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Midwest Wine Press Top Viticulture Stories For 2012

2 Jan

This article was first published in Midwest Wine Press and is written by Mark Ganchiff

Some of the most popular stories in Midwest Wine Press are about growing wine grapes. At Midwest Wine Press, we pride ourselves on being the only publication that consistently covers Midwest viticulture. Other topics we cover – like winemaking, winery marketing and interviews with regional experts – are all important.  But the key driver for growth of the Midwest wine industry is increasing regional grape production.

Vineyard at Black Star Farms in Leelanau Peninsula Michigan

Vineyard at Black Star Farms in Leelanau Peninsula Michigan

Midwest Wine Press Top Viticulture Stories For 2012

1. John Marshall: Forst Protection for the Small Grower

2. Grape Freeze Damage Extensive in OH, NY, MI

3. Brianna Grape is Midwest’s New Tropical Fruit

4. Winemakers Love Southern Illinois Grape Growers

5. Offbeat European Grapes Growing Across Midwest


Bottle Shock: Why aren’t Local Wines in More Restaurants and MO and KS Wines in TV Blind Tasting

24 Jun

Here’s the full Kansas City Public Television (KCPT) half-hour show about regional wines and their absence from Kansas City wine lists, plus the big grape showdown where Missouri and Kansas wines take on the French and Californians in a blind tasting – and win!

Bottle Shock Redux: Missouri Wines Triumph in Blind Tasting

22 Jun

In yesterday night’s regional wine special and blind tasting on ‘The Local Show’ on Kansas City Public Television (KCPT), Belvoir Winery’s Plumeria and Stone Hill’s 2008 Norton received the most points in their white and red blind tasting sections.  What a great result! Both sections included competition from well respected Californian – Rodney Strong Vineyards – or awarded French wine makers – Baron Rothschild and Gerard Bertrand.  The ‘wild card’ randomly chosen wine – $3 chuck from Trader Joe’s – was cause for a bit of giggling and the five blind tasters from Belvoir customer Lucinda to former football star Eddie were chatty and articulate about he wines and their scoring.  Show hosts Nick Haines and Randy Mason lucidly knitted the show together and wine expert Doug Frost provided engaging commentary and explanation as to what was going on as the wine tasters responded and scored the various wines.  Emily Ghertner and Eric Mater produced the show with flair and calm (a good combination!)  and the editing job was great.  It was a lot of fun and hopefully helped to squeeze out some of the stigma against local wines and show that Midwest wines can rub shoulders with the best!  Hopefully we can have another round some time.

Here are the full points scores and wine descriptions courtesy of KCPT:


A Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Bordeaux, France
THE WINE: Mouton Cadet Blanc, 2007 – $12.99 retail

From one of France’s legendary and most well known winemakers, a white blend of Sauvignon Blanc (40%), Semillon (50%) and Muscadelle (10%)

Total Score: 10

B Belvoir Winery, Liberty, Missouri
THE WINE: Plumeria – a blend of Traminette, Vignoles and Seyval – $18 at the winery

The wine is named after the owner, Dr John Bean’s, late wife’s favorite flower. The winery is located in an impressive Jacobethan Revival style building that was a former orphanage for the International Order of Odd Fellows.

Total Score: 21

C Holy-Field Vineyard & Winery, Basehor, Kansas
THE WINE: Seyval, Kansas Table Wine – $12.95 at winery and retail (only available in Kansas)

Holy-Field is a father and daughter team – Les and Michelle Meyer – who pride themselves on their canine ambassadors who feature on some of the wine labels. The dogs are: Vinnie, Bacchus, Corkie and Sinbad

Total Score: 17

D Charles Shaw Winery, Napa and Sonoma, California
THE WINE: Chardonnay, 2010 – $2.99 at Trader Joe’s grocery store

The wine is affectionately known as ‘two buck chuck’

Total Score: 11

E Chateau Ste Michelle, Washington State
THE WINE: Chardonnay, 2010, – $12.99 retail

A respected wine making region of the US. This winemaker is often in grocery stores and on restaurant wine lists in Kansas City.

Total Score: 18


A Rodney Strong Vineyards, Sonoma County
THE WINE: Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 – $17.99 retail

A California Sonoma red that is often seen in Kansas City grocery stores, liquor stores on on restaurant wine lists.

