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Campus winery holds taste test for experimental varieties

Tuesday, March 2, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 9:49 a.m. CST, Tuesday, March 2, 2010

COLUMBIA — The first bottles of wine produced by an experimental winery at MU were put to the test Monday: How do they taste? 

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“The white ones were all quite nice,” hobbyist winemaker Jerry Judson said. The tasting was conducted by the new campus institute dedicated to researching the best grape-growing and winemaking practices in Missouri.

“The red ones were all pretty young, so they were more harsh,” he said.

“They were great,” vineyard owner Larry Frichtel said about the wine collection. “I learned a lot. I had presumptions of some of the wines that changed.”

The Institute for Continental Climate Viticulture and Enology held the tasting seminar to gauge interest in the new cultivars, or grape varieties. The institute wanted to know whether the trial varieties would be accepted by the wine-producing community.

Crops that yielded the grapes were grown during the 2009 season.

The industry in Missouri is growing, with more than 100 wineries across the state, according to Marco Li Calzi, enology program leader. The institute studies enology, or winemaking techniques, as well as the viticulture, the science of growing wine grapes.

On Monday, guests blind-tasted 33 different varieties of dry red and white wines and rated them on score cards. The institute hoped to use the feedback to determine which varieties would be best-suited to the Missouri market.

The tasters tried whites in the morning and reds after lunch. They rated the wines on  clarity, color, bouquet, acidity, body and finish.

Jennifer Putnam, manager of Crown Valley Winery in St. Genevieve County, said she could not tell which were commercial, the control group and which were experimental.

When the wines were revealed, she found she had scored traditional varieties higher than the experimental ones.

Sixteen of the white varieties were the fruits of labor of Eli Bergmeier. The viticulture specialist is studying different mechanization techniques — thinning shoots and picking grapes by machine — to find how they affect Missouri-grown Chardonel grapes.

The machines are used in other wine-producing states, but Bergmeier is interested only in their application to Missouri conditions. His wines include combinations of crops processed both mechanically and manually.

Bergmeier said his research is attempting to determine the ramifications for fruit quality and wine taste.

If Missouri producers adopted mechanization, it would mean lower costs of production and a better price point for consumers.

“You can farm a lot more acres faster by machines than you can by hand,” Bergmeier said.

You can taste the difference too, according to Danene Beedle, marketing director for the Missouri Wine and Grape Board. She said all the varieties were similar, but once she knew the wines produced by each technique, a favorite emerged.

“I liked the machine-picked, hand-thinned variety,” she said. “Chardonel is already a mainstream grape. This was simply to show the differences in production techniques.”

The changing climate in Missouri makes research like this important to producers, Beedle said.

Missouri has a continental climate, which means it gets the full blast of cold air from Canada, with no coastline to moderate it as it does in California, said MU viticulturist Keith Striegler.

“Our challenges are that we have a fluctuating temperature,” he said. “Varieties that we grow have to be successful under those types of conditions.”

The institute hopes its research will help Missouri growers make smarter decisions about which types of cultivars to use and whether they will be commercially successful. 


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