Last week, my wife and I took urgent action. With baby number two’s due date closing fast and the frightening prospect of never having time to do anything ever again, we filled the car with gas and dragged our toddler from one end of Missouri to the other to visit a few wineries.
We started at Westphalia Vineyards, near the small town of the same name, just outside the state capitol, Jefferson City. It was pouring rain, but what a great place to start. The winemaker and owner, Terry Neuner, is one of only a handful of winemakers in the country who doesn’t add sulfites to preserve his wines. Instead, Neuner relies on a fermentation process in oak barrels and very good cleaning and sanitation procedures to protect his wines from spoilage and grant them longevity.
In the vineyard, Neuner and his vineyard manager, Scott Berhorst, are a welcome rarity in the Midwest – they grow Norton and Missouri Riesling – a grape they have revived from relative obscurity – without using any chemicals to control vineyard pests or diseases. As we peered through the wet from the back of his winery, Neuner pointed out one of his methods of pest control: half-a-dozen guinea fowl. The birds could be seen hopping around the vines in search of Japanese beetles and any others bugs that might attack the vines.
As we took a buggy ride into the vineyard it would have been harder to find healthier looking vines. The Norton and Missouri Riesling vines were beautifully robust and sprouting spring green, uniform shoots on their bi-lateral, top wire, single-curtain trellis. Despite the renowned disease pressures here, Neuner is proving that it is possible to make quality, award-winning wines in the Midwest in a sustainable, natural fashion, without resorting to clouds of chemicals. May many others follow this lead!
A bottle of Westphalia’s 2006 Norton is waiting in our cellar (thanks, Terry). Missouri Riesling (sampled a few months ago) makes a very interesting and unique dry white – golden in color with a pink hue and a taste reminiscent of ripe pears and cooked apricots.
PS: Westphalia Vineyards is not open to the public, so you need to ring ahead to arrange a private tour. The winery’s Norton Room in the town is open to the public Friday to Sunday.
Next stop – three hours away towards the southeast corner of the state. A lovely drive through Missouri’s so-called Rhineland brought us to Chaumette Vineyards & Winery, about 20 minutes from Farmington. A lovely property with striking views from the restaurant across a green expanse of grass and vines. Owner Hank Johnson, together with energetic marketing director, Jennifer Johnson, run an impressively upscale place: winery, restaurant, villa accommodation, spa and wedding venue. Interestingly, the trellis system for many of the vines was quite short in stature compared to many in the midwest, about 4 feet high. A special thanks to six-year old Mason for entertaining our toddler Fred so we could enjoy dinner – and a few glasses of wine: Rose, Chardonel and Norton respectively – that were all well-made, fruity and pleasant.
The following morning we headed to America’s first official viticulture region: the area of Augusta near St Louis. The town of Augusta is a picturesque garden of old, often stately homes, vineyards and wineries. Keeping toddler time, we arrived at Augusta Winery’s tasting room as Mindy the friendly manager opened its doors at 10am. The winemaker, Tony Kooyumjian, has spent decades honing his craft, and it shows. The dry whites and reds had impressive delicacy and depth of flavor.
Then it was time to head home to Kansas City and prepare the baby room.