Total Score: 11

Jowler Creek, Platte County, Missouri
THE WINE: Chambourcin, 2010 – $19 at the winery and retail

Jowler Creek emphasize their sustainable vineyard practices. They use Olde English Babydoll sheep to control grass and weed growth.

Total Score: 4

C Stone Hill Winery, Hermann, Missouri
THE WINE: Norton, 2008 – $18.99 at the winery and retail

Stone Hill is Missouri’s second biggest winemaker producing 260,000 gallons of wine in 2011. They’ve been making Norton for decades. A Stone Hill Norton is thought to have won the prestigious award for best red wine “of all nations” at an international competition in Vienna in 1873.

Total Score: 21.5

D Gerard Bertrand, Languedoc Pic Saint Loup, Narbonne (Languedoc-Roussillon region, on the coast, south of Marseille) France
THE WINE: Grand Terroir, 2005 – $16.99

European Winery of the Year for 2012 in Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s annual Wine Star Awards. Wine Spectator magazine’s ‘Best Value Winery From France’ in 2008.

Total Score: 14

E Charles Shaw Winery, Napa and Sonoma, California
THE WINE: Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011 – $2.99 at Trader Joe’s grocery store

The wine is affectionately known as ‘two buck chuck’

Total Score: 20

Midwest Wines vs The Rest of the World

20 Jun

Tomorrow, Thursday June 21st from 730pm on Kansas City Public Television (KCPT) it’s the battle of the grape.  Two blind tastings, one for reds and another for whites, will determine if wines from Missouri and Kansas can compare with the best wine making regions in the world.   The show also tackles the issue of why most restaurants in Kansas City (and in cities all over MO and KS) are happy to serve local food, but don’t serve local wines.  The blind tastings will help determine if the preference for Californian, French and other international wines is actually fair and based on quality and customer preferences, or just a result of inertia, snobbery, ignorance – or all three.

White paper bags look quite classy don’t you think?

Surely if French and Californian wines are so good and the local wines so poor, the blind tasters will prefer those? The restaurants will be proved right afterall…but if MO and KS wines do well hopefully it will be a small wake-up call to consumers and restaurants alike.

So tune in to KCPT on tomorrow! Or come to Belvoir Winery in Liberty where we’ll be watching the show.

Lucinda, Stretch and Katie Van Luchene rehearse raising their numbers

I tried hard to make this a fair contest.  The five reds and five whites in each tasting cost between $12 and $20 retail, except for a ‘wild card’ that could cost anything.  Two of the wines in each red or white tasting are from MO or KS, one is from California, one from France  and one that ‘wild card’ that could be from anywhere.

The basis of prejudice against MO and KS wines is often based on their tendency to be sweet.  People seem to think that sweet is all the Midwest does well and discount the quality dry stuff that has emerged and is emerging all over the place.  This tasting will be meeting Californian and French wines on their own terms: all the reds competing are dry and all the whites are dry or semi-dry.

I was also conscious of how the order in which the bottles would be tasted could confer an advantage.  It is probably not ideal to be the first wine tasted, or the last.  The order of the tasting was determined by me reaching blindly into a case where I’d place the bottles and pulling the bottles out, lottery style, one by one.

The bottles were placed in white paper bags and each labelled with a letter – A to E.

From left to right: Nick Haines, KCPT host, Stretch, Lucinda, Stephen Molloy, Katie Van Luchene, Eddie Kennison and Doug Frost.

The 5 blind tasters were chosen to be widely representative of wine lovers and to be fun – there’s a mixture of celebrities (Eddie Kennison and Stretch), wine and food experts (Stephen Molloy and Katie Van Luchene) and Lucinda, a young woman and regular customer at Belvoir winery, chosen to represent ‘normal’ people (possibly like you?).  They all like a wide range of wines.  Overseeing them and to offer his analysis, wine brain and expert, Doug Frost.

The blind tasters are not comparing the wines to each other, they’re just making a very simple judgement: how much do they like each wine and why? In other words, how does the wine they’re blind tasting compare to their idea of the perfect white or red?  They mark each one with 1 to 5 points, 1 being ‘not to my taste or ‘I don’t like it’, up to 5, which means ‘excellent ‘ or ‘I love it’.

