ROCHEPORT — Thirty acres of snow-covered grape vines grow three miles south of Rocheport. Although they bear no fruit in February, a team of three walks the rows of grape vines, trimming and pruning the Les Bourgeois vineyard. Despite the harsh winters of Missouri, the preparation for this year's harvest begins in the 30-degree weather of February.
“What we’re doing right now in the vineyard is ultimately determining the flavor of the grapes,” said Cory Bomgaars, the winery's head winemaker. “We’re pruning for crop level, sun exposure to the fruit. We are right actually at the start of the vintage in the middle of the winter.”
Bomgaars watches over wine production from grape to bottle. He's been head winemaker since 1995 and has helped Les Bourgeois grow from a small winery into an award-winning producer of Missouri wines. Les Bourgeois Winery now produces more than 100,000 gallons of wine each year.
The pruning is done based on the previous years harvest, Bomgaars said. Grape growth is measured and the vines are trimmed to ensure grape yield and protect the grapes from disease.
The next day, Bomgaars sits with a few members of his staff in the empty banquet room of Les Bourgeois Winery’s Blufftop Bistro overlooking the Missouri River.
After months of fermenting, the grapes from last years harvest are now ready to become the final product. Seven numbered test tubes of Les Bourgeois’s signature Norton wine are distributed among the four men during a taste finding trial.
“We taste everything blind, which is really important so you never have an idea what was done to the wine,” Les Bourgeois winemaker Jakob Holman said.
Each test tube contains a different blend of the Norton that the wine makers evaluate through smell and taste to determine the blend for the final product.
“In a harvest, we might have as many as 50 different wines in the winery,” Bomgaars said. “We are going through that process of combining those 50 into 12.”
The men decided on samples No. 5 and 6. A second finding trial will be done to find the correct blend of the two before being bottled and distributed throughout Missouri and the country. Bottling begins this week.