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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

Norton Adventures: Jowler Creek Harvest

25 Sep

Norton is one of the last grapes to be harvested in the Midwest. Below are pictures from the September 15 Norton grape harvest and crush at Jowler Creek Vineyard, near Platte City in Missouri. Winemaker Jason Gerke said it was a lighter yield than last year – but the fruit looked very good. Up close, the Norton grapes appeared very similar to blueberries and tasted very nice, but full of pips. The hard work coincided with the launch of Jowler’s 2010 Chambourcin vintage which was enjoyed by this Midwest Wine Press reporter and family at picnic tables near the tasting room. Jowler is one of the few vineyards in Missouri that is run according to sustainable practices – including using Babydoll sheep to trim the grass around the vines. Jason’s wife and co-winemaker, Colleen, was recently interviewed on Kansas City Public Television in a program focusing on Midwest wines and why they aren’t on more local restaurant wine lists.

See related story:  KCPT Public TV Airing Missouri Wine Blind Tasting
The morning's harvest: Norton grapes on their way to be crushed

The morning’s harvest: Norton grapes on their way to be crushed

Jowler helpers prepare to pour crates of Norton grapes into the crusher using a tractor.

Jowler Creek winemakers, Jason and Colleen Gerke watch as Norton grapes unload into the crusher.

The Norton grape crush

This article was first published in Midwest Wine Press

Missouri Wines in Kansas City Airport

17 Jul

‘Missouri Vineyards’ wine bar at Terminal B, Kansas City Airport

Yes you read the title correctly! Alongside Burger King and Starbucks, Missouri wines have somehow cornered a section of Terminal B at Kansas City Airport.  A new bar called ‘Missouri Vineyards’ , as if to reverse the norm in local restaurants where its Californian and French stuff, has a wine list that concentrates on Missouri vinos front and center and relegates other stuff to a section called,  ‘Additional Wine Selections’.  As my wife and I stumbled around the terminal with a couple of hours to kill because of the usual flight delay I really thought someone was playing an elaborate hoax.  Missouri wines can’t even make it into Kansas City restaurants, what are they doing here?  I shuffled through a list of people who may be trying to fool me…wine expert Doug Frost?  He’s a big supporter of Midwest wines and he travels a lot, often by plane, he’s a charmer, but how did he manage to pull this off?  Or perhaps my friend Danene Beedle, marketing manager at the Missouri Wine & Grape Board – could she really be putting that twelve cents a gallon tax on wine sales towards a wine bar at the airport? Stranger things have happened.

Okay what’s going on?

The fantasies cleared as the escalator took us up to this swanky wine bar with views out onto the airstrip where some of the more usual elements of airport travel were before us.  Like an elderly lady who was sitting at a table and offering her pizza to a family next to her – only she was also sipping a big glass of Missouri white wine.  And there were a couple of men hunched at the bar over glasses of a deep red wine – could that be Norton?  Several others, not quite hooked on the local vino, were sipping beers instead.  The friendly bar staff supplied a menu and I asked for a few details about this surprising airport drinking hole.  It turns out it’s the work of HMS Host, a large company that’s part of another large company: Autogrill, an Italian based, multinational catering company that’s  the world’s largest provider of food, beverage and retail services for travelers, most of it in airport terminals.  Europe’s in an economic crisis, Italy is next after suffering Spain, frantically trying to clean up its economy – could that explain why they forgot to put prices on the wine list? A minor oversight perhaps – but the old lady mentioned above, after downing her white wine, left the bar suggesting in a loud voice that if there aren’t prices on the menu the wines should be for free. Maybe she should have said it in Italian? But I kind of agreed with her as I paid the rather steep airport price of $10.53 for a smallish glass of Montelle Seyval Blanc.  But the menu does give a really nice history of Missouri wines from the 19th century glory days, to Prohibition, to the current revival and I was just amazed to even be holding a wine list dedicated to Missouri wines in an airport. Great stuff!

‘Missouri Vineyards’ wine-list

The only real hitch seemed to be the strange contraptions used to serve the wine that convert the wine pouring experience into something like pushing the button on a soft-drink dispenser to squirt out your soda.

The bartender struggles with the wine dispensing contraption

The wines are all kept in an acclimatized fridge and the idea is the bartender simply pushes a button and out sloshes the chosen wine through a tube and into a glass.  If it worked.  Our poor bartender had a lot of trouble getting the machine to part with the wine and I couldn’t help but think how much easier it would be if she could’ve just opened the bottle with a corkscrew and just errr, poured it? The same machines are used at Cellar & Loft, a wine bar in downtown Kansas City (where at least one of the wines is an incredible $30 a glass – but we won’t go into that! They do have free wine tastings so I guess that makes up for it)  and funnily enough we had the same experience there where the bartender ended up giving up on the machine and pulling the bottle out to pour it with a human hand. Luckily that delay allowed us time to realize we’d accidentally chosen the $30 a glass option and instead get the $8 a glass option.  But, back at the airport at the Missouri Vineyards bar…it turns out that Lambert-St Louis International Airport has had a ‘Missouri Vineyards’ bar since 2009!  See: http://www.hmshost.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Lambert-St.-Louis-International.pdf  What does this all mean? Comments very welcome, I know there is one reader out there somewhere.

