As fall harvest approaches, many people head out to experience classic Missouri Wine Country: rolling hills, vivid sunsets, winding rivers, fertile lands and warm people.
We have wine country regions across Missouri, but some of the most well-known areas are Augusta, Ste. Genevieve and Hermann.
A Few Missouri Wine Facts:
• 1,600 acres of vines
• 100+ wineries ($42.4 million in revenue)
• 14,000 jobs
• Augusta was established as the first National American Viticultural Area (AVA or appellation) in 1980—yes, before Napa!
“Isn’t It All Sweet Wine?”
Many people dismiss our local wines because of this myth. Don’t get me wrong. There are definitely many sweet wines crafted in Missouri, but we’ve come a long way in the past 20 years. Good dry wines abound as better winemaking practices, growers and winemakers have yielded higher-quality wines.
Why are Missouri Grapes Different?
Regular grapes (vitis vinifera) such as chardonnay, merlot and cabernet sauvignon don’t grow well in extreme temperatures like the heat and cold of Missouri. The solution was to graft and make hybrid vines or grape varietals more native to our climate (vitis labrusca). Chardonel is a cross of chardonnay and seyval grapevines to make it with withstand our extreme temperatures. So, yes, like learning about any wine region, it takes a little reading and understanding—and tasting, of course!
Main Grapes of Missouri
• White Varietals (dry to sweet): chardonel, seyval blanc, vidal blanc, traminette, vignoles
• Red Varietals (dry to sweet): norton, chambourcin, catawba, concord
A Closer Look at a White and Red Varietal
• Chardonel: A cross of the famed chardonnay grape with seyval. This can produce wine that is lighter and fruity (with no oak fermenting/aging) to full-bodied, dry, oaked chardonel.
• Norton: This American grape (aka Cynthiana) is full-bodied with red and dark fruits, some spicy notes and good tannins. This can remind you of zinfandel.
This past weekend, my wife, Arlene, and I headed out to Ste. Genevieve to explore. First, we stopped at Crown Valley Winery, a newer, bigger property that overlooks the vineyard and rolling hills. We went to their tasting room and opted for a five-taste sampler. Wines are all across the board here, with the driest, chardonel, descending on to sweeter wines such as vignoles.
We then set off for Charleville Vineyard & Microbrewery, just 2 miles away. Set high in the hillside, it makes for a great scenic view of the Ste. Genevieve wine country. We entered their tasting room and ordered the beer flight: five distinctively different beers from lighter to fuller-bodied (Pilsner, Half Wit Wheat, Tornado Alley Amber Ale, Hoptimistic IPA, and Stout). We also tried their chardonel, which was fruit-forward and balanced.
Next, we headed to Chaumette Vineyards & Winery, where we planned for an overnight stay. It is peaceful and tranquil, with beautiful villas and suites adorning the property. We headed to their tasting room and sampled a few wines; and went out to their veranda, which looks out to a sun-kissed downward sloping hill and vineyard. French themes are apparent throughout, even on the veranda, where the chairs face out, typical of a Parisian café.
After checking into our sanctuary for the evening, we were greeted by owner Hank Johnson in the tasting room for a special tasting of the Chaumette portfolio of wines.
The evening continued at Grapevine Grill, where Chef Adam Lambay is at the helm. Our Sunday Supper featured a family-style menu using local farmers’ meats and produce. Freshness was tasted in every bite, and it all paired beautifully with our Chardonel Reserve. When you get a chance to eat food and drink wine from the same land, it’s always a perfect pairing. I couldn’t have been more proud of Missouri and our wine country.
Head to any part of Missouri Wine Country to enjoy the views, people and wines at your own pace. When wine-tasting in Napa, one can feel herded from tasting room to tasting room; but in Missouri, they want you to stay, relax and enjoy the full experience!
Tasting Tip: When tasting wines that have a lot of fruit, pay attention to how the wine finishes. You may get a lot of fruit upfront. and then the wine finishes dry.
Wine Recommendation: Expose yourself to Missouri wines and find your style or varietal—there is something for everyone. My favorites are chardonel and norton port. And at the end of the day, support local: It’s worth the investment and you don’t have to give up quality.
*Certified Sommelier Stanley Browne is the owner of Robust Wine Bar in Webster Groves, Downtown at the MX and a soon-to-open third location in Edwardsville.