Tag Archives: Kansas City

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.


The World’s Largest Selection of Missouri Wines

23 Apr

Grand heading isn’t it?  I can imagine a wine lover from outside the state of Missouri, unfamiliar with the wines here, finding such a dramatic title quite amusing.  Missouri? Who ever thought they made wines at all let alone had enough to warrant even a small selection of them! Well, actually, with over 100 wineries in the state now there are plenty of vinos to choose from, but (as far as I know) there’s only one place where you can drink a very wide range of them.

Daphne at Liberty Square's 'Let's Wine About Winter' event

Seven years ago Daphne and Jim Bowman opened an antiques store in Excelsior Springs, but rather than prosper, business was so bad they were going hungry to stay open.  Needing a radical shift of gear, four years ago they decided to refashion their shop around what they really liked.  “So the store became a culmination of everything that we know and love.  We love people, to entertain, we love wine and coffee and food.”

But above all, Missouri wine.  I stumbled on Willow Spring Mercantile (the name of their establishment) by accident and I couldn’t believe my luck.  As you enter their rustic café-bar-shop on East Broadway, you’re struck by a wall of dozens of bottles of local wines that you can taste for free and buy by the glass or bottle. “We love wines from all over the world but because we have friends that own wineries we thought this would be a little more unique,” explains Daphne.

When they started converting into a wine focused store everyone said they’d never make  it as a business selling Missouri wines.  They were wrong.  “It quickly turned into a very successful business. We now have the world’s largest selection of Missouri wines.”  They stock over 160 different wines from twenty-five wineries.  Taking into account the well over 100 wineries in the state – the number has gone up dramatically in the last decade –  they’ve only just scratched the surface of Missouri wine possibilities.  Down the road Daphne and Jim would like to stock Kansas wines too, but the liquor laws make that complicated because for their shop to buy them, a Kansas winery needs to have a Missouri distributer and Daphne only knows of a couple that do.  At the moment the couple venture over the border to buy Kansas wines and legally can only enjoy them at home.  That’s a pity.

 “We have a lot of fun converting people to the Missouri wine industry who used to say I would never drink a Missouri wine.”

Jim in his shop

Daphne says the consumer wine market in Missouri is a little confusing and isn’t sure if they’ve created a market for their wine bar and bottleshop or if it was there already and no-one had tapped into it.  “I give a lot of credit to the Missouri Wine & Grape Board for their success getting the information out to the consumer” she says and adds that every day Willow Spring Mercantile receives visitors taking Missouri Wine’s winery tour route.   “We’ve become a destination where you can sit, relax, listen to live music, have an hors d’oeuvre or lunch, sample wines and learn about the wine industry.”

Daphne insists that the key to their success is a combination of loving what they do, which rubs off on customers, and also making sure they take care of their customers, who then spread the word about their shop.  “I spend more money taking care of customers than I ever do on any kind of advertising campaign because they are a better source of advertising for me than any advertisement I could run in a newspaper.”

Rather than stock bottles from Missouri wineries that have already found their way onto supermarket shelves they tend to select wines from the smaller wineries that don’t have wide distribution.  To buy their stock they drive to the wineries and usually choose the best-selling wine together with a couple of their favorites.  The biggest selling wines in the Midwest are the sweeter varieties so they’re well stocked with those, but you can find a full range of flavors, including the dries (which Daphne prefers). “We have a lot of fun converting people to the Missouri wine industry who used to say I would never drink a Missouri wine.”

During our conversation Daphne gave an informative summary explanation of Missouri as a wine region. “If you do a little bit of researching about Missouri history you’ll find that the grapes that are grown in certain regions of the state are very similar to the settlers who settled those areas.” She says the sweet wines in the Midwest are very comparable to German Rieslings and Traminers  because of the large numbers of German immigrants settling around Hermann.  But if you travel to Saint Genevieve south of St Louis, that area was mostly settled by the French, so there are a lot of French style hybrid grapes in the wines.  By contrast, around St James, Italians were the main settlers so the wines often reflect Italian styles.

…not only the world’s largest selection of Missouri wines, but unfortunately one of the only places where you can drink and buy any selection of Missouri wines at all. 