So tune in! Will this be a humiliation for the Midwest wine industry?  Or will this be a case of Bottle Shock and a humbling experience for  French and California? Find out on Thursday at 730pm…

“E” Gives “D” Wine Marketing Advice

7 Mar

Here’s another tale from February’s Midwest Wine Conference in St Charles.  In the upstairs section of the venue I stumbled on Elizabeth Slater, founder of In Short Direct Marketing, who gave a series of seminars on wine marketing and also spoke at the conference.  Elizabeth was sitting down with the owner of a regional winery who had some questions about the labeling on her wine bottles and how to attract more visitors to her tasting room.   Elizabeth and the winery owner (who preferred anonymity) allowed me to sit in on their conversation and take notes for this blog.

Elizabeth Slater, founder of In Short Direct Marketing

Elizabeth Slater, founder of In Short Direct Marketing

Elizabeth likes to be called, and is widely known as, “E”, so from this point onwards in this blog post, Elizabeth will be referred to as “E” and the anonymous winery owner will go by “D”.  From the start I was impressed by E’s sensible and insightful advice.  She was the sort of person who makes you think to yourself, “Why didn’t I think of that!” and “Yes, that makes sense” – a lot.

Much of the conversation – about twenty minutes – was about bottle labeling.  D the winery owner was concerned about her logo and the style of the labeling.  E stressed the importance of sticking with a logo and making sure it remained in the same style and font on every bottle.  It turned out this particular winery had been playing around with the logo in the last couple of years and E said that was undoing good work by confusing customers who might have recognized the label in its old format.    Once you have a logo, said E, you have to stick with it to allow customers time – many months or even years – to get used to you enough to start recognizing your bottles in the grocery store.   She said the other decorative elements and writing on the label can change, but the logo must remain the same in order to build recognition of your brand.

As far attracting more visitors to the tasting room, E’s approach was to make D see herself as the creator of an experience.  “Winemakers are the rock stars these days,” she said, in other words, one reason people visit wineries is to enjoy meeting the winemaker.  E said it was also important to remember that wine lovers drink wine with their friends and fellow wine lovers, so once you’ve given one wine lover a good experience in your tasting room, you’re likely to attract more customers – ie their friends.  “One customer at a time…it’s about giving them a story to tell their friends,” said E.  That good story or experience to relate about what they discovered at your wine tasting venue should help up the visitor numbers.  “It’s not about the wine, it’s about the experience,” said E, but of course it’s a given that the wines have to be good.

“it’s about giving them a story to tell their friends”

Bottles searching for labels at the Midwest Wine Conference

As far as how to decide what sorts of experiences to provide in your tasting room, ask your customers what they want.  If possible, E suggests sending your customers a questionnaire via email and ask them things like what they like about the winery, what they don’t like and what they’d like to see there.   Given that many wineries are at least an hour’s drive from a lot of their customers, it’s also important to make sure you serve food so that people know they can come out and spend time there and not get  hungry.

D the winery owner also brought up the issue of whether to charge for tastings.  She explained that they recently decided to charge but had a couple of complaints from customers.  E thought it was a good idea to charge and said you can’t expect to please everyone but suggested offering one free sample as a way of compromising and keeping most people happy.

The conversation continued and moved onto sweet wines.  Given the popularity of sweets wines in regional USA, D told E she was looking at adding a sweet red to her wine list.   D said a “pretty high” number of her customers wanted sweet wines and her winery offered only dry wines apart from her slightly sweet Riesling.  E thought a sweet red was a good idea but D said she struggled with this because she didn’t like sweet reds.   At this point D made an interesting observation that other winery owners may be interested in confirming or commenting on.  She said people who prefer sweet wines tend not to buy in volume – they’ll come into the wine shop and buy a bottle or two – but those who prefer dry wines often buy by the case.  At this point I excused myself from the conversation because I had to start the long drive home to Liberty.  Thank you E and D!

Midwest Wine Conference: Your Local Barrel Maker

27 Feb

When I first spotted the A & K Cooperage booth on the trade show floor at the Midwest Wine Conference, I thought it was a rest area for the conference goers.  Somewhere to lean over a barrel and have a chat.  But Matt Kirby caught my eye and it was soon pretty clear this was another interesting topic for a blog.

