Safety first: drink wine

By Alyssa Salcido

HERMANN, Mo.— You don’t typically think about microorganisms when you pop a wine cork at a Missouri winery and in fact, this has been true throughout history: wine was consumed without worry. Water, however, was often contaminated.

“Wine has always been safe to drink, even 1,000 years ago, water could kill, but wine was always safe,” said Dave Johnson, senior winemaker at Stone Hill Winery.

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Dave Johnson, senior winemaker at Stone Hill Winery shares points about the history of wine on a vineyard tour. Photo by Alyssa Salcido

In history, the wine process had antibacterial power. Johnson explained that once the alcohol is present the drink is impervious to microorganisms.

“Water made wine safe, but wine also made water safe,” Tom Standage said in History of the World in Six Glasses. “As well as being free pathogens, wine contains natural antibacterial agents liberated during the fermentation process.”

Today it’s all a careful game of chemistry. Winemakers have perfected a measured exposure to certain elements. But keep in mind once your bottle is opened, it can expire due to exposure to oxygen. Red wine has about two weeks and white wine only has about three days before the wine begins to turn into acetic acid, giving the wine a vinegary taste. Even then, the wine is not unsafe to drink, but your taste buds may not agree.

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Soil and organic matters

By Devon Yarbrough

AUGUSTA, Mo. — It all started 10,000 years ago when the last continental glacier stopped in what is now known as Augusta, Missouri. By bringing fine silt with it, the glacier made the soil in Augusta the perfect place for wine grapes. Augusta Winery Owner, Tony Kooyumjian, is circling back to that beginning by focusing on healthy soil for breeding grapes with as little intervention as possible.

Kooyumjian, drove up a steep hill of endless trellis rows keeping the grape vines orderly, unlike the grasses below them. Kooyumjian explained they planned to let the grass clippings add to the organic matter at the vine roots. Henbit, a purple weed, would also loosen the soil to help the vines get nutrients.

According to Penn State College of Agriculture Sciences, grapevines need several nutrients, which can be derived from the soil or fertilizers. Some of the key nutrients that come from the soil are nitrogen, phosphorous and sulfur.  Soil testing and pre-plant testing is typically done every 3 to 5 years. However, Kooyumjian says they test their grapes before harvest every winter at the University of Missouri enology lab to review the plant components.

The lab tests for macronutrients, micronutrients, pH, organic matter and base saturation. The winery uses these lab results partly to see how much minerals need to be placed back into the soil. Kooyumjian says they tend to replace the sulfur and phosphorous every year and add pomace or winery waste, such as grape skins and seeds, to the soil to improve nitrogen, amino acids and other goodies.

Kooyumjian says that quality is important to the winery and although soil is only a part of the winemaking process, it is crucial to producing the healthy grapes that lead to great wines.

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Healthy grapes start with healthy soil. Photo courtesy of DIY Network

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Barrel building, a.k.a. laying the wine groundwork

By Felesha Lee

HIGBEE, Mo. — Having the perfect barrel is key to having a perfect oaky wine. Check out the journey of a barrel at Oak Cooperage by clicking around the image below:

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Cave Vineyard’s perfect pairing: wine and a furry friend

By Rachel Leigh

STE GENEVIEVE, Mo.– You’ll hear the oohs and awes and see hearts melt as you see her. She’s one of those good-hearted souls, a friend to all and pure in action. Her body is old, she is heavy set and her bones don’t work the way they used to, but that doesn’t stop her from her from her passion for people. Her name is Zoey, a 10-year-old black Labrador. She’s a part-time pup at Cave Vineyard in St. Geneieve.

“People say, oh I love your dog! What’s its name? Can it come in,” said Frankie Mancuso, tasting room associate. “And I tell them, she comes in when she wants, she will tell you what she wants, and she will probably follow you into the cave for food!” Mancuso said and laughed.

Mary and Marty Strussion opened Cave Vineyard 17 years ago. They make and sell their wine locally, and offer a picnic area in an open cave downhill from their shop.

“Zoey follows guests down to the cave without us knowing about it and she gets little treats down there,” Mary Strussion said. “She’s 110 pounds, a little overweight.”

Zoey was trained to be a bird dog, but perhaps because she is afraid of loud noises, she didn’t pass the hunting dog test and her old owners found her a new home. That’s when the Strussion’s gave her a new job as a part-time greeter.

“A lot of wineries have dogs. People are dog lover’s!” Strussion said.

Though Zoey has experienced some health problems, she continues to do what she does best; giving tours of the cave for the price of a few snacks.

Strussion said if winemakers are considering getting a dog for their winery, it must be laid-back and welcoming. If a dog is prone to jump, bark, or be territorial, it may not be the best option to keep it at the winery.

