Saturday, September 12, 2009

Look, here come the grapes!

How can you tell the difference between a grape and an elephant?
"Grapes are purple."

What did Tarzan say when he saw the elephants coming over the hill?
"Look, here come the elephants!"

What did Charles de Gaulle say when he saw the elephants coming over the hill?
"Voila les elephants!"

What did Tarzan's Jane say when she saw the elephants coming over the hill?
"Look, here come the grapes!" (Jane was color blind.)

Drive I-44 around St. James these days and you'll see them, too, the grape stands stocked with fresh Concords and homemade grape jelly, maybe grape pies on a good day. We're amidst grape harvest in the Ozark Highlands, and thanks to the wet summer we've had, the Concords have never been juicier. Rumor holds (I heard the whisper myself!) that next week, the same vendors around 4-M Vineyards will be selling the classy Norton grapes for personal wine making enterprises. Oh, this is all very interesting and exciting, though I have yet to call the coopers in Lebanon to find out if I can buy a Barbie-sized white oak barrel for aging my own Norton. I think I know what they'll say...after they laugh.

Visit dry chert woodlands throughout the Ozarks, especially those that have seen fire in recent years, and try the little but super sweet native summer grape, Vitis aestivalis, a staple in burned woodlands. Folks in the Ozarks traditionally harvest these wild grapes for jelly-making, as it's darned near impossible to find decent grapes in grocery stores. Wildlife appreciate summer grapes, too. In mid-June, roughly two months before the grapes were ripe, I watched two yellow-breasted chats completely denude a few unripe clusters from vines all tangled up in oak sprouts and sassafras.

Missouri hosts over 6 wild grape species, from the riverbank variety (V. rupestris) which grows profusely on gravel bars in the St. Francois Mountains, to winter grape (V. cinerea), whose fruits aren't ripe until late fall, months after anyone cares about making jelly.

When I lived in southeast Missouri, I helped out with the grape harvest at the region's best winery (River Ridge). I stayed close by the men in charge of the vineyard those days, asking multiple questions about tending grapes in Missouri. I learned so much about viticulture in Missouri that I was a little flummoxed when they gave me money for my efforts that afternoon.

I no longer live near good wineries, but in the next few weeks, in celebration of my birthday, I will be visiting little known wineries in the Ozark Highlands on an official Norton Tasting Tour. If anyone's making pinot noir or cabernet franc, I'll try those, too. This is scientific research, you know, so I'll publish my findings.


Heather's Dad said...

Go to The real place can't be too far away....

Allison Vaughn said...

Oh boy, that's cool! In my stomping grounds, too! National Forest, st. Francois Mountains (the area was ravaged by a May 8 windstorm). So, what I'm hoping is that I'll find smaller wineries that aren't registered with our Dept. of Ag on the official missouri winery website. I know there are more more out there. I just have to poke around. A good way to avoid 37 finding me.

Scott Merritt said...

This freaks me out. I told my kids an approximation of that joke this weekend. They thought I was nuts, and they actually have a good, weird sense of humour! Maybe its in the telling. I remember reading that in some book when I was in like 6th grade or something and it struck me as very funny. To open up your column and see weird.

Elizabeth Mohrman said...

Have you been to St Genevieve to Charleville Winery? It's my favorite - very small, the owners run it and grow the grapes, and they also have a microbrewery -

Allison Vaughn said...

"Elephants, Grapes and Pickles"--the original book. The elephant with red nails hiding in a cherry tree? Why don't you ever see elephants in cherry trees? Because it works! I think you can find the books on Amazon. Very charming...

Allison Vaughn said...

It's really silly of me that I haven't explored the Ste. Gen area. I hate driving on weekends since I do it so much during the week. Headed out for another float tomorrow (just off the river for the past 3 days, hopping onto another) and will spend Saturday in and around the St. James area to see the new ones that way. I need to go to the Ste. Gen ones, I know. And Travis recommends one, too.

Elizabeth Mohrman said...

Had a thought for getting you to Charleville at Ste Gen (after I spent a wonderful evening at their B & B Sat night, compliments of Travis)- Hawn State Park is about 20 minutes from there - don't you need to check out their stands of shortleaf pines? Or the wonderful geology all around Pickle Creek? (The rocks there are really incredible, I think). Plus I saw what appeared to be "brush eating" goats helping clear some nearby areas.
Charleville also has a blend of Norton and Chambourcin called "Francois" that I totally loved and you might enjoy checking out.