Saturday, July 21, 2018

2018 Missouri Wine Competition

According to one of my favorite bulk newsletters, the one from the Missouri Wine and Grape Board, the annual Missouri Wine Competition occurred recently. The Ozark wineries in Hermann and Augusta swept the awards once again. Having talked to folks at some of the state's smaller wineries, they really have a difficult time participating in larger competitions due to the fact that they are required to donate at least one case of often their best wine. While this isn't an issue for places like Stone Hill and other big producers, donating cases hits the bottom line pretty hard for the smaller guys. When you visit the smaller wineries, I urge you to support them--don't just get the free tasting, buy something. If you don't like the wine, maybe you know someone who will, so buy a gift bottle, or something from the shop, or cheese and crackers.
Here's the list of winners of this year's medals:
  • Sparkling Wine: Stone Hill Winery –2013 Blanc de Blanc 
  • Dry White Wine: Adam Puchta Winery – Dry Vignoles  
  • Semi-Dry White Wine: St. James Winery – 2017 Dry Vignoles  
  • Sweet White Wine: Stonehaus Farms Winery – Vignoles 
  • Dry Rosé Wine: Les Bourgeois Vineyards – 2017 St. Vincent Rosé  
  • Sweet Rosé Wine: Stone Hill Winery – Rosé Montaigne 
  • Dry Red Wine: Stone Hill Winery – 2015 Chambourcin  
  • Semi-Dry Red Wine: Augusta Winery – Alluvium Estate Bottled 2018 
MO Wine Competition Results: Say Hello to This Year’s Best of-the-Best: 
  • Sweet Red Wine: Montelle Winery – Stone House Red  
  • Dessert Wine: Stone Hill Winery – Cream Sherry 
  • Late Harvest/Ice Wine: Montelle Winery – 2017 Vidal Blanc Icewine 
  • Distilled Product: Montelle Winery – Peach Eau de Vie 
 And the winner of the coveted Governor’s Cup for 2018 is Stone Hill Winery for their 2015 Chambourcin, a dry red wine that blew the judges away. The C.V. Riley Award for the best Norton wine went to Augusta Winery for their 2016 Norton Estate Bottled. This is a special recognition honoring the official state grape and the history of winemaking in Missouri. In addition to Best of Class, C. V. Riley Award and Governor’s Cup honors, 87% of all the wines entered into the 2018 Missouri Wine Competition took home a medal.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

On Grass

Once again, the annual sampling of Osage Plains prairie occurs during the weeks of Wimbledon. We're on the prairie by 7am, which means I never get to see actual play since the replays are only on the Tennis Channel and the Lamar Super 8 does not carry that channel. We finished early this year, so I was able to catch at least some tennis, a few later rounds, some disappointing rounds.

I start sampling Ozark glades this week, which I'm looking forward to since these glades do not have chiggers or ticks (though walking to the glade through the woodlands will invariably involve some amount of ticks). But the sampling of prairie was interesting, to say the least.

We were sampling an area that had been broadcast sprayed with Pasturgard, a broadleaf herbicide that has the ability to wipe out multiple species of desirable plants. The first sampling of this area occurred immediately after the spraying when plants were still yellowing and dying. We then sampled a year later, and this sampling was the first post-burn and post spraying. We recognized that there are a lot of forbs that are not coming back. Coreopsis grandiflora and Euphorbia corollata were two that were notably absent from our permanent plots. We plan to sample again next year, but an industrial dose of herbicide on fragile native forbs might have been their death knell.

Meanwhile, grass court tennis continues with undesired results. I'm glad Djokovic is back in play, but certainly didn't want him knocking off Rafa. Happy for Angelique Kerber and her win over Serena. Hoping that Djokovic can knock off Andersen tomorrow, but I probably won't be watching. I'll be working in the garden tending to my zinnias and Super Sweet 100 tomatoes.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

First World Problems

Last week, I set out on a camping trip with all of my fancy gear, mostly accrued from my seasoned outdoors expert, my baby sister who lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. She found the perfect Kelty tent for me, ideal for hot Missouri nights with excellent ventilation and lightweight so it's good for backpacking. The rain fly works like a charm. I've never had water in my tent, even during deluges. Because my parents support our love of the outdoors, they always went to her for advice for Christmas gifts.

I really appreciate going out west to visit her not only because I love my sister but she's in the Mecca of gear stores, and many of them second hand gear stores, so cheap, lightly used gear--lots of Patagonia, Marmot, and locally produced western-states gear. I found my Chaco's (still with Vibram soles) out there for $10 and still wear them on Ozark streams. I picked up Marmot rain gear, my North Face down jacket, lots of gear in Jackson, or Victor, Idaho where they lived before having to move to a decent school district for my precocious nephew. At his school in Jackson, they serve vegetarian green curry for school lunch, better food than she can make at home on her tight budget as a silversmith.