I also asked Daphne about the Missouri grape, the Norton. “You’ll find that a lot of people disagree about whether it is the best grape in Missouri, but it’s one of my favorites” she says.  “It’s so rich it reminds me of a red Zinfandel with even more berry components and a little more earthiness.  It’s got a lot of spice, hints of tobacco and hints of cranberry in it,” she added.  “A lot of people say the Chambourcin is the best grape, it’s in the Pinot Noir family, a French grape and more comparable to California dry wines.  It’s easier to sell, lighter and more of a balanced wine.”

While Daphne can discuss local wine history and styles with ease, she’s far from a wine snob – quite the opposite – and understands that the industry is still young in Missouri.   (see the Todd Kliman video for more about the history of Missouri wine and its great days in the mid 19th century).  When her store first became a wine focused shop she says it was difficult just getting people to try the wines because of the lack of familiarity with wine culture in the state.  “We’re a relatively a new industry trying to come back so we have a lot of young wine drinkers, and I don’t mean young by age, I mean young as in new, it’s a new experience for a lot of people.”  Over the years, Daphne and Jim have watched wine tastes change.   “In our Wino Club it’s really fun to watch because the wine part of our business has been going for about four years now and we keep notes on the back of every person’s wine card,” says Daphne. “We’re watching our customers’ palates change right before our eyes and some of our customers have gone from very, very sweet to very, very dry in the last four years and some of them are moving a little more slowly.”  Daphne says the rate of change often depends on how much wine is consumed on a regular basis and what it’s paired it with.

Daphne and Jim's shop in Excelsior Springs

On the somewhat prickly topic of the general absence of Missouri wines from the majority of wine lists at top restaurants in Kansas City and the midwest, Daphne says part of the problem is that small wineries are so busy they don’t have enough time to market their wines properly. She says getting Missouri wines into restaurants is an important next step for the whole industry.   “The key to getting more people who have educated wine palates to understand how good our wines are is getting them in the restaurants and not just in the liquor store or the wine shop” she says.  “It’s going to take the customer base who are visiting restaurants saying, ‘We want to see a Missouri wine on here!’ or, ‘ This is my favorite winery, I would love you to have those wines on the list!’  A customer inspired revolution in wine thinking plus wine distributors taking on some of the smaller wineries are the way things will change, says Daphne.

Which means at the moment Willow Spring Mercantile wine shop is not only the world’s largest selection of Missouri wines, but unfortunately one of the only places where you can drink and buy any selection of Missouri wines at all. That’s a shame.

Belvoir Winery in Film

9 Mar

I took my camera over to Belvoir Winery in Liberty, Missouri the other day to shoot some video.  Here’s the result, set to an appropriate soundtrack 🙂


For a Belvoir profile see the earlier blog posting: “And His Nose Follows You.”

Midwest Wine Appearing in More Top Restaurants

21 Feb

The author of this article is Mary Mihaly of Midwest Wine Press (MWP), based in Chicago.  MWP is the first business publication dedicated entirely to the art and business of winemaking in the Midwestern United States.  The editor of MWP is Mark Ganchiff, whose stated goal is to help winery owners, grape growers and cellar masters be more effective and profitable. The story first appeared in Midwest Wine Press in December and provides a positive tonic to, as well as supporting, the dark findings revealed in the blog posting “Wine Lists of Shame”.

Salt of the Earth Rustic American Eatery and Bakery in Fennville, Michigan has a dozen Michigan labels on its wine list. The event was an upscale food expo in Cleveland. I was pouring wine samples; the fellow pouring at the next table owned an award-winning winery in northeast Ohio. Our conversation turned to restaurant wine lists—specifically, why don’t we see more local wines listed?

“Beats me,” he said, “and it makes no sense. They talk about using local produce, local meats, farm-to-table everything—and they carry wines from France, California, everyplace but Ohio.”

His point is valid: why don’t more restaurants carry regional Midwest wine—and more importantly, how can regional wineries get onto their wine lists?

