Most people don’t realize the Missouri wine industry pre-dates California and most other states. French settlers in the St. Louis and Ste. Genevieve regions began growing grapes in the late 18th and early 19th century. Grape growing accelerated in the 19th century with the arrival of German settlers in central Missouri, near Hermann. In the 1860s Missouri’s Phylloxera resistant rootstock enabled the recovery of southern France’s wine industry. By the 1880s, Missouri was a leading producer of grapes. Except for small‐scale cultivation of Concord grapes for unfermented grape juice, grape production ceased with Prohibition but was revived with the re‐opening of Missouri wineries in the 1960s.
Missouri can also lay claim to the first AVA in the United States, the Augusta AVA, accorded on June 20, 1980. Seven California districts and one in Oregon had filed applications with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; however, the honor went to the 15 square mile area surrounding Augusta. The bureau cited the unique soil, climate and wines, as well as Augusta’s long history as one of America’s oldest and foremost grape and wine districts. In the mid‐1800’s German immigrants found the Missouri River area just west of St. Louis to be well suited for growing grapes. Napa Valley was the second AVA named after Augusta on February 27, 1981.
The Missouri wine industry now boasts more than 100 wineries, 4 AVAs and 1,600 acres planted in grapes. The state’s signature variety, Norton/Cynthiana, was announced as the state’s official grape in 2003. Other varieties grown include native American grapes, Concord and Catawba, as well as French-American hybrids such as Vignoles, Seyval, and Chambourcin.
Stay tuned as I feature one of the premier wineries in the state, Les Bourgeois Vineyards and Winery. And next time you’re in the area, be sure to enjoy a glass of Norton and toast the state that helped put the American wine industry on the map.
“Missouri Wine History.” Missouri Wines. Missouri Wine and Grape Board. Retrieved August 10 2013, from http://www.missouriwine.org.