The audio on this video for Jowler Creek Winery in Platte City, MO is a little wobbly, but you can hear the Colleen Gerkes, owner and winemaker clearly telling the story of how her little winery is practicing sustainable farming practices using babydoll sheep as lawn mowers. Oh, come on, say it with me folks: "Awwwwwww, they are so cute." Adorable, in fact.
I am currently on the hunt this summer, for some really great and unusual local wines to get behind. As a Foodie, I love local food . . .I want to love local wine as well. The vineyards I am enjoying learning more about right now are Jowler Creek, Inland Seas and Stone Pillar.
Jason and Colleen Gerkes, of Jowler Creek Winery & Vineyard are beginners compared to some in Missouri in the wine production business. They've been growing the grapes, but in 2005 began bottling their first wines. She is from wine country in California and he is from a farm family in Missouri, and together they have entered the brave new world of wine-making sustainably. I have to stand-up an applaud this young couple for looking into, getting funding for and testing sustainable growing practices. This is on the cutting edge of what Napa and Sonoma, CA are just now really starting to get into . . .it's about making your business green, saving the environment and as Colleen mentions in the video above . . .their house sits in the vineyard. They don't want to raise their family around all the chemicals that have traditionally been used to treat the pests that come with having a vineyard.
I have not made it to the tasting room at Jowler Creek, which is open on Saturday & Sundays from 11:00am - 5:00 pm to see the babydoll sheep in action, but I was lucky enough to locate most of their wines at GreenAcres Market located in the Shops at Briarcliff. This is the only place in town I was able to find them. In fact, I found a wonderful selection of many different local wines at GreenAcres, one-stop shopping.
The tops of the Jowler Creek wine bottles are dipped in wax that is heated up in a deep fat fryer. They look very pretty. I will be honest, anyone following my little Jowler Creek kitchen tasting on Twitter last week, knows I had a devil of a time getting the wax off to get to the cork . . .it chipped all over my kitchen and I managed to take a nice bloody hunk out of my thumb in the process.
That night, in preparation for my interview with Colleen on LIVE from Jasper's Kitchen radio show, I tasted their Critter Curvee, Vignoles, Butterfly Blush & Norton Red. I did not find, or sadly, get a chance to taste their Traminette, Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin or small batch dessert wines.
Critter Cuvee, Vignoles & Butterfly Blush are all considered semi-sweet. I thought the sweet, silky mouth-feel of the Critter Cuvee was like drinking honey. Rich and sweet. The Butterfly Blush with it's lovely pink hue was like liquid strawberries in a glass. The traditional red grape of Missouri, the Norton, is still not a favorite of mine. It smells promising, but perhaps because I have trained my palate for big, bold California reds . . .it's hard to get excited by Norton which is watery and bland to my tastebuds.
But, my favorite by far was their Vignoles (pronounced vee-knoll). This is a grape traditionally grown here in Missouri and on the east coast because it can stand up to our cold winters. It tasted complex had a distinctive golden color, and the taste . . .it reminded me of a Sauternes, a classic French dessert wine. Very unusual, perfect local wine to surprise your friends with as an after-dinner drink, or perhaps with a cheese and fruit try to start your meal.
Colleen of Jowler Creek followed my tastings of her wines on Twitter, noting my difficulty with the wax and was nice enough to email me and let me know they will soon be moving to capsules, or regular foil/plastic covers instead of the wax. Now that's being immediate and receptive to your customers needs! She also sent me this video of her hubby showing all of us how to properly open on their bottles with the wax. (Needless to say, I did not do it this way. I can't pare an apple much less a wine bottle using his simple technique. Hopefully, you are more skilled than I am, in that regard.)
To understand why most people think there are no local wines of any value to drink in Kansas or Missouri you have to understand one thing . . .based on where we live in the country, our weather, our soil etc. there are only certain kinds of grapes that will actually grow successfully in this part of the country. At least this has been the traditional thinking . . .
