Monday, April 27, 2015


When someone mentions American wine country where do you picture the wine country?   

Many would say Sonoma or Napa Valleys and it is true northern California is world renown as wine country. They produce premier wines well able to compete with their European counterparts and many times surpassing them. California accounts for 90% of American wine production.

What many don’t realize is that there are vineyards in just about every state in the United States. Granted, not all are well known, not all vineyards produce wine grapes, and certainly not all are designated federally approved as an American Viticultural Area (AVA). American Viticultural Area is a designated wine grape-growing region in the United States distinguishable by geographic features such as mountains and lakes as well as climate and vineyard soil.

Nine Winery trails near the wineries in Missouri
Another interesting fact is that Ozark Mountain area, in particular, The Augusta AVA, was the first federally approved American Viticultural Area gaining the status on June 20, 1980, eight months before the Napa Valley AVA in northern California. 

Ozark Mountain AVA is located in northwest Arkansas, southern Missouri, and northeast Oklahoma. 

The sixth largest American Viticultural Area in total size, Ozark Mountain AVA covers 3,520,000 acres.
Five smaller AVAs have been established within its boundaries, to recognize those distinct regions whose climate, vineyard soil, or other growing conditions create unique areas for viticulture.  There are now five AVAs within the Ozark AVA in Missouri. In 2009, there were 92,000 wineries. The latest figures I can find (2012) show there are over 100,000 wineries operating in the state of Missouri.
In 1855, Frederick Law Olmsted, an American landscape architect and well known travel journalist, said Missouri and Illinois each had 1100 acres in wine. One of the first commercial wineries established in Missouri was Mount Pleasant Winery, founded in 1859 by Georg and Friedrich Muench. They chose the town area of Mount Pleasant (later renamed Augusta) because it reminded them of their home in Germany.

Missouri was instrumental in saving the French wine industry. 

In the 1860’s between two-thirds and nine-tenths of all European vineyards were destroyed by the phylloxera (little aphid like of pests) epidemic. The rootstock of American native species of grapes was immune to the aphids. It was because of Missouri’s state entomologist, Charles Riley, that France’s wine industry was saved. Riley sent millions of rootstocks to France because it was found the french varieties of grapes could be grafted to these rootstocks. There are monuments and statutes honoring Riley and his scientific colleague, J.É. Planchon, in Montpellier, France.

Augusta AVA Wine Area

Meanwhile, back in Missouri, the 1860’s the wine industry centered in the German colony of Hermann, west of St. Louis, and was also known as Missouri Rhineland. Later Italian immigrants also entered wine production. In the mid-1880s, more wine was produced by volume in Missouri than in any other state. Before Prohibition, Missouri was the second-largest wine-producing state in the nation.  Prohibition just about destroyed the United States wineries. It took decades to reestablish wine vineyards and wineries and it wasn’t until the 1960’s that the vineyards recovered sufficiently to consistently produce quality wines. In Missouri, Stone Hill Winery opened in 1965 and Mount Pleasant Winery opened shortly thereafter.

Native Norton wine grapes
Missouri's climate, with its long, hot summers, good sun exposure, and thin rocky Ozarks soil, is excellent for growing grapes. The moderate average temperature allows natural cellaring of wine and many of Missouri’s caves have been used both in storing wine and beer. The most prominent Missouri-grown variety is Cynthiana/Norton, believed to be a variety of Vitis aestivalis. Other varieties grown include native American grapes, Concord and Catawba, as well as French-American hybrids such as Vignoles, Seyval, and Chambourcin. Recently, there has been more interest in planting Vitis vinifera grapes varieties, especially the fine European grapes: Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Petit Verdot and Mourvedre.

Some of  Les Bourgeois Vineyards

The three largest wineries in Missouri are (in order):


Missouri is home to nine wine trails which host wine events and festivals year round and encourage weekend getaways to some of the established wine regions in the state.

Photos: wiki commons, Dept of Conservation, Historical Missouri Archives, personal