Tag Archives: Midwestern United States

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…

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.”

“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 danjwood@hotmail.com or call             816 863 2496      

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.


Midwest Wine Conference: The Grape Chemist Part II – A Perspective on Midwest Wines

16 Feb

In this second part of the interview with Rich DeScenzo, the grape chemist from ETS Laboratories, I sought his opinion on a few Midwest grape industry issues.  We talked about the growth of Midwest wines and the rising awareness – even surprise or bottle shock – outside and even inside the Midwest, that this region can make great wines.   Harking back to that ‘Search for a drinkable Norton’ posting, we also talked about some of the pros and cons of the Norton grape.  I’m Australian and probably not a very good judge of the distinguishing traits of people from different US states, but with Rich’s home and company based in California (although he is originally from New England), he did strike me as a good source for a Californian type of perspective on Midwest wines.  So here it is…

Busy on the Trade Show floor at the Midwest Grape & Wine Conference

Danny: You’re at this Midwest Grape & Wine Conference for the first time.  I’ve just moved to live in the Midwest and I’d never heard of wines coming from this region even though I’ve drunk wines for quite a long time.  Your presence here, representing the biggest independent wine laboratory in the US, does that confirm that this is a wine region that is growing in importance?

“If you want to be a winemaker, here (the Midwest)

might be the place to come and start.”

Rich:Well, no, we have a lot of clients in the Midwest but indeed it is a growing region and I think if you read some of the wine magazines you’re seeing that the people who evaluate wines are starting to look at some of these wines from the Midwest and for the first time, I think, on a national level, you’re seeing wines made with Norton and Chambourcin getting some really nice reviews.  There are so many people that came by the booth that are just starting up; there are so many start-ups here winerywise! And I think if you want to make an impact this is the place where you can start.  If you think about what it costs to start in Napa, about $100,000 an acre on the valley floor to buy land, and then you’ve got to get a winery.  If you want to be a winemaker, here (the Midwest) might be the place to come and start.  You can do it for far less money down and there’s this really great community of people who are very friendly and very helpful with each other.  I mean Texas has a big industry, I heard Iowa has 75 wineries! I did my post-doc there 15 years ago and there were no wineries.  So I think this is a pretty neat thing.  Some of these people are mom and pop but they understand that this is a competitive market.  I think if you go to the sessions that they’re doing right now on marketing, and how to get your wine sold, and how to have your tasting room really stand out, those are the ones that are really heavily attended.  I think it’s going to grow and grow; we’ll be back at the conference here again.

Nice bottles at the Midwest Grape & Wine Conference

Danny: The Norton grape fascinates me.  Presumably you’ve had people come to you with their Norton grape and say why is it doing ‘x’ or why is it doing ‘y’?  Could you give me a guide as to what this grape’s issues can be?

Rich:  Well I think any wine can have issues.  Nortons have a lot of acid and so their pH is usually lower and their total acid is higher.  That can be a challenge to some of the bugs certainly.  But when you get down to it, a winemaker takes the grapes and makes wine, but for the microbes out there, their goal is to turn it into vinegar.  So your job is to prevent the bad bugs from having a nice home and so whether it’s Norton, or Cabernet, or Riesling or whatever, individual wines have different problems that go with them.

Danny:  I always thought Pinot was a particularly hard grape to grow, is Norton also particularly difficult?

Rich:  Norton is wild American grape, they’re pretty hardy, but I think they have challenges here although they are somewhat disease resistant and pest resistant.  The climate here, the humidity!  I lived in Iowa and it can get really humid.   I think every region has its own individual problems as far as producing grapes.  Pinot can be really finicky, but I think Norton is maybe better acclimated to this area and so I haven’t heard anyone saying anything about it being difficult, but I don’t know that much about the varietals here.

I’ve had some wines here and I was really like,

‘Wow! That’s pretty darn good!'” 

Danny: Okay but I guess you drink a lot of wine yourself apart from studying it?

Rich: (Laughter) All for research!

Danny:  It seems like if I tried a Norton 20 years ago I could have really struggled to find a nice one…

Rich:I would say that too.  When I lived in the Midwest we were going to St Louis once and we stopped and did some tasting and the wines were not memorable.  I think what’s happened is it’s one thing when you’re just selling locally because people will buy almost anything because that’s all they know.  But I think what’s happened now is the Midwest wines are starting to get national exposure and when you’re competing on a national level, then you really tend to step the game up and I think they’ve done that.  Like I said, I’ve had some wines here and I was really like, “Wow! That’s pretty darn good!” You know if someone opened that bottle at dinner I’d be quite happy with that.  But I don’t think it was that way 15 years ago.

These sandwiches were very nice

Danny: You seem like you’re a Californian by origin?

Rich: Ahh no, I’m from New England but from all over really.  My Dad was in the service and we lived all over the country.

Danny: Oh I see. I guess with some of the interesting stories I’ve heard about attitudes towards the wines here, the Norton especially, it’s like the French attitude towards California wines thirty years ago, there’s a bit of a snobbery towards Midwest wines…

Rich: But like I said, I even read something about a recent, national competition, with the best wines out of Napa and Sonoma and there were some wines from the Midwest.  Some Nortons in particular did very well with gold medals.  So that tells you that the ability is here and the winemakers here are stepping up their game.   More and more people are accepting them and it has changed my mind about them, truthfully! Before, if I came here, I probably wouldn’t even look at a Norton but now I’ll do some price comparisons at Trader Joe’s and see if I can find what I like…

Danny: I don’t think you’ll find it at Trader Joe’s, I wish you could.

Rich: BevMo maybe!  So we do a lot of work here and we’re at this conference to start to meet our clients and get more clients and we’ve talked to quite a few new people.  I think we’re reaching a critical mass in the Midwest where it’s good to come out and meet people

Danny: Thanks very much for  your time.

Rich: My pleasure Danny.

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 danjwood@hotmail.com or call 816 863 2496