“I suspect it’s probably a little more expensive, takes a little more legwork to carry regional wines,” says Jon Trasky, general manager of The State Room Restaurant and Lounge in East Lansing, Michigan. His 17-page wine list features dozens of Michigan wines; they show up in nearly every category from Riesling to rosé. Trasky concedes that as part of the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center at Michigan State University, it follows that he would carry Michigan wines.Still, he has a choice, and he sees buying local as good business: “What’s good for Michigan is good for us,” he says. “We live here, so we want to do all we can to support Michigan businesses.”

Every restaurant and winery owner we interviewed agreed on the chief reason for carrying a local wine: because it tastes as good as wines from the “major” wine regions. “That’s the biggest factor for us,” says Nolan Cleary, beverage manager for Lola Bistro in Cleveland, one of several restaurants owned by Michael Symon, TV’s “Iron Chef” and star of  ”The Chew.”  “For us, quality is a big motivator; we’re not going to bring in local products if they’re inferior.”

For Cleary, carrying local wines was serendipitous. An owner of Laurello Vineyards in Geneva, Ohio is a regular at Lola and brought in some Vidal ice wine for Cleary to taste. It landed on the wine list. The other winery whose wines Cleary serves—Harpersfield Winery, also in Geneva—is on the wine list because, according to Harpersfield owner Patty Ribic, the Iron Chef himself “heard the buzz” and visited the winery.

“We’re a very small producer, just 3,000 gallons. Since we only use our own grapes, we’re at the mercy of Mother Nature.  There’s a finite amount so we watch where our wine goes and I guess that impressed [Symon],” Ribic recalls.  Symon’s bar manager called, they met, and as a result, Lola Bistro became Ribic’s only restaurant outlet.

Farmhouse Tavern, one of Chicago’s newest hot spots (open just 10 weeks at this writing and pictured on the homepage), is trying a more inclusive tactic, offering wines from throughout the Midwest. “All of our sparkling wine is from Michigan,” says Robert Diaz, manager, “and we carry wines from Indiana, and even a Riesling and Pinot Noir from Firelands Winery in Ohio.”  Wine selection,  he says, can be easy.  “Put together some reds and whites from Argentina, Australia, and France, and your customers will be reasonably happy. But if you want to stand out from the crowd, you need to seek out the smaller players, offer something different.”

Taste is Diaz’s top priority, and he speculates that perhaps more restaurants don’t offer local wines “because a lot of the root-stock in the Midwest isn’t old,” he says. “Europe and California have been growing grapes for a very long time, and older vines sometimes make better wine.”

Michigan wines “sort of fly under the radar,” says Mark Schrock, owner of Salt of the Earth in Fennville, Michigan, “but we produce some of the finest Riesling out there.” One of the most expensive wines on his wine list—“Shou,” a Bordeaux-style blend from Wyncroft Winery—is a Michigan wine with limited production. “You feel like the winemaker has examined every grape when you drink it, it’s that well crafted,” Schrock says. “If you want to be on a good wine list, quality is everything.”

Carey Amigoni, whose family owns Amigoni Urban Winery in Kansas City, agrees. “There’s no question,” she says, “a Cab Franc is a Cab Franc. If you make a pretty good one, people will want it.”

That view is echoed by the Wine Business Institute, which surveyed sommeliers of 74 restaurants in 2009. The results were unanimous: 100 percent ranked “tasting good” as the top factor in selecting wines for their lists. Nearly 98 percent ranked “matches with food menu” as the second priority, followed closely by “competitive price fit” and “balance of varieties.” Sixty-two percent said they prefer to buy locally—a bit surprising, since relatively few high-end restaurants offer regional wines—and only 35 percent said they would list a particular wine to maximize profits. Zero respondents said they relied on a supplier’s recommendations in buying wine.

Marketing, however, is critical to getting on wine lists, especially for small wineries. “Usually, a small distributor will do a good job for small wineries,” Carey Amigoni says, “where with a big distributor, the small wineries sort of disappear.” Amigoni likes her distributor, but she sometimes accompanies him on calls to new restaurants: “You have to go with them, personalize it, enjoy the wine with the bar manager, help sell it.”

That means talking up anything that would appeal to customers. If your wine is certified organic or Biodynamic, mention that to the bar manager. If Justin Timberlake or Bette Midler ordered a glass, or if it was fermented in barrels made of a special wood, that’s worth a mention. Anything that helps create a memorable experience for the customer will help sell your wine.