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Marriage between wine and whiskey: it’s all in the barrel

By Rachel Dotson

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Whiskey barrels age 500 gallons of chardonel and norton wine at Crown Valley Winery. Photo by Rachel Dotson

STE GENEVIEVE, Mo — Wine enthusiasts may not agree with Alwyn Dippenaar’s latest project, but that isn’t stopping him from trying his hand at aging wine in whiskey barrels.

Crown Valley Winery is planted among the rolling hills in Ste Genevieve, Missouri, and is known for its winery, brewery and distillery. Six-year winemaker at Crown Valley Winery, Alwyn Dippenaar’s new project is one of only a few that experiments with chardonel and Norton in whiskey barrels.

The concept isn’t very common amongst winemakers. Typically, wine is aged in American or French oak barrels made and toasted specifically for wine. The wine gains different flavors and aromas from the oak, which adds to the tasting quality of the wine.

Not only are whiskey barrels smaller, many winemakers believe that the darker toast of the whiskey barrel can have a major effect on wine flavor, Dippenaar said.

Dippenaar said he is experimenting with the concept as he goes.

“It’s got a charcoal character to it,” Dippenaar said. “That is why I need to keep tasting it and make sure (that flavor) doesn’t get too (strong).”

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Alwyn Dippenaar, winemaker at Crown Valley, describes the fermentation process for white and red grapes. Photo by Rachel Dotson

His experimental batch of 500 gallons has been aging for around six months. The barrels once stored whiskey that was scored at 95 out of a 100-point scale by Wine Spectator, Dippenaar said.

Crown Valley Winery offers 25-minute winery tours at 12 p.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. For information Crown Valley can be reached at 886-207-9463 or visit its website.

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Sorry, magical friends don’t make your wine

By Felesha Lee

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Metal tanks, essential to the winemaking process, at Stone Hill Winery cost about $10,000 each for the 8,000 gallon size. Photo by Felesha Lee

HERMANN, Mo — When you walk down the wine aisle at your favorite grocery store, you see beautifully packaged wine. You might have imagery in mind of grape stomping when you see the elegant bottles, but the wine that got there is no stranger to modern technology. Though you can’t detect any trace of it in the grocery, your wine spent months on a journey through heavy machinery.

At Stone Hill Winery in Hermann, Missouri, tens of thousands of dollars are spent on equipment to make the wine perfect before it splashes in your glass. First, at Stone Hill, grapes are picked by a mechanical grape harvester, eliminating the need for most manual picking in the field. Next the grapes are hauled by truck to a de-stemmer/crusher. Then, before certain wines acquire their toasty oak taste in barrels, it spends time in a giant metal tank for fermentation before bottling. At one point wine is refrigerated to just above its freezing point to help separate the tartaric acid crystals from grape skins from the finished wine. The crystals are harmless (they’re a natural component in grapes), so you can still drink your wine if you find the small white flakes in your glass, but it just won’t look as pretty.

According to Dave Johnson, senior winemaker at Stone Hill Winery, the metal monster tanks cost $10,000 or more, and that’s just for the 8,000-gallon size. Stone Hill also has tanks that will hold five times that.

The tanks, made by the Paul Mueller Company in Springfield, Missouri, are easy to get parts for if something malfunctions, but Johnson said tank breakage is the least of his worries. A more critical issue for Johnson are the pipes since they are built into the cellar structure much like your house plumbing. Johnson said that’s a problem he hopes not to have.

The heavy equipment is essential to Stone Hill’s process. Though it would make for a more interesting conversation, our wine doesn’t come from a place free of modern world mechanics where dainty fairies crush the grapes and carry it straight to your glass. Heavy machinery is used to produce wine quickly, safely and at the volume customers want.

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Beginner’s guide to wine tasting

By Rachel Leigh

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Hank Johnson, owner and founder of Chaumette Vineyards and Winery explains the correct way of wine tasting. For Johnson, small details matter in fine wine. Photo by Rachel Leigh

GENEVIEVE- You can see the passion oozing out of Hank Johnson’s blue eyes as he talks about his wine at Chaumette Vineyards & Winery, located in St. Genevieve, Missouri. Johnson said, “how you grow the grapes determines how good the wine is.”

Johnson is a family man who runs his business with careful precision. When he conducts his wine tastings, it is not just about tasting good wine, but a chance to fall in love with a work of art. Here are three tips gleaned from his tasting session that will take your tasting to the next level.

Rule one: Be adventurous and ask questions.

Take a deep breath and let go of any pressure you feel to be perfect at a tasting. There will be a well-trained employee serving you who can answer all your questions. Remember, no one expects you to be an expert. Try at least one new wine. You may be tempted to taste what you know but you won’t grow your wine palate trying the same old stuff. Take this time to fall in love with a new wine.