So, I set out for the Ozarks and refilled my MSR Dragonfly (super lightweight) campstove with stove fuel, turned off all the valves so the gas wouldn't leak. I packed my super Kelty tent and my awesome air mattress that weighs about 3 oz. uninflated, insulated water canisters for lemon water, and backpacking coffeepot that has char stains from all of the previous camping use. After a long day, I set up my tent, inflated the air mattress, then settled in with a bunch of vegetables I had chopped for supper--can of black beans with a side of fresh peppers, onion, garlic, sweet potato for black bean burritos. I tried firing up the stove and it didn't work. I checked the line from the gas to the stove and it was clear. I had the one valve wide open, and it wouldn't fire.

Cooking dinner proved to be a hassle, but more importantly, I was worried about the next morning when I rose from the tent and desperately needed fast coffee. I set up a couple of big rocks over a stick fire and cooked the vegetables for a bean burrito. I thought about the warranty on my 12 year old Dragonfly stove and if I still had the paperwork. I was thinking of taking the stove to the local outdoor outfitters and seeing if they could figure out what was wrong and how to fix it. Maybe MSR Dragonfly stoves aren't as rugged as I originally thought. Nevertheless, campfire food was great, and I set up the coffeepot expecting to have to wake up early to gather more damned twigs for the rock stove.

That night in my tent, as I listened to the cicadas and a handful of katydids, I drifted to sleep, dreading the idea of making coffee over a campfire. Labor intensive, time consuming. While I recognize that millions of people live on campfires and are grateful for wood supplies, I am grateful for my MSR Dragonfly campstove. Millions of people have to wake up and stoke coals to make coffee. I have grown so spoiled that this basic right to have coffee in ten minutes has become normal and I hate it about myself. But that night, I had a dream where I was in Peru and with my campstove in the Amazon Basin in the Manu Preserve. I dreamt that all of the fuels were wet and I remembered to turn the fuel valve on to get fuel to the stove. So I woke up that morning in the Ozarks and remembered that my campstove wasn't working because I had turned off all of the valves. With one quick switch, I had coffee in ten minutes. Here I was in a mire, a first world mire, thinking I would have to shell out another $400 for a campstove when it was my own actions that interrupted proper campstove functioning. First world problems, indeed. I think of my friends who are living in tent cities right now and living off of the generosity of strangers who give them food, friends with no homes to go to. This world is going to hell but at least I have my campstove and a full canister of fuel.


Saturday, June 23, 2018

Streambanks in June

After long weeks of vegetation sampling and burning red needle stage cedar piles, I paid a visit to a cool, fast, clear Ozark stream for an afternoon. Usually by this time of the summer, we have already been on several float trips, always during the week, preferably on Tuesdays since the Monday crowd is leftover from the weekend and Friday is the beginning of the party scene. I like solitude on the river, time with the wood ducks, great blue herons and river cooters, not other people (especially loud people who might drink too much and start domestic disputes while in a canoe). So, I paid my visit to the river on a Tuesday.

I once had more freedom and time to float at least twice a month during the week, but my other duties as assigned have grown to consume a significant portion of my time. I like being on the river in late March when the Louisiana waterthrush arrive and start singing, again in April when the Virginia bluebells are in flower, in May when the bright pink tall phlox is in bloom, and so forth. I missed April and May, but at least eked in one trip in June to catch the end of the water willow, Justicia americana, one of my favorite streambank plants with flowers that almost resemble a grass pink orchid. Butterflies love it.

Also in bloom this week was lizard's tail, not only restricted to streambanks but found in shrub swamps in the Southeast Missouri Lowlands, a super charismatic plant with tall drooping white flowers. It was a magnet for little beetles and it trapped some small patches of duckweed. Because it's no fun to paddle through a float (unless it's a lousy stretch of no flow and eroded streambanks devoid of vegetation), I stopped in on several gravel bars to check out what was growing in the thick beds of chert gravel. Sadly, most of the vegetation, mostly polygonums, had been completely destroyed by Japanese beetles. The beetles had even turned streambank willow leaves into little lacy networks of leaf shapes. It's too early for Penthorum to be in bloom, but I picked up a nice Veronica in perfect flower with a native bee pollinating it's delicate white and purple flowers.

Barring another catastrophic flood event like we've had multiple times during the past couple of years, the summer streambank flower show is getting primed for awesome blooms. I think of Dutchman's pipe all along the upper Gasconade River, the goldenglow and Lobelias on the upper Current River. Coreopsis pubescens also made a nice appearance on the streambanks this week but the current was so strong I couldn't get over to the other side of the river to take a picture. I'm also looking forward to the Rudbeckia fulgida complex that shows up on our Ozark streams; I once thought they were all a clean R. fulgida, but I learned a couple of years ago that there are many varieties and even many more clean species. I hope to float more in July and August when they are in bloom and my company is with the drone of the morning cicadas.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Becoming June

I set out today on a mission. Perennial wildflowers are putting on a show right now, the rudbeckias, partheniums, all those guys. I didn't set out for a wildflower explosion and a nice hike, but for exotic species control. I had plans to visit areas that hadn't been burned in a year, so I didn't expect to encounter an entire woodland full of butterflies, bees, beetles and birds, but I did. I set out to pull exotic species- sweet clover, in particular, and the sweet clover population was much reduced from years' past, thanks to our undying efforts to eradicate it from the area. But even though this area has not seen a prescribed fire for a year and a little more, the understory response in the flora was mind-blowing. I'm accustomed to walking through burn units post fire and being overwhelmed with the understory response, but this is year 2 for this unit and it's still ridiculously rich, lush, full of great invertebrates and the accompanying bird life. And relatively free of exotics.