Megan Zander, bar manager at Blue Bird Bistro in Kansas City, offers wines by Amigoni as well as locally brewed beers and liquor from a local distillery. “Everything’s of the highest quality,” she says, “but we also want to talk to the winery owner and other producers. It’s about building relationships—you have to be as passionate about your wine as we are about our restaurant.”

Patty Ribic agrees: “Let’s face it, there are a million wineries out there. You have to have passion for your wine—put out a product you’re proud of.”

As for the future, Mark Schrock believes, “more and more, `local’ translates to sales,” he says. “Our guests are asking for it—but you’ve got to bring your best stuff.”

“I think you’re going to see people take notice of local wines over the next 10 years,” Robert Diaz predicts. “Wineries should start now, creating and developing relationships with restaurants and restaurant groups, and good things will happen.

“Get into a few good restaurants and people will start noticing—and buying—your wine.”

Reprinted with permission of  Midwest Wine Press.

And His Nose Follows You: Belvoir Winery

3 Feb

Belvoir Winery is an impressive sight if it catches your eye as you drive along Highway 291 on the outskirts of Liberty, Missouri.   The view is too much to take in at 50 miles an hour with its acres of lawns, long pathways, cherubs looking onto fountains and vineyards that together lead you up to a line of imposing, red brick and sandstone buildings.  The effect is 1900s boarding school meets French vineyard chateau, officially called Jacobethan Revival style.  Its French name (as you know mon petit escargot, it means ‘Beautiful View’), the vines and its castle-palace impression could make you think of a French vineyard.   But the buildings that make-up Belvoir are definitely more impressive than many Bordeaux wineries who (I was disappointed to discover) often label their bottles with the evocative word chateau but actually make their wine from within drab, modern, utilitarian buildings with no chateau anywhere in sight.  Belvoir is the real thing, an eclectic historical treasure inside and out, surrounded by acres of land and vines.

A friendly cherub recommends silence at Belvoir's entrance

Owner Dr John Bean might have the look and manner of a rather professorial, retired country gentleman but he’s at the beginning of a grandiose project for further expansion that would make a Las Vegas tycoon proud.   A former osteopath, John seems to have seamlessly transitioned from mending human bone structures into fixing up the structures of old buildings.   As we leafed through photos and clippings he remarked that he’s spent half a million dollars on steel reinforcement alone – it was as if he was talking about a patient.

Together with his wife Marsha he started growing grapes here in the late 1990s and about a year ago completed extensive renovations of the main building and opened it to the public.  On the ground floor there are bars, dining rooms, drawing rooms, a deli, ice cream parlor and gift shop.  Upstairs there are plans for a double size ballroom and an artists’ space for use by local college students.   That’s just the start.  John wants to create a sort of rural retirement resort complex where the vineyards would be overlooked by a hotel in the main buildings as well as apartments out in the vines, an enclosed arena for performances and an old peoples’ home.  The lawns at the front would be remodeled into a French garden.

Extravagant as it sounds, it could be an appropriate reincarnation of all of Belvoir’s past uses.  The site started as a hotel in the late 1800s, built on the site of a sulfur Spring.  The developers were hoping it would be Liberty’s answer to the better known Excelsior Springs down the road.   But only a few years after opening the hotel was sold to the benevolent Independent Order of Odd Fellows (that still exists today in 26 countries and is the largest fraternal organization in the world according to Belvoir’s website and Wikipedia) who converted it into the administrative block for an old peoples’ home, an orphanage, a school and a hospital.  In 1900 the main building burnt down after a blow torch was used to try and defrost the pipes and was rebuilt in its current Jacobethan Revival style.  The school was torn down in the 1950s to make way for a new hospital.

