Program Trains Oenologists In Midwest Grapes
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The tough economy has not prevented the spread of the American wine industry. That industry has been centered on California, of course. You might not think of this, though: There's now wine being produced in Missouri. Missouri's now among the top 10 wine producing states. And a new program seeks to educate a new generation of experts trained specifically to make wine from grapes grown in the Midwest.
From member station KBIA, Sara Wittmeyer reports.
SARA WITTMEYER: It's four o'clock on an early fall morning. The cool night air makes this a perfect time to harvest grapes. Missouri winemaker Cory Bomgaars is shaking his head as he walks between the rose of vines on this 12-acre hillside near Rocheport. Bomgaars shines his flashlight on clusters of deep purple grapes.
Mr. CORY BOMGAARS (Head Winemaker, Les Bourgeois Vineyard and Winery): This grower should've came in - see, there's one, two, three clusters? This grower should've come in and drop out at least one cluster per shoot earlier or changed their nutrition program. And so what happened is she started losing all the leaves because the plants just started shutting down.
WITTMEYER: So Bomgaars and his crew of pickers will harvest the grapes today. But the grower will lose thousands of dollars because the grapes won't be used to make premium Chambertin wine. Instead, they'll be used as filler in a cheaper product.
Bomgaars says this happens all too often because they're just aren't enough expert growers who can navigate the unpredictable climate that separates Midwestern viticulture from grape growing on the coast.
When most consumers think of wine grapes, it's Napa Valley, not the Missouri River Valley, that comes to mind. So it's hard to get formally trained winemakers from renowned programs like UC Davis or Cornell to settle and work here. But now the Show Me State is focusing on growing its own talent.
In Columbia, just east of where Bomgaars is picking, about eight students file into a small classroom on the University of Missouri's campus. They're the first wave of students here in a new Enology and Viticulture program. Leaning back in his chair at the head of a conference table, Professor Keith Striegler leads the students in a discussion about how to handle Missouri's temperature fluctuations.
Professor KEITH STRIEGLER (Viticulture and Enology, University of Missouri): If we have cool, overcast conditions versus warm, sunny conditions, what's going to happen to our flowering of our grape vines and pollination?
Ms. CLAIRE GILLETTE(ph): It will be delayed a bit.
Professor STRIEGLER: Yes. Yes.
WITTMEYER: Student Claire Gillette is the most vocal in the room. She's graduating in a year, and she's trying to cram in all the course work she needs for the enology track. She'll be among the first to take the discipline of Missouri grape growing into the field.
Ms. GILLETTE: The whole point of this program is, you know, you have your California winemakers, you've got your Cornell winemakers, but you don't have your Missouri winemakers. We don't want to all just graduate here and then just move out. I mean, who's going be here to make the wine here?
WITTMEYER: Students here learn basic winemaking principles and get hands-on experience in a vineyard with the hope of landing a winemaking job in the Midwest. Bill Nelson is the president of the advocacy group WineAmerica. He says Missouri has the momentum to keep growing its wine production.
Mr. BILL NELSON (President, WineAmerica): You're not looking at something that's going to immediately displace corn or wheat or soy beans, but you are looking at something that employs quite a few people and produces quite a bit of value per acre.
WITTMEYER: Meanwhile, Keith Striegler doesn't expect Missouri's program to rival those on the coast, but it will, he insists, make for fine wine.
For NPR News, I'm Sara Wittmeyer in Columbia, Missouri.
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