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Belvoir Winery Talks: Nelson Curator and Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs

25 Jul

Some wine and culture news!  The curator of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Catherine Futter will be coming to Belvoir Winery in Liberty, Missouri on Thursday at 7pm to talk about their current special exhibit: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs.  Admission is $5 and a 630pm wine tasting before the talk  is free. Hope you all can make it out.  For details see: http://www.belvoirwinery.com/index.php?cID=628

This is the first in a series of Thursday evening talks.  Here’s the full list:

July 26th Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs

Curator Catherine Futter of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art will talk about the exciting exhibition that’s on until August 19.

August 9th Preserving Historic Sites in Kansas City

Susan Richards Johnson, architect and historic preservation specialist, will talk about some of Kansas City’s current historic renovation projects, including the Liberty Memorial.

August 16th On Hannibal’s Trail 

Danny Wood, Belvoir bartender and journalist will talk about bicycling 2,300 miles from Spain to Tunisia with his brothers to present the BBC TV documentary about Rome’s worst enemy.

August 30th Ernest Hemingway and The Kansas City Star

Steve Paul, senior writer and arts editor of The Kansas City Star, will talk about legendary author and journalist, Ernest Hemingway, focusing on his time at the KC Star.

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Blind Tasting Teaser for KCPT’s Regional Wine Special

19 Jun

Kansas City Public Television’s (KCPT) regional wine special is already recorded and being kept under lock and key until the The Local Show airs this Thursday, 21st June.   After the recording of a blind tasting involving a show down between Midwest and French and Californian wines, I was lucky enough to keep my eyes on all the bottles and bring them home to mama.   It seemed like an interesting experiment to repeat the blind tasting on my wife, mother-in-law and father-in-law. They were good sports and agreed to take part.  Their judgments of each of the five wines in each of the categories, dry reds and dry to semi-dry whites (without revealing the names of the bottles, only their designated letters) appear below.  They used the same 1 to 5 point system as the KCPT tasters: 1 being ‘don’t much like it’, 2 ‘not bad’ 3 ‘good’ 4 ‘very good’ 5 ‘excellent’

With some nice cheese on hand, Dede nobley submits herself to the blind tasting

The Judgment of Dede:

The Whites:

Wine A – Citrus, dry, golden 4  Wine B – A little tinny 3  Wine C – Smooth and easy 3.5  Wine D – Light and nice 4  Wine E – Not sure 2.5

The Reds:

A – possibly Norton? quite nice 3.5  B – not bad 2.5  C Nice, full flavored 4  D – good (running out of steam) 4  E – (tired of tasting now) 3.5

Roger is ready for some more

The Laconic Judgement of Roger: (no descriptions given)

The Whites (missed A to C)

D – 4  E – 3

The Reds

A – 4  B – 3  C – 4  D – 4  E – 4.5

In fading light, Vicky bravely continues to blind taste

The Judgement of Vicky: 

The Whites

A – Bitter 1  B – Excellent! 5  C – Good and buttery 3  D – Light and fresh 5  E – A nice bite 4

The Reds

A – I like it 3  B – Good and bit of a bite 4  C – a little too dry 3   D –  Full bodied yet subtle 4  E –  I like it.  Full bodied and a bite 5

Thanks very much guys!

Amigoni Declares Cabernet Sauvignon Crop Best in Years

14 Jun

Michael Amigoni of Amigoni Urban Winery in Kansas City, Missouri has declared that his current crop of Cabernet Sauvignon is the “best fruit in years.” Amigoni Winery is unique among vineyards and wineries in the state for chosing not to grow local grape varieties like Norton and Chambourcin that are better adapted to the humid summers and cold winters.  Instead, Amigoni defies Missouri’s often extreme climate and exclusively grows European vinifera including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Malbec and others.  Many local winemakers say the common European grape varieties are simply too difficult to grow and too many buds and plants succumb to the winter freeze.  Amigoni Winery has had success growing these grapes for more than a decade and agreed to talk about the recent crop with Regional Wine Taster… 

Amigoni’s current crop of Cabernet Sauvignon

How long have you grown Cabernet Sauvignon for and how much do you have planted?

We have about 1/2 acres of Cab Sav  now.  It is a clone 337 which we planted about 8 years ago and it seems to be as cold hardy as the Cab  Franc.

Can you describe how your fruit looks and what exactly warrants your expression of confidence in it? 