Inside and out, John has placed unusual objects, furnishings and works of art, partly collected from his international travels but also

A meaner looking cherub, and beyond, Belvoir's main building

rescued or inherited from Kansas City’s old buildings.  On the rolling lawn there’s a white marble gazebo used for weddings that arrived in 34 crates from Beijing without any instructions.  Nearbye, a garden walkway is made from terracotta, recovered from a building off the plaza in Kansas City, and limestone recovered from St Mary’s Hospital before it was demolished.   Inside Belvoir that same limestone can be found on the floors of restrooms and in other rooms there’s marble from the old American Express Association at Union Station.  In the attractive wooded bar near the main entrance hangs a chandelier from St Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas and in other extremities of the building there are lounges and a fireplace, both from London, and a huge wooden ornament complete with a carved deer’s head that virtually covers the wall .  “That’s from the black-forest in Germany,” says John.  “ I hand carried it out twenty eight years ago, put it in a bicycle box and shipped it back free on TWA’s luggage.”   We agreed that probably wouldn’t be possible these days. In one room there’s a big painting of a Russian Rabbi who’s prominent nose seems to follow you as you move about the room.

John is modest about his wines and seems most proud of his Muscat.  “We’re growing a Muscat out of New York that nobody else grows,” he says.  “It’s called a Golden Muscat and we haven’t even put it out yet.  It’s just a wonderful grape.”    There are currently about 3½ acres under vines at Belvoir and they’re planting about 200 to 300 more plants every year.  At the moment Belvoir presses the grapes for about 20% of its wines and buys in grapes for the rest of its production that are sent to Les Bourgeois Vineyards, two hours away in Rocheport, for pressing and bottling.   John seems to have no trouble finding drinkers for his wines that include Chambourcin, Norton-Cynthiana and Vignoles.   Last year he says Belvoirhosted 43 weddings and 300 events that together consumed 1800 cases of his vintages.  Even while I was hovering for a few minutes at the bar a couple of people separately inquired about making a booking.

Dr John Bean alongside the painting of the Russian Rabbi whose nose follows you

John says Les Meyer from Holy-Field Winery in Kansas (see Bottle Shock blog post) was an inspiration for him early on.  “That’s a great winery and he got me started when I first bought this place,”  he says. “I spent an afternoon with him in his basement and in fact I never got home!”

As far as a strategy for drinking wines, including his own, made from the Norton grape, (see The Quest for a Drinkable Norton blog  post), John has some advice:   “I think eventually it will get a wider appeal but it’s sort of like scotch.   You’ve got to start off with a teaspoon of scotch and a lot of water first and build your tastes up to it, and Norton’s one of those.”  Norton fans may not agree with that but for the Midwest’s sweeter wine drinkers it’s probably good advice.

Wine Lists of Shame II: The View of the Winemakers

27 Jan

I was a little worried when I posted the Wine Lists of Shame blog.  I have enjoyed eating at about half the restaurants on the list (thanks to a generous mother and father-in-law) but was always disappointed by the absence of Missouri and Kansas wines from their wine lists.  The thought of stirring an angry response from the city’s restaurants got me quite excited and nervous in the moments before the blog was posted.  Of course my small act of defiance wasn’t in the same league as Martin Luther giving one to the Pope and I’m not reporting for BBC News anymore, this is a WordPress blog, so I suppose the muted response has been understandable.  So far only Bluestem Restaurant has commented and they say they’re planning to include local wines on their new wine list – full marks to them.

The issue of how to break into the Kansas City restaurant scene is a topic I brought up with the winemakers I visited on Mission Impossible I: The Search for a Drinkable Norton.  I also spoke on the phone with Tim Puchta, president of  Adam Puchta Winery  (resplendent in blue overalls in the photo for the Defenders of Norton blog) and in a long conversation he was clearly frustrated about the situation. “It’s a very tough issue to deal with”, he says, noting how on the one hand restaurants have adopted the slow food movement with local produce, “but when it comes to wine, they absolutely have a totally closed mind.  They absolutely do not like to even think about attempting to even try some of the Missouri wines.”

When I turned up at Les Bourgeois Vineyards in Rocheport it sounded like winemakers Cory Bomgaars and Jacob Holman were trying to expunge their frustrations about this issue by playing in a heavy rock band.  The sound blasting out of the winery was so loud and clear I thought I was interrupting a band practice. It turned out to be just a very good sound system and anyway, Cory and Jacob are probably more surfer types than rockers.  Cory sees restaurants as crucial to positively changing people’s opinions about regional wines.  “The service industry is kind of the ambassador of wine, and good restaurants really have a lot of influence on perception of wine quality for the community,” he explains to me in his small office behind the winery’s shop.

