The third annual DrinkLocalWine conference was held in St. Louis at the beginning of April. It was founded several years ago by Dave McIntyre and Jeff Siegel, two national wine columnists who have a passion for spotlighting the countless local wines that are produced around the country. The first conference was held in Texas, the second in Virginia. This year’s meeting brought together wine aficionados from coast to coast to celebrate the wines of Missouri.
I went to the conference as a food junkie who loves a good glass of wine, but in no way do I profess to know wine the way I fancy that I know food. Though I still can’t distinguish the aromas or tastes that wine “experts” discover in each sip, I did learn three valuable lessons over the weekend.
1. Norton needs time to breathe. It tastes much better an hour or even a day after opening.
2. Norton is not a good cocktail wine. It order to appreciate the depth of the wine, it is best enjoyed with food. It pairs well with foods that are a bit fatty, so it was perfectly suited to the lamb chop and sausage we were served at Annie Gunn’s restaurant during the Winemaker’s dinner.
3. At the risk of my husband and others declaring that I’m full of you know what, the shape of the glass does matter. No, I didn’t drink the Kool-Aid. But I did experience the same wine in different glasses. That experiment resulted in my conviction that the proper glass truly does allow a wine’s bouquet to be properly released, just as experts have always said it does.
The conference yielded some interesting discussions about marketing local wines and promoting Missouri. It was noted that many restaurants these days spend so much time touting the local sources of their ingredients, yet don’t give a second thought to the locality of the wines on their wine lists. Missouri wines don’t enjoy a stellar reputation; most consumers think they prefer wines from the West coast, France, Italy, Spain…. anywhere but within the state of Missouri. If Missouri winemakers, who are predominately on the eastern half of the state, would spend time traveling to the west side of the state and host some wine tastings, I can’t imagine that Kansas City restaurateurs would not be receptive. And after sampling some of the wines that I did over the weekend, perhaps those same restaurateurs would change their tune and spotlight some of them.
Were all of the wines worth drinking? No. Some reinforced my previously held view that many Missouri wines can’t hold a candle to my favorite California, Oregon or Washington state wines, but others definitely surprised me.
As with any local product, it would be smart to promote a state- produced product. While restaurants and consumers may be reluctant to purchase an entire bottle of a wine of a varietal they have never experienced, baby steps may be the way to go. What about offering these wines by the glass? Exposing diners to these wines may entice them to buy a full bottle or consider other state grapes. On the flip side, it’s time for diners to request these wines to get a sense of what our state has to offer.
Going on a wine tour is another way to explore. Visiting three wineries in the Augusta/Hermann area, I was struck by how pretty their settings were, and how far the wine industry has come in Missouri in the last 3-5 years. Who knew that Mt. Pleasant Winery in Augusta, MO makes a tawny port that sells for $122 a bottle in China?
Wine tastings are available at each winery, and entertainment is often offered as well. On the Sunday we toured the area, people were sitting on outdoor terraces overlooking the Missouri River and Katy Trail, listening to live music while sipping wine and eating lunch. The entire day was a revelatory experience, and one I hope to repeat sooner rather than later.
In Kansas City, we are fortunate to have an urban winery right in the Stockyards District. Amigoni Vineyards doesn’t grow Norton grapes, but it has found a way to grow vitis vinifera, a European style of grape not commonly grown in Missouri because it’s not considered as hearty or disease resistant. Time will tell whether his vines can survive the state’s harsh and extreme conditions, but for now the proof is in the bottle, and winemaker Michael Amigoni is making some very fine wines.
The conference was a real eye-opener. I can now promote my state’s wines with genuine enthusiasm and a new appreciation. Next year Coloradoans will be in for a treat as the DrinkLocalWines.com conference invades their state.