Rule two: Know the five S’s

Anyone familiar with wine knows there is a process to it. It is called the five S’s: sight, swirl, smell, sip, and savor.

Sight

Once your glass is poured, pick it up and hold it to the light. Johnson said the wine should look clear and not cloudy and the color should be bright. If you are familiar with the wine variety, ask yourself, “Does the color appear true to the variety?”

Swirl

Set your glass on the bar top and swirl it gently.  After a few seconds hold it up to the light once more. You should see streams of wine of what looks like “tears” streaming down from the glass. Johnson said tears, or what some call legs, are the marker of the alcohol content in the glass. The longer the tear streams, the higher the alcohol content in the glass.

Smell

Next, set your nose deep into the glass and breathe in. The swirling of the wine should release the aromas so you can more easily detect many dimensions of the wine. Depending on the type of wine you are trying you may smell different things. Johnson said with white wine you might smell types of fruit like pear or apple. Red wine may smell like cherry or plum. Ask yourself if you can smell multiple flavors, or only one? Does the aroma hit your nose sharply, or is it a dull, muted smell? A good wine will not have one dominant scent but will be well balanced and multi-dimensional. Johnson said.

Sip

Now you’re ready to try the wine. Take a sip to see if you can taste the same flavors you smelled. To truly experience all the flavors, you can try what Johnson calls “the reverse whistle.” Once you take a sip purse your lips, drop your chin and draw in air. This type of tasting will make the flavors expand in your mouth.

Savor

Close your eyes and let the wine linger on your tongue. How does it feel in your mouth? Is it smooth or does it have a bite? After you swallow the wine, does it leave a lingering taste on your tongue?

Rule three: Go in the right order

When tasting wines you should start with the sweeter wines and then the dry so your tongue palate isn’t overwhelmed with sweetness. If you taste both red and white wines start with the white because they are typically more fruity and sugary.

Follow these three simple rules and you’ll fit right in at your next wine tasting. Typical tastings will allow for five to six wines for less than ten dollars. Be sure to bring a few extra bucks for tips!

Tastings are on offer at Chaumette Vineyards and Winery for $5/six tastes. Visit chaumette.com/wine/ for more information.

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A wine and dine experience with a view

By Lauren Casey

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Outside dining at the Grapevine Grill at Chaumette Winery in Ste Genevieve. In the early 1750s, the area was the home to the first colonial settlement by the French west of the Mississippi River. Photo by Lauren Casey

St. GENEVIEVE, Mo. – Nestled in the middle of St. Genevieve wine country sits the picturesque Chaumette Vineyards and Winery. Established in 1990 by Hank and Jackie Johnson, the winery boasts beautiful villas, the St. Vincent in the Vineyard Chapel, a tasting room and the Grapevine Grill restaurant. If you stop by for a glass or two of wine, it’s worth it to come hungry for Chef Rob Beasley’s new American concoctions, sprinkled with a hint of Cajun flare.

Beasley, who hails from Louisiana, crafts a unique menu for the grill, sourcing responsibly from the local area. Cajun night, offered every Thursday, offers an insight into the Beasley’s southern heritage. Dishes rotate weekly and range from succulent fried oysters to spicy crawfish etouffee – a traditional Cajun dish that uses a cooking technique favored in the south known as “smothering,” which contributes unique richness to the sauce.

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Hank Johnson, owner of Chaumette Vineyards and Winery, explains the story behind the name Chaumette, documented by the winery mural. Photo by Lauren Casey

Described by Johnson as “the best restaurant between St Louis and Memphis,” the Grapevine Grill’s food makes the scenic drive even more worthwhile. The views parallel the food in quality, with perfectly planted rows of vines visible from the patio and a sunset that rivals some of the best. If you’re not feeling Cajun, there is an eclectic offering of tastes on the traditional dinner menu to try. A local resident recommended the BBQ shrimp appetizer, which comes with four gigantic shrimp and homemade bread to sop up all the spicy remnants of sauce left behind.

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Berkshire pork chop served with roasted potatoes, arugula and Port demi-glace. Photo by Lauren Casey

Main courses include steak, chicken, and salmon options, as well as a bone-in Berkshire pork chop. Berkshire pigs are prized for their meat, which is juicy, perfectly marbled, and tender. The heritage breed lends itself well to high temperature cooking. The chop is served with a beautiful char from the grill, doused in a dark, rich port demi-glace, and served with roasted potatoes and sautéed arugula. Try it with Chaumette’s 2015 Chambourcin Reserve; the French-American hybrid’s supple mouth feel, complex smoky aromatics, and balanced fruit flavors make it a great accompaniment to grilled or smoked dishes.