The mild weather in the winter allowed little if any bud death on the  plants.  So the buds were very healthy and with no frost to nip them this spring, the even fruiting allowed a very good fruit set of the  Cab Sav.  The clusters are long and full.

“It is double work or more to grow vinifera, but the rewards are awesome.”

How can you tell the fruit is the best in years? In terms of  quantity or quality? Both?

It is hard to say what the year will bear, but looking at the fruit at this time of year indicates that we will have a very good year and  I cannot remember when our fruit set was so good and healthy.  We would prefer the weather to stay dry to prevent any fungal pressure with black rot or powdery mildew.  It does seem that there is a little pressure from Japanese beetles but we will add more insecticide to the  tank mix to ward them off

Can you briefly explain a couple of techniques you use to help  your European vinifera survive the extremely cold winters here?

Since the vinifera is grafted to rootstock to prevent phylloxera we have to hill up dirt over the graft union so as to have  an insurance policy in case the buds were killed by a low temperature  winter.  This hill technique was started in the Finger Lakes of NY and  we actually purchased 8 years ago a side hoe to do this process.  We  have no fear of plant death, just bud death that would have us miss a  season of fruit. The hilling on dirt over the graft union would allow  us to keep the plant alive above the graft union in case of -11  degrees or lower.

Do you have to accept that a proportion of the crop will die each year to frost damage? Or not?

No. We fear the most a low winter temp to prevent a good budding of the crop.

How do your Cab Sav and other European vinifera cope with the  humiditity in summer?

The advancements of chemicals have allowed us to have a good toolbox of techniques to ward off the rots in case of a wet spring, summer or  fall.

To what extent do you believe the prevailing view among many winemakers that it is too  hard to grow European vinifera is wrong?

It is double work or more to grow vinifera, but the rewards are awesome.

How are your other grapes looking at the moment – your well-respected Cabernet Franc  for example?

We have across the board great fruit this year. Our Cab Franc, Mourvedre, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Chardonnay, Viognier and Cab Sav are the best in years. We have new blocs of Mourvedre and Petit Verdot coming  on-line this year. We also planted Tannat and Teroldego this year.  The Tannat has the highest level of resveratrol of any grape in the world, so in a few years, it will be our health wine.

“The Tannat has the highest level of resveratrol of any grape in the world, so in a few years it will be our health wine.”

Forks & Corks, Regional Wines and Helping Out

27 Apr

Thanks to a generous mother-in-law I was able to get along with my wife (not in that sense) to Forks & Corks in the Grand Ballroom of the Kansas City Convention Center last night.  Regional wines were present in some force to back up the local cuisine which was nice to see, including Les Bourgeois, St James and Amigoni wineries.  The idea was to swan around tasting food from the restaurants and enjoying wine alongside and the proceeds (at $95 a ticket hopefully considerable) go to the needy thanks to Harvesters who organised the event.  There were so many people it was a bit of a scrum at times, but good fun.  Time for work…

The Wild Vine author Todd Kliman

21 Mar

Over the weekend I quizzed Todd Kliman about his book, The Wild Vine, a creatively written history of the American wine industry focusing on its native grape, the good old Norton.  The book was published in 2010 under the byline, “A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine” and has been recommended to me by several wineries as required reading.  The interview was looking unlikely for a while but Todd ultimately agreed to take time off from museum hopping and barbecue sampling in Kansas City to meet me on the lawn of The Nelson Museum.  I took my video camera along and the result should be ready for viewing soon.  The, at first odd, but understandable thing about the video is that you don’t see Todd’s face!  This wasn’t because of Todd’s undoubted modesty.  As food editor and restaurant critic for DC’s The Washingtonian he didn’t want his identity revealed (even by humble D. Wood in Kansas City) or it would compromise his efforts to review restaurants fairly.  So without the face of the star, the creative demands on the interviewer/film maker were intense!

I’d bought his book the other week and really enjoyed it. The Wild Vine is an enticing combination of investigative journalism and creative, history story telling.  I learnt a lot about numerous American wine characters, living and dead, including Thomas Jefferson, Daniel Norton, Jenni McCloud and the Held family.  Also, the details of the now surprising rise of Norton and the all conquering Missouri led US wine industry in the mid-19th century and then the disappearance into obscurity until very recently.  It was difficult to cover the scope of the book in a few minutes of video, but hopefully the Nortonian flavor comes through.  Watch this space…

Missouri’s Les Bourgeois Vineyards Profile

8 Mar

This article is also posted at Midwest Wine Press

CEO of Les Bourgeois, Curtis Bourgeois

In 1974, Curtis and Martha Bourgeois bought a fifteen acre property on which Stephen, the fourth and youngest son, planted the first vines.  When these three acres of Chambourcin grapes produced a 5 ton harvest and 500 gallons of wine, the family decided to covert a hobby into a wine making enterprise.

