Fruit of the Vine
Missouri wines get some much-deserved local love.
Missouri has a long history of wine-making. French settlers began growing grapes here as far back as the late 1700s, and roots from hearty Missouri grapes were grafted onto French plants to help rebuild the country’s wine industry after the devastating phylloxera epidemic of the 1860s. Augusta, MO, became the first federally recognized American Viticultural Area in 1980, beating out wine powerhouse Napa Valley, CA, by several months. Despite all of this history, though, Missouri wines haven’t always been appreciated—especially here at home. But that’s beginning to change. Our local wineries have recently gained some significant recognitions—and STL restaurants with top-notch wine programs have begun to feature Missouri vino prominently on their lists.
A common misconception is that Missouri wines are all super-sweet, or that Norton is the only grape to be had, says Brandon Kerne, assistant beverage director at Elaia. But there’s a wide variety of wines produced in the state to suit every palate. Kerne says Chaumette Winery‘s Reserve Chardonel, for example, has plenty of oak and full, rich flavor to satisfy any fan of big California chardonnays, while Stonehaus Farms Winery‘s Vignoles, offered by the glass at Elaia, is semi-sweet with notes of tropical fruits. It’s no wonder the 2011 vintage of this wine won the 2012 Missouri Governor’s Cup, awarded to the best wine in the state.
Some oenophiles have the notion that Missouri wines are somehow inferior in quality to those produced elsewhere. To the contrary: As of the first of this year, there were 118 wineries and 393 vineyards operating in the state, and while quality levels certainly vary, there are plenty of top-notch varieties being produced. Take, for instance, Montelle Winery and Augusta Winery, both of which recently won a slew of awards at the The Pacific Rim Wine Competition, held in May, as well as top honors at the 2013 Riverside International Wine Competition in June. It’s because of quality like this that Aleksander Jovanovic, general manager and wine director at Truffles, always tries to keep one Missouri wine on his by-the-glass list and three to four others available by the bottle. He’s especially fond of wines being produced by Chandler Hill and the Augusta Wine Company, which owns Montelle Winery and Augusta Winery. “We want to support local wineries,” Jovanovic says. “But at the same time, the quality has to be good enough for them to make the list.”
The fact that some of the best sommeliers and beverage professionals in town are taking these wines seriously is helping bring their credibility levels up. In fact, Jovanovic goes so far as to say that the best wineries in Missouri can stand up to the top wineries around the globe. Kerne is also a believer. “I can honestly tell a table that this isn’t just a great Missouri wine—it’s a great wine, period,” he says.
Photo credit: Kelly Wright