Much like the struggle of a vine to produce good fruit, the Missouri wine industry has been subjected to it’s own set of conflicts since european immigrants first planted grapes along the Missouri river in the mid 1800’s. Using wine making techniques they brought from Europe, these immigrants were able to very quickly make Missouri one of the nation’s leading wine producing states. However, as Missouri was rising to prominence as a leader of wine production in the United States, it’s next door neighbor Kansas pushed to outlaw the fermented grape juice.
Kansas was the the first state to pass prohibition in 1881. At the time, the flourishing MO wine industry was producing a whopping 2,000,000 gallons of wine per year, winning awards and setting a standard of wine production by which no other mid-western state including itself, has been able to duplicate since. When prohibition was made national in 1920 the wine industry in Missouri was tragically torn apart and from Augusta to Hermann was literally left out to dry by the 18th amendment.
Founded in 1847, Stone Hill Winery, a Missouri wine institution that had won eight gold medals at various world’s fairs, had helped christen the USS Missouri battleship with a bottle of champagne in 1901 and was the second largest winery in the US, destroyed all their vines and succumbed to growing mushrooms in the country’s largest vaulted underground wine cellars. The new amendment had forced the shutdown and abandonment of all wineries across the state and Missouri wine production would not begin again until 1965 when Jim and Betty Held reopened Stone Hill Winery with only $1,500 to their name.
Shortly thereafter wineries began to open throughout the state. In 1980 the first federally designated American Viticultural Area or AVA was acknowledged in Augusta, MO. As defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, an AVA is designated as a grape growing region with special geographic features and boundaries with evidence that growing conditions such as climate, soil and elevation are distinctive to the region. There are now 4 AVAs throughout the state of Missouri and well over 100 different wineries growing historically important mid-western grape varietals such as Norton, Concord, Chambourcin, Vignoles and Chardonel.
The Missouri wine industry is growing rapidly and the market share within the state is steadily increasing. It’s no longer uncommon to find MO wines in liquor stores, grocery stores, wine shops and even Costco. With current trends toward regionalism in restaurants and individual tastes we are now starting to see Missouri wines find themselves on wine lists throughout the state. With the unique flavors, price points and high quality that these wines possess I doubt it will be very long before we begin to see them in poured in wine glasses throughout the country.