Today, Les Bourgeois Vineyards in Rocheport is the third biggest wine producer in Missouri, making about 135,000 gallons per year.

“We were looking for a family business that we all could participate in,” says Curtis, Curtis Sr. and Martha’s oldest son, who was pursuing a television career in New York when he came home to join the enterprise. The younger Curtis is now the CEO of Les Bourgeois.  Together with his father, he oversees the daily operation of the winery, bringing in the whole family when big decisions need to be made.

The winery’s expansion has been ongoing. By 1991, the family had its own wine making equipment and bottling facility.  In 1994, a restaurant was designed by architect son, Stephen.  In 1998, an adjacent 180 acre property was purchased, and this year the family finished a two year project to construct a new production facility.  “2011 was our first crush in it,” says Curtis, “and it allows us to double our capacity and prepare for the future.”  Currently 30% of production comes from 35 acres under vines at Les Bourgeois and the rest from grapes brought in from local growers.

This year they’re starting construction of a brewery in the space left by the old winery to house their new venture: beer.  “We’re trying to look for new revenue streams,” says Curtis. “The Midwest is still behind as far as craft beer development, so we see some opportunities there.  We also see the beer demographics as being different from the wine demographics, so we’re hoping to pull a different customer base.”  Visitors will also have the novel experience  of seeing wine and beer making processes in the same location.

But wine is very much the primary business, and Curtis says the winery’s future involves two things. “We’re trying to expand the wines that we can make on a larger scale and selling the higher end, small lots on the property only.  This gives people another reason to come to the winery.”   The larger scale wines are generally sweet and include those made with the native American Concord and Catawba grapes.  The higher end, “Collectors Series” wines include locally grown varieties like the Norton and Vignoles as well as imported Cabernet, Shiraz, and Merlot grapes.

Curtis says the quality of one of their higher end wines, the Norton, has improved in recent years thanks to implementation of a version of a French technique called saignee.  Saignee is a method of bleeding off the juice after crushing the grapes and is used to make Rose and also to reduce the liquid content of the very juicy Zinfandel grape.  The technique was introduced at Les Bourgeois by

Les Bourgeois winemaker, Jacob Holman, testing Vignoles blends

winemaker Jacob Holman, originally from Moberly, Missouri.  Jacob learnt his winemaking skills on the job at Les Bourgeois and at a number of smaller Missouri wineries.  He calls his version of saignee  ”reverse bleed-off” because his objective is actually the opposite of Zinfandel makers. In other words, Jake wants to make the Norton more, not less, juicy.  “What Jake does is take a certain percentage of the Norton grape, and he actually squeezes it just for the liquid.  Then we add the liquid back into the body mass, so it gives it a much higher liquid to mass ratio and through that a cleaner fermentation.” Curtis says. “This increase in the liquid content of the Norton juice helps overcome fermentation issues caused by this grape’s high solids to liquid ratio. Through that we get a much cleaner, much more interesting, higher quality product.”

The use of winemaking techniques like reverse bleed-off that have helped improve the quality of wines, coupled with the growth of the Missouri wine industry, have transformed the way people regard the industry here compared to ten years ago, according to Curtis. “The business is now something that everyone recognizes as an important part of the economy and a viable concept for alternative agriculture, especially ag and ag tourism.”  Another change in the last decade is the increased cooperation in research and development through the universities and the State of Missouri.  Les Bourgeois, for example, works directly with the University of Missouri in Columbia.  “We have a pipeline for talent that is homegrown,” says Curtis.  Most of the wine expertise in Missouri used to come from outside the State, from California, Australia and South Africa, and Curtis says that talent didn’t always stay in Missouri for very long.  Today, there are degrees in food science and viticulture at agriculture schools which have created a new generation of Missourian winemakers who may be more likely to hang around.  “That’s how you keep a sustainable industry going,” says Curtis.  “It’s made a big difference for the industry and for us also.”