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!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kskvjN1Zhno&feature=player_embedded

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:

THE WHITES

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

THE REDS

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…

Missouri’s Norton Workshop Revealed

22 May

For the last four years, the Missouri Wine Technical Group’s Norton Workshops have taken place behind closed doors with no media present and no in-depth media coverage.  For the first time, the newly elected President of the Technical Group, Jacob Holman, winemaker at Les Bourgeois Vineyards, has agreed to talk to Regional Wine Taster in detail about the workshops and about what happened at the latest one held last Tuesday.

The Norton workshops take place at least once a year and invite winemakers from across Missouri and the Midwest to share their issues and knowledge to help improve the quality of their wines.  Winemakers bring unfinished and problem Norton wines for a blind tasting followed by constructive criticism.  The initiative was started in 2008 by the newly founded Technical Group based on the idea of one of its members, New Zealander, Andrew Meggitt, winemaker for St James Winery, who brought the concept from his home country.  At last Tuesday’s workshop, thirty winemakers representing ten wineries attended to blind taste and discuss ten different Norton wines.

Jacob Holman, President, Missouri Wine Technical Group and winemaker, Les Bourgeois Vineyards. The vineyard’s restaurant is in the background

Regional Wine Taster: Can you explain exactly what goes on at your Norton Workshops?

Jacob Holman:  What we do is three workshops a year, each focusing on a varietal and because of Norton’s importance to the Midwest, we always include it every year. We’ve also done Chambourcin, Vignoles, Lambruscas, Concord and Catawba.  The way our workshops function is you submit wine – we prefer it to be an unfinished wine, not in the bottle – and we will flight those wines and sit down and taste them blind and then we break up into groups of six to eight.  Everyone will evaluate the wines on their own and then you go around the table and your nominated scribe will take the group’s collective evaluation and then the moderator will call on that group to say what they think of wine 1A, or whatever it is. Once all groups have spoken the winemaker is “outed” and that winemaker will have to stand up and talk about what he did, good or bad.

RWT: In most industries, it’s hard to picture competitors critiquing each other’s products in order to help improve them.  What is it about the Midwest wine industry that allows for such cooperation?

JH: I think most people in the industry recognize that the quality of Midwest wines hinges on our knowledge and this is a good way for small wineries to sit in the same room with bigger guys who have gone through this sort of stuff. I learn something every time even though I work for one of the bigger wineries.  The basic idea is that while there might be reasons that one Norton is better than another, there’s no reason to have flawed wine. I think that within the Midwest we recognize that and are willing to help each other out and also recognize that we are a growing industry and this sort of thing helps us to compete with California wines, Oregon wines and all those other ones in the grocery store.  Overall we need to have a perspective that is good for Missouri as a whole.

“Once all groups have spoken the winemaker is ‘outed’ and that winemaker will have to stand up and talk about what he did, good or bad.”

RWT: How unique is this workshop? Do forums like this exist in other parts of the United States?

JH: When we started this four years ago I couldn’t find any similar workshops but there are a lot of attempts and failures from State Associations.  There are quality assurance programs that haven’t typically been very successful and those state programs are exclusive with a board of winemakers, sommeliers and retailers who will put a stamp of approval on the wine.  So if you’re a winemaker and you don’t know enough and you fail to get that stamp, that’s a black mark against you. We’re not about that, we’re about education and helping winemakers make better wines. I haven’t found a lot of this kind of cooperation in other US regions.  We’ve had a lot of, “Gee I wish we had this in our state!”  And that is something we would foster if it got big enough, for example an Illinois or a Kansas technical group, because we work with a lot of the same varietals.  That’s kind of a dream of mine, but for now it’s Midwest wines.

RWT: At the workshop you tasted unfinished and problem Nortons. What Norton problems usually come up?

JH: They can include, for example, your tank not being topped, meaning not full – so your SO2 levels will be low – that causes your wine to oxidize. To solve this I would go to an extreme and tell people that if you have 350 gallons and you only have a 300 gallon tank, fill up the 300 gallon tank, even if it means throwing the 50 gallons away. That issue applies to all wines.  As far as Norton goes in particular, today we had a speaker talk about oak management, that’s something not specific to Norton but it does have a problem with it.  Norton’s tannin structure is light, there’s not a lot of natural tannin that comes in the fruit, so it’s important to manage your tannins and manage your oak which provide tannins to be able to stabilize your color and make a bolder wine style that is agreeable.

RWT: Winemakers often say that Norton is a hard wine to make.  At these workshops do you ever advise people that they should make something easier like Chambourcin?

JH: No I would never recommend that people not make Norton, just because of its clout within the state.  I would always advise that it is very tricky to deal with and you may not want to make Norton as your first wine ever, but at the same time it is manageable. I have learned a few tricks here and there and that’s what I would tell people, as opposed to discouraging them from trying to make it.