Doug Frost, our local and much respected national wine expert, wrote an informative article about the local wines of the Midwest. It sheds much light on common attitudes and the situations that have created them around our local Kansas & Missouri wines. Read this before you dismiss our local wines, it will change your opinion or a least educate you on why things are they way they are for our local wines.
Missouri and Kansas has not traditionally grown grapes that you have ever heard of before. They are not the grapes that are usually grown in California or France. To illustrate the difference . . .they grow Chadonnay, we grow Chardonel. Kinda, but not really the same. By the way, a great site that tells you about traditional Missouri grapes and the winemakers that produce wines from them is Missouri Wine Country. Check it out.
Missouri has a long wine-making tradition. According to Wiki, before Prohibition, Missouri was the second-largest wine-producing state. Germans settled along the river in Hermann, MO because it was the perfect area for growing grapes. Italians grew vines in Rolla, MO and closer to the Ozarks. Missouri in the 1800's was rich, fertile farm land that many used to make a living making wine.
The new Prohibition amendment forced the shutdown or abandonment of all wineries in Missouri except that at St. Stanislaus Seminary, in Florissant, who were still permitted to make sacramental wines for religious reasons.
The revival of Missouri's wine industry started back up again in 1965 with the reopening of Stone Hill Winery in Hermann, followed soon by the opening of Mount Pleasant Winery in Augusta. Soon winemakers began to reestablish Missouri vineyards and wineries throughout the state.
(Curious. Check out the quote on the home page of Mount Pleasant Winery website. It mentions Tipper Gore likes their Chardonnay and says she is the wife of the inventor of the internet? Former Vice President, Al Gore, invented the internet? Hmm, I am not sure if they are joking or serious, but if serious, I would think being the Former Vice President of the United States might be a bigger title to claim. Besides, I would credit Tipper for her own merits . . .the woman that invented profanity stickers that went on all heavy metal and rap music CD's ensuring they would sell 1 million copies even faster than projected. Rock on, Tipper.)
Another local winery that I was interested in learning more about bills itself as: Inland Sea: Kansas City's only urban winery. Owner and winemakers, Michael and Kerry Amigoni purchased their vineyard in Centerview, MO in 2000 and they had the first planting 2001. But, this video of Michael Amigoni shows him explaining that they actually started by growing grapes in their backyard in Leawood.
Michael is considered part dreamer, part rebel but all passionate about the types of grapes that can be grown and wine that can be made in Missouri. He wants to grow the famously traditional grapes of the vinifera. He doesn't want to grow the traditional Missouri state grape, Norton, to make his red wine.
Michael believes that to be taken seriously in the wine-making world that we should be attempting to grow the more readily recognizable grapes of Europe. He started by planting Cabernet Franc, which is the hardiest red wine grape that can withstand the colder temps. He was successful. From that experiment, Inland Sea has planted more grapes and is now producing Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvedre, Petit Verdot, Chardonnay and Viognier. A rebel with a wine-making cause . . .Oooo, I can certainly get all about that and you will too once you taste his delicious results.
When I first heard about Inland Sea: Kansas City's first urban winery, I wasn't sure what to make of it. Does that mean they grow the grapes in the city they use to make the wines with? Do they buy grapes from somewhere else and just make the wine downtown? What it actually means is they grow their grapes out in the country in Missouri, but instead making you come out to the country to their tasting room to sample and buy their wines, they want to bring the tasting room to you. They want to provide you with a convenient place for you to take your friends for a tasting and still be able to catch dinner or a show.
It is one of the hottest trends in boutique and start-up wineries to have this approach of having a cool downtown location that you can come and sample to wine, hopefully buy some and not have to make it a day trip. The New York Times wrote a great article that mentions Michael Amigoni's approach about this emerging trend.
