Arts & Entertainment

Dowd on Drinks: Missouri Winemakers Struggle Through Misfortune

Psst. Want to buy a one-of-a-kind wine, cheap? Think Missouri.

In a year in which grape industry experts on both the east and west coasts are forecasting bumper crops, Missouri is facing a year without precedent.

A prolonged warm period in late winter coaxed grapes to grow too soon, only to be hit with a prolonged cold snap. That left Missouri and its 72 wineries — double the number of just a decade ago — in a precarious financial position.

While late-opening buds such as Norton and Vignoles survived the freeze to some extent and can provide a Missouri base for the '07 vintage, the Chardonel, Concord, Catawba and Cayuga White grapes were devastated and such varieties as Chambourcin, Seyval and Vidal are in scarce supply.

So, why would this misfortune lead to a special status for '07 wines? Glad you asked.

With 95 percent of the wine grape crop destroyed, Missouri will have to take extraordinary measures to keep its little industry afloat. I discussed the possibilities with Ann Miller, a consultant for the Missouri Wine & Grape Board and a veteran wine judge, while we were in Napa, Calif., last week doing a competition judging together.

"We're going to find a lot of the regulations changed for this year," she said. "The rules on buying and using grapes from out of state are going to have to be modified just to get any sort of 2007 vintage in the bottle and out to market.

"I don't know what the final decision will be on what we'll have to say on the labels — probably something to show this was an unusual year and the grapes came from outside the state — but I suppose it will have to be made very clear."

Whatever the outcome, any Missouri wine bearing a 2007 vintage on the label will be a unique product, in the truest sense of the word. And, considering that most Missouri wines are under $25 anyway, whatever you invest in one will buy you a very special product at a very reasonable price.

The crop disaster is a particular shame since Missouri wines were beginning to come up big in top-flight competitions and in the right publications. If you plan to go online to check out potential Missouri wine purchases, consider the following recent happenings.

Golf Connoisseur Magazine selected Stone Hill Winery's Norton — rich with black currant flavor — as one of its "Delectable Dozen," 12 wines it deems excellent value.

St. James Winery won the 2007 Spiegelau Gold Medal Champion award from the Tasters Guild International wine competition for earning more double gold and gold medal points than any other winery in the competition.

At the Riverside (Calif.) International, St. James earned unanimous golds for its Country White and '05 Late Harvest Chardonel plus single golds for its Sparkling Blush, Chardonel Port, Strawberry and Blackberry won gold.

Silver went to Augusta Winery '06 Seyval, '04 Norton, '06 Chambourcin, Mt. Pleasant '05 Claret, St. James '03 Norton, '05 Chardonel, '06 Vintner's Select Vignoles, Country Red, Velvet White, Riesling and Friendship School White.

At the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, Crown Valley Winery '05 Sweet Riesling and St. James Winery Strawberry earned gold while silver went to Cave Vineyard '05 Chardonel, Stone Hill Winery '05 Chardonel, and '04 Port, Oak Glenn Vidal Blanc, Les Bourgeois '05 LaBelle, Crown Valley '04 Meritage, Mt. Pleasant '01 Vintage Port and St. James Winery Country White, Velvet White, '05 Vintner's Select Vignoles, Muscatto, Riesling and Velvet Red.

At the San Diego Wine Competition, Stone Hill Winery Golden Spumante won best in class and won golds for its '05 Vignoles and '04 Norton. St. James Winery Pink Catawba also won a gold.

             

 (William M. Dowd covers the beverage world at BillDowd.com)

c.2007 Hearst Newspapers

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