 wineries participated with 2 wines each. I have provided a general overview about the wine producing State of Missouri here.

Wine Producer Missouri

Missouri produces top-flight wine, although it does so with few European (vitis vinifera) grapes – such as Chardonnay or Merlot - in sight. Missouri’s more than 100 wineries specialize in 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 have a hard time to thrive under these conditions, although recently there has been more interest in planting vinifera grape varieties.

Picture: Map of 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, including Norton. 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 1960, in particular after French American hybrid grapes became available.

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 Hybrids when it comes to quality wines. However, overall, Missouri has become a small player, accounting for less than 0.5% of total production in the US.

American Viticultural Area

An AVA is a designated wine grape-growing region in the US. There are currently about 200 AVAs. They differ considerably in size, ranging from the Ohio River Valley AVA at 26,000 square miles (67,000 km2) across four States to the Cole Ranch AVA in Mendocino County, California, at only 62 acres. Unlike most European wine appellations of origin, an AVA specifies only a geographical location from which at least 85% of the grapes used to make a wine must have been grown. Further, nor do AVA designations limit the type of grapes grown, the method of vinification or the crop yield.

The Augusta AVA in Missouri

The Augusta AVA was the first federally approved American Viticultural Area gaining the status on June 20, 1980. It is located near the city of Augusta, west of St. Louis along the Missouri River. The area around the present day city of Augusta was founded in 1836 as a riverboat landing along the Missouri. In 1859, Georg and Friedrich Muench founded one of the earliest wineries in the area, Mount Pleasant Winery. See below. Flooding in the Missouri River valley cause the river to change course in 1872, drying up the area's riverboat landing and leaving a distinct soil type in the area between the town and the river.

Pictures: Tony Kooyumjian talking about the Augusta AVA

I have visited 3 wineries in the Augusta AVA, Mount Pleasant Winery, Montelle Winery and Sugar Creek Winery.

Mount Pleasant Winery

Mount Pleasant Winery is one of the oldest wineries of Missouri. George Muench, who came to the area with his brother, Frederick, from Germany, founded Mount Pleasant Winery in 1859. Built from the wood and abundant limestone of the area, the winery and cellars were completed in 1881.

Picture: Mount Pleasant Winery

Today, Mount Pleasant is the largest grower of grapes in the Augusta AVA with over 60,000 vines on 85 acres with 16 diffferent gape varieties. These include Chardonnay and the Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, but these vinifera grapes account for just a fraction of the total, not exceeding 5,000 vines. Mount Pleasant Winery relies heavily on French American hybrid grapes, including Vidal Blanc, Seyval Blanc, Rayon d'Or, Vignoles, St. Vincent, Chambourcin, Couderc, Chardonnel and Cynthiana, as the other wineries in the Augusta AVA I visited.

Mount Pleasant Winery sells 25.000 cases of wine annually.

Montelle Winery

Montelle Winery is located atop Osage Ridge just one and a half miles east of Augusta. The present owner, Tony Kooyumjian, acquired the winery in 1998. Tony is a third generation vineyard owner and grape grower.

Picture: Montelle Winery

Montelle Vineyards is a very scenic winery, apparently the most scenic in area. The view from the large patio is gorgeous, so the best is visiting on a beautiful spring or fall day when you can marvel at the rolling hills and beautiful colors of the rural land around you. “In the high season and with good weather, we have up to 1500 people coming through during a day” said Tony.

Montelle Vineyards has achieved recognition for its dry and semi-dry table wines. These wines include Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Vignoles and red wines such as Chambourcin and Cynthiana (Norton). Montelle Vineyards are also noted for dessert (Port and Icewines) and fruit wines. The fruit wines include blackberry and raspberry fruit wines. In addition, Montelle is also the first winery in Missouri with a distillery. It produces four kinds of brandy: apple, peach, cherry and grape grappa).

Montelle Vineyards produces 40.000 cases annually. Half of it is sold on the premise, the remainder in Missouri and neighboring States.

Sugar Creek Winery

Sugar Creek Winery is a boutique winery in the Augusta AVA, owned and run by Ken and Becky Miller, who founded it in 1994.

Picture: Sugar Creek Winery

This lovely winery is situated atop a large hill, overlooking the Missouri River Valley. Owner Ken Miller says grapes for wine always had a place at his family table since he was a youngster growing up in Melrose Park in the Chicago area. His grandfather immigrated to America from Italy early in the century and carried with him a fondness for wine-making

Early on Becky Miller's son, Christopher, joined the family operation at Sugar Creek Winery. He spent two years educating himself about wine in the Napa Valley area of California, where he has worked in the Plump Jack Vineyard. He is now the winemaker.

Sugar Creek Winery produces about 5.000 cases annually and sells them mostly at the winery.

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