It remains amazing to me that at least in my favorite area that we have been able to keep out the bush honeysuckle, garlic mustard, Japanese stilt grass, sweet clover and other exotics that are destroying Missouri's native landscapes. For the past few weeks I've been retiring to bed to read Cora Steyermark's book, Behind the Scenes, Julian Steyermark's wife's account of traveling throughout Missouri for the effort of completing the Flora of Missouri. I've really enjoyed the book, and I am sad that I didn't encounter Missouri when they did, a place without bush honeysuckle, sericea, and other exotic species that may not have even been documented from Missouri for the 1963 Flora. I have truly enjoyed reading about their encounters with what we now know as "Steyermark sites", the lost prairies of north Missouri, the Dodecatheon amethystinum site that we visit every year to keep bush honeysuckle from invading. I think often of Steyermark's visits to Missouri, and I think of my own visits even ten years ago before climate change really started showing itself in ugly fashion. Bush honeysuckle was only known from one county in Missouri in the 1963 Flora. A county around St. Louis. Today it threatens every county in the state, including counties in the Current River Hills, an area that we once thought was immune to exotics invasion. Alas, bush honeysuckle races up the hillsides. This is frightening.

So we protect the places that need to be protected. The Niangua Basin and Osage River Hills are worthy of protection. For the sustainability of our natural systems we need natural places, areas that are not constructed with random genetic material. These areas I visit that are rich with flora and fauna remind me of the the places the Steyermarks encountered, places rich with floral diversity and immersed in native habitats. Reading Cora's book has been a lot of fun at night as I go to bed, and wondering what book is next.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Reliably Late Spring

Mid-May is officially past us, and the end of spring wildflower season occurred two to three weeks ago in the Ozarks. Finally, long delayed, the oaks have leafed out, all of the interesting migratory birds have passed through my yard and we're in breeding season. With this wonderful time of the year comes the annual visits to known perennial plant populations, plants that show up every year like clockwork, and visits just to check, count stems, and to see our state's incredible diversity.

I spent a couple of days this week in the Missouri River Hills portion of the state, officially out of the Ozark Highlands but in the Outer Ozark Border, an area with lots of limestone and much deeper soils. We visited two sites of the federally endangered Running Buffalo Clover, a super charismatic clover with huge flowering heads and runners that take root to produce more plants. I was fortunate to spend the day with a handful of Missouri's leading ecologists and botanists, a day well spent looking at not only rare plants, but common plants, and birds like Cerulean warblers, butterflies and tiger beetles. Days in the field with like-minded folks are always welcome. This week, I'm back to spraying and pulling exotic species and seeing the ugly side of the natural world, that of invasion by non-native invasive species. In the meanwhile, I'll enjoy these photos of yellow lady slipper orchids and the thriving population of Running Buffalo Clover! If someone can identify the beetle in the last photo, super thanks!

Sunday, May 06, 2018


It was 5:32 am on Saturday when I turned over in bed because I heard the distinctive call of a Tennessee Warbler in my front yard. It was too early to feed the dog, and two hours before the coffee pot would reliably start to brew the pot of coffee I set up the night before. But I was awake. On Friday, I returned to Missouri from the ecological wasteland of Kansas' Flint Hills, a landscape completely depauperate of native flora, but home to vast landscape-scale viewing of storms, big storms, tornadic storms that race across this barren area. These storms in Kansas made their way through the Central Flyway and pushed all kinds of cool birds into mid-Missouri just in time for the Global Big Day on May 5.

The flush of red-breasted grosbeaks, Baltimore orioles, white-crowned sparrows, and golden-winged warblers were easy to see high in the canopy on Saturday which helped me tally a decent checklist for the big day. But backyard birding was never better than Saturday morning! I logged 35 species from my urban backyard, and those were just the ones I could see and identify by call.

Shorebird migration is considerably awesome right now as well with phalaropes and dowitchers coming in on the mudflats. It is only at this time of year when I hear random, rare bird songs of distinctive, unfamiliar birds that wake me up or pull me from the garden to search for these charismatic animals high in the canopy of my yard's oak trees. Oaks are known to attract many species of warblers because they serve as the host plant for hundreds of species of invertebrates upon which warblers depend for breeding success. Today's visitors to my orange slices included not only the Baltimore orioles but a Nashville warbler. I hear their call daily now. If I only tallied the birds I see, the list would be small. To include the birds I hear, the list is large. Migration is a magical time. Keep up the seed feeders, suet feeders, hummingbird feeders, orange slices and grape jelly. Neighbors with all kinds of urban habitat are seeing rose-breasted grosbeaks like the one from my friend's yard pictured below. It's hard to be inside at this time of year.