Hours at the grill are seasonal and reservations are highly recommended. If you are interested in a wine tasting, offered 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, the cost is $5 for six tastes. To make reservations call 573-747-1000 or check http://chaumette.com.

 

 

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Cave wine anyone?

 

By Thomas Hellauer

Saltpeter Cave

Saltpeter Cave at Cave Vineyard and Winery was utilized by French explorers in the 1700s for its bat guano, essential in making gunpowder. Photo by Thomas Hellauer

STE GENEVIEVE, Mo. — The first sign is a sharp drop in temperature, cooling the crisp air as it flows through budding trees. Then, following a steep asphalt path, Saltpeter Cave becomes visible, stretching over an impressive cliffside, its mouth agape. It drains light out of the landscape, and simultaneously invites closer inspection, particularly when lawn furniture and a speaker system come into view.

The cave is used to hold gatherings at Cave Vineyard and Winery now, but French explorers experienced the same marvelous plunges of temperature and light in the 18th century.

The longest-running residents of the cave remain: bats. Bat guano, when mixed with sulfur and charcoal, was prized by early explorers in this part of the forested Missouri countryside to make gunpowder, ever important in the New World. A fraction of the bat population in remain in the depths of the natural wonder, sometimes surprising guests.

“The first time we rented the cave out at night, we had a bunch of screamers,” said Marty Strussion, the owner of Cave Vineyard and Winery. Strussion purchased the property in 2000, after 35 years of working in hospital administration. Only after he retired, did he begin his journey into winemaking, which he calls, “a hobby that has gotten out of hand.” The venture has become a family affair.

It was Strussion’s grandfather who first exposed him to wine.

“He had six barrels, it just makes me cringe. He didn’t clean them the way we do now, but those old Italian guys loved it,” Strussion said.

Strussion and his oldest daughter handle the responsibilities of winemaking. His wife bakes fresh biscotti to pair with his various wines. His son-in-laws brew three types of beer.

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Marty Stussion pours one of his wines during a tasting at Cave Vineyard and Winery. Stussion purchased the property in 2000, producing his first wine in 2004. Photo by Thomas Hellauer

Like Strussion’s long circle back to winemaking, he believes another return is coming.

During Prohibition, many of the immigrants who had settled in Missouri to make wine simply gave it up, Strussion said. They turned to row crops, while producers in other states survived on growing table grapes or communion wines, allowing for easier resumption of winemaking for general sale after Prohibition. The industry in Missouri, however, was gone and with it, recognition.

Yet, things are changing. While Missouri wines rarely receive a rating in popular wine magazines, since the grape varieties grown in the state are not vitis vinifera, but French American hybrids, the number of wineries has more than tripled in the last 15 years.

“I think [Missouri] Norton will be competing in 50 years. The snobs are all fixed on California, but it will happen,” Strussion said.

The winery is open at Cave Vineyard from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and features 13 wines.

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Clotheslines for grapes: trellises

By Rachel Dotson

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Grape vines hang off wire trellises like clothing on a clothesline at one of Augusta Winery’s seval blanc grape fields in Augusta, Missouri. Augusta Winery, established in 1988, produces about 42,000 cases of wine per year.   Photo by Rachel Dotson

AUGUSTA, Mo.–Trellis systems are a significant to winemakers, something wine trail enthusiasts may not think of as they sip on the terrace. Trellis placement helps the fruit absorb sunlight, protects against disease and allows mechanical picking during harvest. This translates to better wine in the glass. For Tony Kooyumjian, owner of Augusta and Montelle Wineries in Augusta, Missouri, high trellises are best for two reasons–one is to prevent frost damage.

“The higher up the vines are, the warmer (they are) going to be,” Kooyumjian said. “Sometimes when I come back out to the vineyard after we have had a cold episode in the spring, the grass will be frost bitten, but the grape vines are untouched.”

Kooyumjian, whose roots run deep in the winery business, starting from his grandmother who grew grapes in Armenia and later in California, says the second reason is to accommodate the French American grape varietal’s downward growth pattern. Kooyumjian said these vines grow in an opposite pattern to vinifera grape vines, which grow up.

“This way they umbrella out and down and form a nice canopy,” Kooyumjian said. “If we have done everything right, the canes will stop growing about a foot off the ground.”

Also running along Augusta Winery trellises are black tubes for irrigation, which Kooyumjian counts as an insurance policy.

“Which we don’t use very often,” Kooyumjian said. “But when we need it, we need it.”

If the trellis system has done its job in helping the grapes become large, firm and sweet, sometime around August 20, for his white seyval blanc grapes, Kooyumjian’s team will be in his fields harvesting.

To visit Augusta Winery’s tasting room at 636-228-4301.

 

 

 

 

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