An Unlikely Grape
When we talk about Missouri wines, we’re usually speaking of wines fashioned from Chambourcin, Vidal Blanc, Vignoles, Chardonel, or Seyval Blanc grapes. Some of the state’s best-known wines are crafted from heavy-handed Norton, the state’s official grape. All of those are hybrid grapes, genetic crossings between vines that are native to the Americas and Eurasia’s own grapevine, Vitis vinifera.
Most think hybrid grapevines are the answer to Missouri’s challenging weather—hot and humid summers and ice-laden winters with the yo-yoing temperatures that play hell with so many plants, vines included.
Michael Amigoni of Amigoni Urban Winery disagrees. He has been tending his Vitis vinifera for 15 years and now grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, and even a bit of Viognier in his vineyard at Centerview. Michael hasn’t had a lot of support from the industry. It’s strange, since the Missouri winegrowers have a wealth of advice available to them, but that information is confined to the techniques and tools needed by a hybrid-grape grower. Perhaps some feel that vinifera growing is a dead end, and it’s almost as if people feel threatened by Michael’s successes with vinifera.
Vinifera growing is a challenge in Missouri, but so is hybrid grapevine viticulture. The 2008 vintage had its own set of problems, but Michael says he “learned a lot from this vintage. We completely fended off the birds with the use of propane cannons and netting. Also, we know we can still have a wonderful vintage in a cooler year with longer hang times.
“The spring was cool, resulting in a bloom that was two weeks late. Normally we have bud break around April fifteenth, and a month later we have bloom. This year the bloom wasn’t until the end of May. This cool weather continued through the summer, and July and August were not as hot as usual. Then September came, and so did [Hurricane] Gustav. In the middle of September, Gustav dumped five inches of rain on the Amigoni Vineyards in Centerview. Just before the rage of Gustav, we picked the Chardonnay in the rain. In a normal year, we would begin picking the reds the third week in September.”
The wines are solid, but they seem to me both rough and fragile. I’m eager to see how they will grow and hopefully improve in the coming months. But the Petit Verdot is something else: It’s a grape that is usually bitter and dusty. The Bordelais use it for color and structure but rarely use more than 1-2 percent in their Bordeaux blends. There’s a fullness to Amigoni’s Petit Verdot, and the wine is already showing signs that it will be a complete wine, especially with a little Cabernet blended in, as is planned.
It’s only one barrel, but it’s significant to me because it offers proof that vinifera isn’t a foolhardy exercise in these climes. Vinifera growing is still very much a work in progress, like all these wines. Michael has no problem admitting that. Indeed, the same could be said of wine throughout Missouri and virtually everywhere else in the world.
Visit winery.amigoni.com for more.