Kansas City isn’t alone in generally turning its back on local wine, winemakers say the situation is the same in top restaurants across the region.   But there are notable exceptions to the Wine Lists of Shame, says Tim of Adam Puchta Winery, like Annie Gunn’s Restaurant in Chesterfield, Missouri that features about thirty Missouri wines on its wine list.  However, getting MO and KS wine into most restaurants depends heavily on the sales reps and distributors, who are more likely to push their better known French and Californian bottles because they are easier to sell.  For that reason, some restaurants say they never see any regional wines.  Cory says the answer is to incentivize the distributors and make it worth their while to push the local, regional wines.

But even if distributors are convinced to push the local stuff, Cory says restaurant staff need to be educated.  Otherwise, says Tim, even if the restaurant’s manager or wine buyer purchases the local wine, it generally won’t sell unless the restaurant staff know about the wine and promote it.  “We were in a couple of places in Kansas City for a while,” says Tim, but the restaurants would say the wine wasn’t selling and drop it from the list, “I would say 99% of the time the wine wasn’t promoted or mentioned.” Or there’s a change of manager or chef at the restaurant, and in the change of regime, the regional bottles are often the first to be dropped from the wine list.   Educating restaurant staff can be difficult says Tim, “even though we educate them, we bring them out to our tastings, we go through the motions and their minds are just really closed.”  But Cory says this education drive needs to continue and across the industry.  “Bring them up here and teach them about what we are doing with Missouri wines,” he says.  “All the way through to chefs thinking about what they are cooking and the waiters behind the product.  To really break that barrier is going to take some intense one-on-one stuff.” He says in the next twelve months Missouri vineyards are likely to do some organized industry-wide marketing aimed at restaurants.

The West Bottoms area of Kansas City © kcphotoblog.com

I met Michael Amigoni in the tasting room of his Amigoni Urban Winery in the West Bottoms area of Kansas City (for the full interview see: Regional Wines: “We’re catching up”). There was a tasting in progress and about a dozen people were there to taste Michael’s wines and listen to him chat about them.   With his commanding presence he reminded me of a Roman emperor as he strutted and talked about his wines (but I’m a bit obsessed with ancient history). His location right in the heart of KC has probably helped his relationship with restaurants there.  He told me afterwards that part of the restaurant problem is the difficulty selling wines made from grape varieties like Norton and Vignoles that haven’t been accepted by the wine establishments on the east and west coast and are still unfamiliar to many local wine drinkers.  Michael says he’s the only winemaker in Missouri who, despite the challenging climactic conditions here, focuses very heavily on growing European varieties like Cabernet Franc.  As a result, he says he’s had some success breaking into the Kansas City restaurant scene, but it’s been tough going.  “It’s very difficult, but we probably broke some of that ceiling that was there.  The local restaurants, especially here in the metro, have not embraced any of the Missouri wines.” He tells me as we talk on the long wooden benches in his tasting room.   “They felt that someone would have a hard time paying the prices for some of the hybrid varieties and the other varieties that people are not familiar with and since we brought in varietals that they can put on a restaurant wine list and people understand those varietals, they can be assured that they might sell it a bit easier.”

But at St James Winery the studious looking CEO, Peter Hofherr, told me with enthusiasm that times are changing and the dawn of the native grape breaking into KC restaurants is nigh.  “I think that the wine culture for local wines is changing. We’re seeing some of that now.” He says, “I’ve done a lot of work in Kansas City that shows me that while you don’t see them in the restaurants right now, we are seeing some chefs that really are embracing local wines, so I think that you will begin to see more than them.”

Cory from Les Bourgeois agrees and puts it down to improvements in the quality of local wines. “I guarantee that you could wrangle up 40 wines across the state of Missouri, red and white, that would be delicious at any dinner table,” he says. “I think we have the product now, and we have the reputation on the product.  Most restaurants at this point are really eager, and as the restauranteur says: ‘Well I’d put some local wines on the wine list if someone came and talked to me.” Winemakers say, ‘Well shit! I’ve got a warehouse full of wine!’    ‘You and I should get together!’”

Peter from St James views it this way: “We see ourselves as sort of on a wine frontier here.”