Norton vines at Les Bourgeois Vineyards

Even with these changes in the industry, plus the big expansion of its winery capacity, the improvements in quality and the move into craft beers, Les Bourgeois is content to distribute its wine in the Midwest.  “We see ourselves being a regional based winery. When you’re our size you couldn’t really fill that pipeline (other regional and overseas markets) very readily so we see ourselves staying close to home,” he says. “The regional wine business is growing, so basically we just want to keep expanding as the pool gets bigger, and that doesn’t necessarily mean exporting much further than contiguous states.”

Midwest Grape & Wine Conference: Sweet, Dry or Anywhere In-between

13 Feb

Danene Beedle is Marketing Director for the Missouri Wine and Grape Board (MWGB), one of the conference sponsors. Missouri Wines is funded by the state’s 12 cents a gallon tax on wine sales and is responsible for coordinating marketing and public relations for the wine industry in the state and underwriting research by the Institute for Continental Climate Viticulture & Enology (ICCVE).   As we perched at a table in the middle of the busy trade show floor, Danene started by telling me that she was pleased with the conference turnout and the opportunity it presented for wine makes to learn more about their craft, get new ideas and build their businesses.  We also discussed perceptions about Midwest wines, distribution issues and a range of related topics relevant to the industry.  Here’s our conversation…

Danny: Maybe ten years ago Californian winemakers might have turned their noses up at a Midwest wine conference like this.  But is that changing?

Danene: You know it is changing.  We’re doing a lot of things really well in the Midwest.  We have some varietals that are unique to us.

Danene Beedle, Marketing Director, Missouri Wines

We’ve also been leading the business for a long time in sweet wine production and as we know a lot of folk like to talk dry and drink sweet.  But you know the great thing about Missouri is that we have all kinds of wines so that anyone, anywhere in their palate can find something, we have a variety whether it’s sweet, dry or anywhere inbetween.  So I think Missouri  continues to be leading the way as far as innovation and growth. Our industry is now up to 114 wineries, just 7 years ago we had 54, so we’ve more than doubled in the last seven years and that’s exciting for our industry.  And people are also taking notice of the economic impact that we’re having on the state and how we’re able to provide jobs, and you know this is agriculture.  And, when people start talking about “local” they want to eat local and also we’re trying to get people to drink local.  Sometimes people forget about the wine, but I think there’s a huge interest now in regional wines and that’s really one of the banners that we’re really flying high right now.

“the great thing about Missouri is that we have all kinds of wines whether it’s sweet, dry or anywhere in-between”

Danny: That whole topic of eating and drinking local is interesting.  I have a very generous mother and father in law who take me and my wife out to eat in nice places in Kansas City and it’s so rare that you see a Missouri or a Kansas wine on the wine list.  The wineries I’ve spoken to sound very frustrated by this.  They don’t expect to sell a lot of wines in restaurants but view them as ambassadors for their wine that can help people to get to know about them.  What can you do or what are you doing to help that?

Danene:  Well we’re trying to work with restaurants and different distributors.  One of the things about the Missouri industry is that the bulk of the wineries sell on their premise and so they don’t necessarily distribute, so distribution can be an issue, but really at the end of the day, a lot of the time we find that restaurants want to go and do what’s easy, work with their one distributor, just check the boxes.  We want to challenge restaurants and bars and wine bars to really think about doing the next “local” thing because we’re convinced that local foods do taste better  with local wines.  That’s not something that we dreamt up, that’s been around for many, many years and really started in Europe.  We would like people to start voting with their pockets and really getting out there and asking for the wines.  The only way we’re going to see a change in restaurants is for folks to start asking for it.  A lot of times people are intimidated when they go to a restaurant and they don’t know what to ask for so they  just let the server be the expert and they say, “Oh well, what do you recommend?”  And whatever the server recommends is what they go with.  So the way that we feel like we’re really going to make an impact is through people asking and then hopefully the restaurants will understand that and start embracing Missouri wines more.

“The only way we’re going to see a change in restaurants is for folks to start asking for it”  

Danny: Do you have a campaign that is doing that?  Do you have a restaurant campaign?

Danene: We will most likely pursue that in the future, we don’t currently.  We work on a really limited budget and the last year we’ve really focused on the tourism aspect and getting people to the wineries. We have a passport program that helps support that and so we’ve been focused on wine tourism and getting people to see where these wines are made.  But I would imagine that you’re going to see a restaurant change.

Danny: I know you’re a bit of a winer and diner.  Can you name a few places that do actually have Missouri wines on their wine lists?