Inland Sea has a lovely urban tasting room down in the West Bottoms. In fact, that was where I met Michael and Kerry Amigoni for the first time. It was a tasting event hosted by AIWF in Kansas City. I had come late to the tasting and they were beginning to wrap things up, but I remember vividly Michael's passion as he spoke about his wine and reached into one of the barrels in his tasting room with a wine thief and poured me a quick sample of his Mourvedre, I believe. I remember thinking, this guy is serious, he wants to make the best wine in the Midwest.
Recently, Michael and I have been chatting over Facebook and I told him that when I started my research on local wines back in the Spring, that I had discovered that JP Wine Bar downtown was featuring their first full flight of local wines and they were all of Michael's Inland Sea wines. I happily ordered it, excited to be tasting his Chardonnay and Viognier for the first time. The waiter came over and asked me how I liked the local flight . . .I really, enjoyed it. Certainly on par with many of the other more traditional wine flights I had at JP's in the past. My favorites were the Viognier and his Cabernet Franc. The point was . . .Inland Sea wines do measure up. The manager came over later and told me I was the first person to order the local Inland Sea wine flight at JP's. What??!!! People please, get thee to JP's and order this local Inland Sea wine flight. Or better yet, go down to the Inland Sea urban tasting room, meet Michael and Kerry and sample some for yourself. Their tasting room is open on Fridays from 4:00 pm-7:00 pm.
Finally, the Stone Pillar Vineyard is a curiosity of mine at the moment because it is just down the street from me in Lenexa at the corner of Woodland Road and College Blvd. It is only considered a vineyard and not a winery at the moment because they are in the process of growing the grapes to make the wine.
It takes a long time to grow enough grapes successfully to make wine. You have to have a long-term plan and a vision for where you are going to go from being a grape farmer to a winemaker. Patience is more than key. It takes years of commitment and trial and error to get it right.
I don't know much about these brothers (I assume?) that own Stone Pillar, other than what is on their MySpace page, and the fact that they seem to be a very focused group of late twenty-early thirty somethings set on making a go of wine-making with land that has been in their family for years.
From their My Space page: "Stone Pillar Vineyard was started in 2007 by George, Frank & Tommy Hoff. It sits atop property that has been in our family for five generations predating the civil war. On a vacation to Niagra Falls, George was awestruck by the beauty of the vines and fell in love with the idea of a vineyard after tasting the delectible wines of Niagra On the lake. (Sorry, I must point out here that Niagra would have similar climates to ours, and therefore would be great wine-making inspiration for our young bucks.) After lots of research and planning we started our first planting in 2007 and are continuing the development of our operation. We hope to open our doors to the public by 2011. Recently George has been putting his winemaking skills to the test. At the KGGWA 22nd wine judging he won 1 gold medal for dry red (Cynthiana/Norton). 5 silver medals for Cabernet Sauvignon(dry red), Niagra (dry & sweet white), LaCrosse(dry white), and blackberry. Bronze for Vignoles (dry white), as well as 5 Silver medals at the 10th annual KC Cellarmasters Classic."
So, it looks like we have another one to watch. I love a good mystery . . .and you can bet that I will be standing in line in 2011 when my neighbors at Stone Pillar open the doors to their tasting room.
Finally, if traditional Missouri wines are, at the end of the day, still too sweet for your personal tastes. I say, don't fight it. Embrace it and use our sweet wines of Missouri to make delicious and refreshing sangria to enjoy by the pool or in your backyard. Everyone loves sangria and most of our local wines are surprisingly inexpensive as well. Another local winery Holy-field Vineyard & Winery in Basehor, KS posted this recipe for their version of sangria on their Facebook fan page. I think it sounds good to me, see what you think.
Holy-Field's Sangria Recipe
1 Bottle Tailgate Red
1 liter Club Soda or Sprite
2 Limes squeezed and sliced
2 Lemons squeezed and sliced
2 Oranges squeezed and sliced
(I am adding 2 green apples, diced, for crunch!)
4oz Triple Sec
Mix, stir and enjoy!
Hint: Sangria can be made ahead; omit soda until ready to serve.
Now, if you will excuse me, it's time for a drink. Enjoy!