Tag Archives: Missouri

Missouri Wines in Kansas City Airport

17 Jul

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

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

Okay what’s going on?

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

‘Missouri Vineyards’ wine-list

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

The bartender struggles with the wine dispensing contraption

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


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

24 Jun

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


Belvoir Winery Bikers

12 Jun

It was an unusual Sunday at Belvoir Winery.  I jauntily wandered in along with co-worker Chelsea expecting the place to be empty – but the Ride Like the Wind bikers were in town and we found our boss Rachel heroically tending to their insatiable appetites at Belvoir’s sartorial bar all alone.  The bikers, who predominantly ride Harley motorcycles, led by Missy, were doing a group ride that would take them to Excelsior Springs then Smithville and Ladoga Ridge Winery.

Belvoir Winery’s Rachel looks on as Ride Like the Wind bikers drop in for a visit

They were a really nice crowd and in their leather outfits, bandanas and tatoos they gave the bar something of the atmosphere of Easy Rider mixed with The Warriors.  I just wish I hadn’t been taking the rubbish out when they rode away – it would have been a great photo.  I’ve settled for the substitute below.

a group of bikers riding a vintage italian  scooters Lambretta and Vespa at motorcycle rally of local Vespa Club on April 9,2012 in Santarcangelo di R. (RN) Italy Stock Photo - 13256711

Bikers riding vintage Italian Lambretta and Vespa scooters. Courtesy: http://www.123rf.com/profile_ermess

Soon after the bikers left, another biker turned up! Jim, who said he was also called James, which confused me a little because he made it sound like he really used those two names together, like he was called Jim James – which is in fact the case if  you take a look here.  Jim, a photographer,  also turned up on his motorcycle and he told us about a memorial ride and film he’s involved in to remember a friend of his – Lance – who, sadly, was killed in a Navy SEAL skydiving accident.   There’s a film in post-production about this memorial ride made by Lance’s friends like Jim, that should be out soon.  We swapped riding stories and then Jim went on his way.


Then we had to get to work, preparing for a wedding that took place later in the afternoon.  The flowers were great and the couple and their friends a nice, entertaining crew of people but they seemed to forget about the twenty bottles of champagne they had on ice.  I left work at 830pm and never solved this mystery.

Flowers at Sunday’s wedding

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.

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…

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.”

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.”