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Verdict still out on quality of 2009 Missouri wines

Sunday, January 24, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST

ST. LOUIS — Wet and cool weather that delayed last year's grape harvest has left winemakers wondering longer than usual about the quality of the vintage.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that some wineries are weeks behind in the blending and fermentation processes, while others are working with fewer grapes because the weather hurt yields.

And it could still be Groundhog Day or Valentine's Day before winemakers know if they've had a good year, said Chuck Dressel, owner of Mount Pleasant Winery in the eastern Missouri town of Augusta.

"We're waiting with bated breath," he said.

Winemakers said 2009 separated the inexperienced growers from newcomers who don't understand the technology.

"It was cool and wet, and they had to monitor the vineyards very carefully. They had to spray a lot," said Jim Anderson, executive director of the Missouri Wine and Grape Board. "The better growers did a really great job. You had to be a good farmer to keep an eye on everything."

Disease was a major concern this year without heat to dry up moisture.

Mark Baehmann, winemaker at Chaumette Vineyards and Winery in Ste. Genevieve, said vineyard workers did a lot of thinning, deliberately keeping yields low, but allowing more light and heat to reach the fruit.

"We had low tonnage this year," he said. "I needed every grape I could get."

But with the region's variable climate, some vineyards actually experienced some of their best years ever. "It was a great year for us all around," said Peter Hofherr of St. James Winery near Rolla, the state's largest winery. "We had more heat than everybody else; we're in a small band. Our reds ripened earlier than everybody else by a couple of weeks."

Although final numbers aren't yet available, Anderson expects Missouri's grape growers harvested what has been a typical yield in recent years — about 4,200 tons of fruit.

He credits the apparently solid yield to more acreage being put in production than in previous years.

In the past decade, the amount of Missouri land devoted to wine-producing grapes has doubled to about 1,500 acres. The increase coincides with the number of Missouri wineries increasing from just over 30 to more than 90 over that same period.

 


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