Missouri Wine Basics: A Guide to Missouri Wine Varieties



Are you new to wine, or perhaps new just to Missouri wine?  I’ll be posting a Missouri Wine Basics series so that you can get to know the varieties of grapes  & wines that we produce here in this state. If you are a long-time fan of MO wine, hopefully this series will still be interesting for you too as a refresher (or inspiration to enjoy a glass soon)!
Cave (30)

Wine Grape Basics

So first of all I wanted to define what we mean by the term ‘wine grapes’.  Quite often, grapes that are intended for wine production are more difficult to grow and they are much more carefully tended than the grapes that are destined for juice or jelly production.

Juice and jelly grapes can be harvested at lower sugar levels than wine grapes.  So wine grapes will be left out in the vineyard to ripen for a longer period of time, increasing the risk of disease or pest damage.

In addition, a great deal of attention is made to maximize sunlight exposure to the berries and the leaves. All the sunlight exposure and extra ripening time gives wine grapes their rich color, flavor, and aroma profiles.

It also lowers some of the natural acidity in the berries, so that the final wines will be balanced and not too tart.

Wine Grape Categories

Three broad categories for wine grapes are native, European, and hybrid varieties.

Native grapes are varieties which are indigenous to our continent – popular examples include Concord, Catawba, and Niagra grapes.  European grapes came from ‘across the pond.’ Popular varieties include Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Merlot.  Hybrids are a cross of a Native and a European grape.  The hybrids include varieties such as Chambourcin, Seyval, and Vignoles.

All three are important in wine making, but the hybrids rule here in Missouri.  This is due to our fluctuating springtime temperatures (hello warm winter and cold spring!) here in Missouri – as well as many other regions in the mid-west.

European varieties tend to break out of dormancy far too early – in many years they end up with major damage and crop loss due to spring freezes.  Native grapes, while very hardy, are often one-dimensional in flavor.

The hybrids offer more flavor but still retain the strong growing characteristics of their native parents, making them ideal for our climate.
hand harvest

Important Native Grape Varieties

I came, I saw, I Concord!  This is a familiar sentiment across Missouri as we have a rich history of growing grapes for Welch’s throughout the state.  By the late 1970’s, Welch’s had moved to southern continents leaving grape growers here in the state to either diversify, or go out of business.

This is when the first big surge in post-prohibition wine making occured in Missouri.  Most growers had Concord, and thus many of the early wineries made Concord grapes into several styles of wine.

Catawba, a close relative to Concord, is also a popular variety here in Missouri.  Typically, this grape is made into a blush style wine and is sweetened.

These days, a native variety called Norton (also called Cynthiana) is garnering a great deal of fame.  It is a red variety, very hardy, and unlike other natives, creates a richer flavor profile.
night harvest

Important Hybrid Grape Varieties

Due to many years of hybridization research, there are many hybrid grape varieties to choose from here in Missouri.  The top varieties right now seem to be Chambourcin, Chardonel, and Vignoles.  But other important varieties include Vidal, Seyval, Cayuga White, and Noiret.  Many of these varieties were actually developed back in the 1870’s by nurseries right here in Missouri.  The University of Missouri and Missouri State University both have research plots with newly-developed varieties that are in testing phases.  So who knows what might be coming out of your bottle in the future!

Thanks for reading all this.  I hope you found this first post useful as you explore Missouri Wine.  If you’d like to learn more, stay tuned to future blog posts.  Or come for a visit – that’s even more fun!  Cheers!