The free wine bar at the trade show showcased Midwest wines

Danene: Absolutely! Here in St Louis the best place to get Missouri wines – actually there’s a whole list of Missouri wines –  is Annie Gunn’s  in Chesterfield.  Glenn Bardgett, their wine director is a big advocate of Missouri wines and he’s been really great.  There’s Robust Wine Bar in St Louis and right here in St Charles there’s Little Hills Winery & Restaurant.  I’m from Columbia and there are some really great places I know there like Sycamore, they have some top Missouri wines on their list, as well as the Wine Cellar & Bistro on Cherry St.  As far as Kansas City goes, I don’t get over that way nearly as much, I think The American has some.

Danny: Yes they do – is that the one in The Crown Center Complex? Yes they have a few .

Danene:  Yes Jamie Jamison is their wine director, he’s a sommelier and he’s also an advocate of our industry and he does believe in local and wants to provide that for folks.

Danny: My final question.  Midwest wineries basically sell their wines at their winery, in grocery stores or in liquor stores and you’d be very hard pressed to find a Midwest wine in a liquor shop in Sydney, London or even California.  Is that because production isn’t there yet?

Danene: That’s correct it’s a production issue. We simply don’t produce enough at this point. There are a few wineries that have one or two wines in New York or California, but really, throughout the Midwest we have some top wineries that you can find in pretty much all of the Midwest States but the distribution is not there and wineries have different business models.  Not everybody is about being widely distributed.  For a lot of people it’s about the experience, “Come to the winery, enjoy the wine as it’s meant to be, right here on our property, see the grapes that you’re drinking…”   So it’s not in everyone’s business model  and that’s one thing that some folks take for granted, that everyone wants to be big and out all over the place, that’s not everybody’s business plan and that’s okay!

Danny: My final, final question.  I’m Australian originally and when I came to live in Missouri a few months ago I had never heard of Missouri or Kansas making wine – and I thought they were probably going to be horrible – but I’ve found some really classy ones.  And yet the industry as a whole represented by  Decanter, Wine Spectator and California wine clubs can have a certain snobbery towards Midwest  wines, a bit like the French attitude towards California’s wines 30 years ago.  Is it important for you to overcome or is it just not really necessary because you are not yet selling to those places?

Danene:  I think that really is a great question that depends on each winery and what they’re wanting to do.  We’re not working hard or campaigning to overcome that.  Our current campaign promotes Missouri as the country’s first wine country and the reason for that is because the very first AVA (American Viticultural Area) in the United States was in Augusta, Missouri and then the second AVA was Napa.  So we have multiple AVA’s in our state that are recognized as having great soils and it’s a great place to grow grapes and make wonderful wines and so we want people to know that about our heritage and we want people to know that before Prohibition we ranked  second in the nation in wine production.  But what we’re doing is building our future about what is going on in the industry now and really whether people like it or they don’t, I think that’s up to them, we’re not going to fight that.  But what we are doing is embracing embracing our region and saying this is what we have here in the Midwest and it’s really great.  It doesn’t mean that it’s better, or that Californian wines aren’t great, it’s just simply a different experience.

“the very first AVA in the United States was in Augusta, Missouri”

Danny: And yet while most winemakers here grow the Norton and the Vingnoles and the native grapes, there are some winemakers like Amigoni who manage to grow the Vinifera, the European stuff.  Is there a place for them  in this model?

Danene: I think there’s a place for everyone in the model.  The great thing about the Missouri wine industry is that it is not a one size fits all.  There are all kinds of people doing all kinds of different thing and it’s really about each winery’s story and their experience.  I know Amigoni is doing some wonderful things with Vinifera and then there are other people who are just trying to embrace what we do here naturally. I think we’ve come a long way with Vinifera in Missouri, the weather is always an issue, we have incredibly hot summers and very cold winters, so that can make it a challenge to grow certain grapes, but I think there is room for everybody.

Danny: This will be my last question.

Danene: You keep saying that!

Danny: I know!  Missouri Wines is working on some research at the moment.  Can you tell me what it is designed to find out?

Danene:  It’s consumer behavior and trends and we’re working on gathering more information about how we can grow out industry and what our consumers want and what we can give to them and we’re currently going through that research and so as we wrap that up and get our plans together I think you’re going to see some great things come out from our office in the next year.

Danny: Is there a due date for it coming out?

Danene: Not currently.  We’ve had some meetings but we are still having more meetings.

Danny: So imminent but it could be weeks or months?

Danene: Could be – but not years!

Danny: Thanks a lot.

Danene: You’re welcome!