RWT: Can you tell us some of your tricks? I know you told us about one of them before, your reverse bleeding method? (see: Missouri’s Les Bourgeois Vineyards Profile)

JH: Oh I do a lot of different things that are not typically standard! To deal with the pH problem, I know that Norton has a high acidity so I will actually acidify Norton.  After fermentation I will drop the pH down to a microbial management level.  The higher the pH the more chance you have of a spoilage organism surviving so you’re really the safest with your preservatives if it’s around a lower level.  Even though I have to add acid to make that happen – and the wine will be relatively undrinkable for a few months! – I will maintain that pH and therefore maintain my sulfur level to where I don’t have to worry nearly so much about spoilage.  When I finish the wine I will change it back to a higher pH and drop that acidity out because once it is sterile filtered and in the bottle, in theory, you don’t have to worry about spoilage organisms anymore.

“RWT: Can you tell us some of your tricks? I know you told us about one of them before, your reverse bleeding method?”

RWT: In this workshop do you ever disagree about whether a wine has a problem or not and the nature of that problem?

JH: Typically, if a wine is a problem wine there won’t be a disagreement about that but a lot of the time there’ll be disagreement on what that problem is. So if I think its high T.A. (total acidity) or V.A. (volatile acidity) somebody else might think it’s a sulfide problem for example.  And sometimes the wine’s off and we don’t necessarily know why.

RWT: Are you finding after four years of workshops that the Norton wines you’re tasting now are having fewer, less serious faults?

JH: The people who attend the workshops and take them seriously have made huge improvements in what they do and how they do things and their wines have definitely got better. However, it is a work in progress and will take years.  I’ve only had one person get really irritated with the workshop and say that they weren’t coming back! I take a certain amount of pride in that too because winemaking is something you put all your time and heart into and as long as you stay in your winery your wine can seem fine! But once you get out there and start comparing apples to apples sometimes you realize you have a problem.  That’s hard for people to stomach but for the most part everybody’s really taken on the suggestions, gone home and the next year worked on things and it’s really made a difference.

RWT: With the unfinished wines you tasted today was there anything that that surprised you particularly?  Or that was notably different to previous workshops?

Norton vines at Les Bourgeois vineyard

JH: Mmmm no. I think there were fewer flaws in general than there have been in past workshops.  We had one guy who bought this one barrel in that wasn’t the same as his other twenty barrels and he don’t know exactly what was going on. He gave us a rundown and we were able to maybe figure out what the problem was.

RWT: What did you bring to the workshop?

JH: The wine I submitted today, there’s no flaw to it, it was an unfinished 2011.  It is very green and I wanted to see what people thought of it as far as what I could do to finish it a little better. So I bought it in and it was well received and the criticisms were along the lines of the wine being green, very young and having a lot of potential but needing a lot of time, maybe a little more oak and maybe a little more structure.  Those are all things that I can do between now and when the wine is released.

RWT: How long could you age that Norton for and have it sitting in barrels so you can manipulate it?

JH:  I think everybody agrees that you have anywhere from two to ten years to age a bottle of Norton – it’s not like a Cabernet that has the tannins to hold up – so we typically will do anywhere from 12 to 24 months in barrel and then release it and I think that is relatively standard within the industry.

RWT: Is there a difference between the technical skills and equipment you need to make a Norton, as opposed to another wine variety?

JH: As far as equipment, no, as far as skills, yes, I would say that. I’m not trying to promote Norton here but I have worked with vinifera and it is much easier to deal with. You don’t have the problems that you have with the Norton and I think that goes all the way from growing that grape to the finish.

RWT: What did the tasting today indicate about the progress of your endeavors to improve the Norton and what still needs to be worked on?

JH:  Well, as far as the progress goes for the Missouri Wine Technical Group I was very happy with the way things went today. I was also happy with the wine quality in general but I really believe that if we had more wineries represented (note: there were 10 represented and Jacob would like that boosted to about 30) then I think everyone could benefit a little more, so that’s the goal of the group, to get more membership and get more attendance.

Norton vines in my backyard

RWT: During four years of your Technical Group, what new varietals are you seeing more of?

JH: Well, we do experimental cultivar tasting through the University of Missouri in Columbia and some people are biting on that and there are some grapevines that are being planted that haven’t always been planted but I don’t think it’s a mad rush to do so…

RWT: Which ones?

JH: The best example I can think of off the top of my head would be Valvin muscat, a muscat cross that’s able to be grown in the Midwest. I’ve noticed a lot of people growing that and we actually had some interest in that today as the next Workshop but I don’t think we will because there’s probably not enough people making wine out of it yet . As far as consumers go, from what I hear in the tasting room and from what I see people buying, Vignoles is something that I think Missouri has a handle on and now people ask for it by varietal, more so than anything else apart from Norton.

RWT: The fact that people are actually asking for their local grapes by name, that must be quite pleasing?

JH: Yes it is.  This is something that has only happened recently, within my short career over the last 12 to 13 years.  When I started, no-one ever asked for Norton or Vignoles by name, it was all, you know, “Let me have your sweet white,” or, “Let me have your dry red,” but I believe that’s changing to some extent.

RWT:  Thanks very much for your time President Holman! 

JH: Ha! Ha! No problem, I hope you got what you need.