Matt Kirby, A & K Cooperage at the Midwest Wine Conference

This year it’s forty years since Matt’s father and grandfather started their Midwest barrel making operation located in Higbee, Missouri.  Today, the family employs about ten people and usually assembles between 4 to 5000 oak barrels per year. Much of construction is done by hand.  “Our standard barrel is a 60 gallon American oak barrel,” says Matt.  At $330 per barrel this local option for aging wine is a lot cheaper than importing French or other European oak barrels.  French oak can cost about $1000 a barrel by the time you’ve organized transport to the US.  There are other reasons for going local.  When I was in Spain a few years ago, a farmer I knew from Merida, in the region of Extremadura (a Spanish region not renowned for its wines – a bit like the Midwest in some ways) said he wanted to grow vines on his farm and age the wine in French oak, but because French oak was in such high demand, he was faced with a wait of at least several years for a barrel.  Here’s an article in Wines & Vines that compares the costs in recent years of French, European and American Oak.

According to Matt there’s another good reason for choosing an American barrel over a European one and it allows me to bring back, with a vengeance, the topic of the Norton grape.  That’s because Matt makes wine as well – mainly sweeter varieties but also the Norton.  They don’t grow the grapes but bring them in and use their barrels to age them.  A & K Cooperage say they’re the only cooperage and bonded winery on the same grounds in the United States.  With his Norton Matt says, “I try to really cut the acid out of it and make it smooth.  I think you really need to give it a lot of time in the barrel.  I think a Missouri Norton really needs American oak to help tame it down.  It helps smooth it out a lot.” And it needs at least two years in the barrel, he says.

At the moment, most of A & K Cooperage’s barrels get sold outside Missouri.  One winery in California, Silver Oak Cellars, buys half of what they make each year, or about 2500 barrels.  But in the last 6 years or so, along with and because of the sprouting of dozens of new wineries in the Midwest, their business has been growing in Missouri and they now sell up to 200 barrels locally.  At the Midwest Wine Conference Matt said he’d sold about 30 more.

“I think it’s just really good to push your local products that are growing right there in your own grounds.” He says. “I think that’s a big part of our industry – push local.”

But as the industry grows creating both opportunities and the prospect of more competition, one big issue for Matt’s barrel company is finding the funds to do marketing and choosing how exactly to do it via social media, TV, radio or print:  “that’s the most expensive part of the game right now,” he says.  A timely reminder – see below!

The author, Danny, is an Australian gun for hire who’s just moved to the Midwest from Spain via San Francisco.  Apart from being a wine lover, he’s a former BBC News reporter and a history documentary maker. If you need videos for your website to tell the unique stories about you and your winery, its people and history, highlighting your quality wines and awards, please get in touch.  Or if your winery’s website or blog is languishing without any content, and needs articles or blog entries, also get in touch.  I can also set up your internet social media for you, from websites to Twitter. Email or call             816 863 2496      

Historic Downtown Liberty Promotes Missouri Wines

20 Feb

On Saturday there was an annual wine tasting event just around the corner from my house.  Let’s Wine About Winter, organized by

Liberty Square sunshine on the day of "Let's Wine About Winter"

Historic Downtown Liberty Inc., involved the shops on the pretty Liberty square (site of the first daylight bank robberyin US history, thought to have been performed by the Jesse James gang) providing a selection of free wine on a sort of round the square wine crawl.   You bought a wine glass for $10 and then strolled around on a gorgeous sunny spring like winter’s day, popping in and out of the shops, tasting wines.  Each participating shop chose its wine and the great thing about their selections was that about half of them were local Missouri wines. This surprised me given that you might expect high-end clothes boutiques, antiques and nick nack stores to favor high-end Californian or French stuff – but not on Liberty Square!

Cathie Meyer, owner of "Quotations" boutique, and to her right, Amigoni Winery's Cabernet-Franc

While the restaurants in Kansas City might generally be neglecting their local wineries, the Liberty shop owners proudly poured wines from Jowler Creek Vineyard, Amigoni Urban Winery, Westphalia Vineyards and Crown Valley Winery.   It was a popular event – there we dozens of people out.   In fact, since moving to Liberty in November, I haven’t seen so many people on the old downtown square.  It was a great way for the locals to explore the shops and for the owners to get to know their potential customers over a vino.

Heather Chaney and Anna Wright with Jowler Creek wines in their "Catfish & Tater" boutique

Liberty square's "Let's Wine About Winter"

Daphne Bowman from "Willow Spring Mercantile", that specialises in Missouri wines, pours for two wine tasters in "The Polished Edge" jeweller

In the foreground, Vicky Burnett considers her next wine stop after sampling some Spanish vino in "Crepes on the Square", as owner Neil Battrum serves wine tasters