March 30, 2017

The Wine Industry Can Bring Vignoles Out of the Shadows

This article by Andrew Meggitt of St. James Winery in Missouri is a follow-up to his August 2015 story titled, Growing Vignoles on a Commercial Scale 

In a famous line from the 2004 movie “Sideways,” Miles, the anxious protagonist and Pinot Noir fan, forcefully declares that he will not drink any merlot.

Hence termed the “Sideways Effect,” the movie rocketed the previously niche Pinot Noir from the shadows to mainstream popularity.

While the Vignoles grape might not land a role in the next blockbuster hit, there are plenty of other ways winemakers can show mainstream wine consumers that Vignoles make for a top-notch libation.

Here’s how to do it:

Make it accessible. Vignoles grapes are used by many wineries, but those wineries don’t always widely distribute their wines. Because there are only a handful of vineyards with commercially viable distribution, it can be difficult for consumers to find this unique wine.

Before a little-known variety of wine can become popular, consumers need to have access to it. Once consumers start tasting it, Vignoles wines will be flying off store shelves.

St. James Winery grows more than 15 varieties of grapes, including Vignoles, on 160 acres in Missouri

Make it approachable. People shy away from ordering wines that they can’t pronounce. Gewürztraminer is an example of a perfectly lovely white wine variety that has not become part of the mainstream — in part because of its intimidating name.

Associating Vignoles wine with a more consumer-friendly name could make all the difference for a wine drinker who doesn’t want to embarrass himself in front of a date. An easy-to-pronounce name would make Vignoles wines more accessible to those encountering them for the first time. Plus, an easy-on-the-tongue name will make it easier for consumers to remember and share it with friends.

Fight sweet wine syndrome. Because our Vignoles wine heralds from Missouri, many people assume that it’s a sweet wine. Although Vignoles can produce a traditional semi-sweet to sweet wine, we decided to create dry and semi-dry renditions of this wine. Drying out the Vignoles helps us create an ideal balance of alcohol, tannins, and acids — the result is a pleasantly unique profile with an aroma of quince and floral notes and a tropical fruit flavor with a mineral backbone to give the wine structure.

Use a sweetness scale on the wine’s label to help indicate to consumers that the wine is drier. When you hold wine tastings, emphasize the drier, balanced nature of the wine to tasters.

We took a risk on our semi-dry Vignoles blend, looked at the market, and made an assumption that people’s tastes were changing — and it worked. Our 2014 Vignoles recently won Sweepstakes White Wine at the Riverside International Wine Competition in Riverside, CA. Pitted against more than 1,700 entries from around the world, our Vignoles wine stood out among the ubiquitous Rieslings and Chardonnays for its unique flavor and aroma. Pitted against 270 Missouri wines, it also won the 2015 Missouri Governor’s Cup.

By educating consumers about the qualities and distinct flavors of Vignoles, the industry can bring this wine the attention it deserves. Winemakers have the power to influence popular tastes by appealing to the masses — even without the help of Hollywood. If we can make this new variety more accessible and approachable, the flavors, aromas, and quality of the wine will speak for themselves.

Andrew Meggitt is an executive winemaker at St. James Winery in St. James, Mo. A native of New Zealand, he joined St. James Winery in 2002 and has been producing wines for more than 20 years.