I was going through old pictures and posts, including those collecting dust somewhere in the far reaches of the hard drive, and realized that a few important chapters in the story of our little vineyard fell through the cracks. Although they may be stories of days past, they are coming to light in our minds yet again as fall approaches and we begin the important second year of the journey: where we attempt to avoid the same mistakes we made last year. If you have followed this blog with any consistency, you surely know we have a few opportunities to try a different route.
First, in the excitement of posting pictures and stories of planting and harvesting, many of you were probably left wondering a few things…. How were the specific plants chosen? Which varietals will Dale Hollow attempt to guide along from vine to wine? Just how did they go about digging all those holes? Stories of planning out a vineyard and digging holes will be fun, I promise…
Through the fall of 2012 and early winter 2013, we had been thoroughly researching which varietals we wanted to plant in our own vineyard. This involved reading books and publications, copious amounts of tasting American and French hybrid wines, and winery visits. Unfortunately we couldn’t simply focus on which wines were our personal favorites (or global bestsellers) or this winter you would probably see a whole field full of cold-slaughtered Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. Tiny little sticks accustomed to climates typical of France and California shoved into the thick Missouri soil and relentless winter conditions. Indeed, those may sell the best around the world and many people stick to them because of the amounts that are produced and written about, but they are not for everyone.
The Midwestern people and the Midwestern palate are different. We are a people accustomed to the whims of an unforgiving climate that decides to tease us with 70 degrees in January on a given Tuesday, and then blindside us by Thursday with bitter cold, sleet, and snow that lasts through February (We had snow in May this year, I kid you not). Our people are tough, just like our grapes.
For these reasons, all vitis Vinifera was out of the question. Plus, look around the great wall of wine. The world has enough Pinot, Cabernet, and Chardonnay without our help. There is a re-developing (1920-1966 was a tough time for Missouri wine) industry right here in Missouri and the surrounding states whereby people are beginning to appreciate the grapes we can grow and the wine we can make from them. Universities are doing research and offering help to budding growers, the Midwestern industry is still making a comeback after prohibition all but demolished it; and most importantly, the people are developing a taste for wine!
Admittedly, many around here and new to wine in general tend to favor a sweeter wine, but off-dry and semi-sweet varietals are becoming more acceptable as people learn and experience new wines. This is a proud area and one that has historically been more apt to drink amber beer and dark spirits, quick to spurn an uppity European wine. We can’t be too quick to judge, because grapes are being grown by locals using varietals native to the land and setting up wine shop just down the road. With a little more refining and spreading the word, the rest of the country and world may someday experience our Midwestern terroir through our wines.
Let us not forget that when phylloxera was destroying grapevines throughout Europe in the mid-18th century, it was a brave Missourian that came to the rescue and proposed grafting the French grapevines with rootstocks from American vines, effectively saving the Old World industry from impending doom. You’re welcome.
Because of these reasons, we will be proudly planting American grapes and hybrids. This will offer the toughness we require, disease-resistance, and thick (clay) soil acclimation. We knew we would have the best chance growing grapes that others have had success with and that prosper in our region. This also makes sense from an industry standpoint as regions become known for the certain grapes they grow and wines they make. Think of the Bordeaux region in France (Cabernet, Merlot), Burgundy (Pinot Noir), and Chianti in Italy (Sangiovese). All demonstrate the idea of wine identity by region and it is a concrete part of the culture.
It is our hope (and that of our entire area, it would seem) that our region can be known for the reds of Norton and Chambourcin and whites of Vignoles, Seyval, and Traminette, or whatever other variety takes hold and places itself as the superstar wine of the region as techniques are refined and the industry evolves.
We went back and forth on how many of each to plant, but it just so happened we had a resident expert (Dave) who recommended more varietals to less, because if we struggle growing one it will be easier to rip it up and replace it with the one that we know we can grow well. Better yet, if we discover one that makes superb wine growing from our little slice of paradise, we can plant more of it and try to replicate the success! So instead of 2 or 3 varietals of 300-500 each, our initial planting was 5 varietals of 200 each.
Future posts will delve into the details of each grape and why it was chosen for Dale Hollow. Simply listing the names wouldn’t do them justice! Oh, and here is a preview of what may or may not be a grape that we grow in the future.. and I shroud it with such mystery because we found this vine growing in the South Vineyard, amongst vines that look nothing like it: