The SOMM Journal

August/September 2014

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Page 9 of 119

Missouri has 128 bonded wineries, double from 2004, all supplied by 393 vineyards totaling 1,700 acres. Every winery brings in grapes from other states to satisfy customer demand, though its four AVAs of Ozark Moutain, Ozark Highlands, Hermann and (the one every pro - spective MS candidate learns early on was first in the U.S.) Augusta, struggle to keep up with demand. Vinifera is a dicey proposition here, hence Vitis aestivalis variety Norton is the signature variety. Its reputation for sweet wines has been chipped away by a campaign promoting this low-yielding grape, with high acidity and relatively low tannins. "Chemically Norton doesn't make any sense and really needs to be drunk with food," said Hermannhof Winery's veteran winemaker Paul Leroy. "The grape is so dense that adding press juice into a fermenter to stimulate fermentation is com - monplace," said winemaker Cory Bomgaars of Les Bourgeois Winery. Its flagship white, Vignoles, is high both in sugars and total acidity with an unusually high level of tartaric acid. Missouri's modern era began in the mid-'60s with Augusta's Stone Hill and Mount Pleasant wineries, with the picturesque Hermann AVA nestled upon rolling hills and family farms along the Missouri River. The town of Hermann was founded in the mid-19th century by German immigrants from Philadelphia seek - ing respite from the big city, helping make the state the largest wine producer in the U.S. after Ohio in the late 19th century. The state's oldest, dating to 1847, Stone Hill Winery was purchased by "Big Jim" Held in 1965 and now run by his son Jon. His house vineyard is Norton. He holds that the ten - dency towards high pH levels "separates the men from the boys" in growing the tightly-packed Vignoles and Norton. His dry Vignoles impressed me with its earthy nose and hint of sweetness, restrained by enough acidity and mineral grip. St. Louis native Jim Dierberg, a banker and proprietor of three Santa Barbara County labels, got a taste for wine as a soldier in Germany, eventually purchasing the circa 1852 Hermannhof Winery in 1976. Echoing his winemaker's senti - ments in not manipulating Norton, Dierberg thinks opening the canopy and timely leaf removal important to reducing malic acid's dominance. His Vignoles sported pear and apple aromas, was sweet with corresponding acidity; clean and fresh, it was good with Massaman curry. At lunch with owner/winemaker Tony Kooyumjian of Montelle and Augusta Wineries, his wife Cindy and their son Tom at their Klondike Café, I first encountered Riedel's dedicated Norton glass. "Norton's a strange duck with a tremendous amount of anthocyanins and limited tannins, so it's important for us to get them fixed quick by fermenting with oak staves. Before we figured that out we had some vintages that weren't color-stable five years later," said the elder Kooyumjian. Their 2002 Augusta Norton caught my pal - ate, three years of outside aging in fine-grain MO oak barrels giving it an expected toasty aroma but also a rounded and supple palate filled with sweet spice notes, sour berries and a medium length finish. Established in 1859, Mount Pleasant Winery is on a hilltop in the center of historic Augusta. Second-generation owner of Chuck Dressel commented about his burgeoning exports to China. Why China? "Because the name means something serene for that culture . . . Our Augusta Red sells at a higher price than Beringer red," he claimed. His portfolio includes a credible Norton aged two years in oak and a simple but balanced white blend, Villagio, made with Vidal, Vignoles and a 19th-century hybrid with links to the Loire Valley called Rayon d'Or. Les Bourgeois Winery is co-owned by winemaker Cory Bomgaars, with 30 acres of on-site grapes; another 30 is man - aged within five miles, and others sourced from throughout the state. It has its hands full since, as the state's largest custom-crushing and -bottling facility, it also makes wines for many other wineries. The highlight of my visit was its Late Harvest Vidal possessing a complex, alluring nose of orchard fruits and earth. St. James is the state's largest winery. Accompanied by winemaker Andrew Mellett, owner Peter Hoeffer, whose parents founded St. James in 1970, showed me a range of Nortons, many which hadn't received yeast or enzyme addi - tions. Three- and five-year-old Norton here showed good concentration, with plenty of spice and berry character, bal- ance and well-integrated tannins. A tireless experimenter, the Kiwi Mellett prefers to add stems to Norton over powdered tannin or wood chip amelioration, adding white wine lees to kick up the nitrogen, sometimes employing electrocution and metals to augment phenolics. "There's no rules here and we can do whatever we want"—to which Hoeffer replied rhetori - cally, "Why have a winery if you can't have fun?" Cheers! David Furer { postcard } With the Kooyumjian family of Montelle and Augusta Wineries (left to right): Tom Kooyumjian, Tony Kooyumjian, David Furer and Cindy Kooyumjian. 10 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2014

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