Wednesday, December 31, 2014

In St. James Country

Back in the sunny month of May, at the suggestion of my daily Organic Gardening newsletter, I turned my thoughts to cold, cloudy days in December. In an early May newsletter, the author wrote an article about an old German recipe that calls for seasonal ripe fruit and rum: Rumtopf. The recipe requires a bottle of nice dark rum poured into a crock or Mason jar and, when available, cut up fresh fruit-- the best of the season--sprinkled with brown sugar and then thrown into the rum. So, since May I've been adding fresh Missouri fruit (tossed with only a marginal amount of sugar) into a gallon Mason jar full of rum that I have kept in a cool, dark place. My Rumtopf includes: raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, tart cherries, pears and apples, all soaked in a good 3-yr. dark rum. I pulled the Mason jar out of cold storage last week and started packing it into much smaller jars with ribbon around the rim to hand out as gifts. One recipient thought that I had given him a bloodied liver soaked in juice (peach taking on the color of cherries). Others were scared to try it over ice cream, which is the German tradition and quite exceptional. So I went to St. James to give it to my old German friend, Heinrich.

I last saw Heinrich in August when I brought my Dad, who is fascinated by German culture, to meet him and to taste his absolutely supple wines which he has been producing for well over 20 years on the Ozarks' Central Plateau. As is customary, we rang the bell at the door and waited for a few minutes that day for Heinrich to amble to his winery that now houses a big fluffy cat, the sweet German Shepherd having recently died. My dad knows some pidgen German and has spent a bit of time over there, and he really loved spending the afternoon talking to Heinrich about wine, Germany, the horrible state of affairs we're in now, customary conversation for old timers whose "good old days" took place during World War II. At this point in my Rumtopf experiment, I had already thrown in a ton of fruit. Maybe not a full ton, but enough to leave only a few inches of headspace in my gallon Mason jar. I told Heinrich I would bring him some. He had never made it since moving to Missouri 30 years ago, always tied up in the winemaking business during fruit season. I told him that I would cover the Rumtopf if he continued making wine. By late December, we had both kept up with both ends of the deal.

And so, setting out this week to visit some typical dry chert woods in winter after a long visit from a New Orleans friend, I stopped into St. James to deliver Rumtopf. Just as in August, I rang the bell and waited. Heinrich came out from his residence with a whole mess of firewood to stoke the coals in his potbellied stove, and some newspaper advertisements to get the fire going. My old German winemaker friend, named the King of Chambourcin by not just a few experts in the subject, is also one of the only other owners of U.P. Hedrick's original botanical prints of the Cynthiana and Norton grapes. The lovely Norton Wine Travelers secured these prints for me, knowing that I will one day own a winery and will, like every dry red enthusiast who visits Heinrich, debate the differences between Cynthiana and Norton. Are they the same grape? Is there a real difference? Oh, it's now an age-old debate that Heinrich really enjoys discussing. Heinrich's grape prints are yellowed and fading, and propped up over a small plaque a visitor brought to him that reads "Wine doesn't make you fat, it makes you lean...on tables, on couches, on the floor, on your wife..."

Heinrich was so happy about his jar of Rumtopf (which may not pass muster, but, like myself, he doesn't like sweet things, so I encouraged him to put it over walnut ice cream) that he parted with a 1999 vintage of his Cynthiana, a collector's bottle. He really didn't have to, of course, so there was some arguing about this--not a trade, but a gift, but I'm happy to have this old bottle in my collection. I sure hope he likes my Rumtopf....

Back out on County Road 1000 outside of St. James, it's incumbent to take the sharp right to stop into the recently opened outpost of Rolla's Public House, a really great brewpub that now inhabits part of the parking space at St. James Winery. I hadn't visited the Public House in Rolla for a few years now, but it was always a standard meeting place, located in a strange little strip mall sort of location downtown near the public library. This brewpub is the brainchild of fancy beer and scotch people, but they recognize that St. James Winery's Norton should be on every menu in the state, so it's on theirs. Today, with the opening of the Public House, travelers along I-44 can pull off at St. James and visit several wineries, with lunch options at Meramec Vineyards (next door to St. James Winery) and a brewpub menu with fancy beer at The Public House. Life in St. James country has never been sweeter!Ice cream at Ruby's, fancy dinner at Sybil's, wineries, hiking to the glades and sandstone shut-ins at the Phelps Co. park, St. James is turning into a very serious destination!

Monday, December 08, 2014

Chilly Day in the Elk River Hills

On a normal late fall day in the Ozarks, frost flowers are ephemeral as the temperatures rise to above freezing by noon. In the farthest reaches of southwest Missouri last week, the northwest winds and thick cloud cover never allowed for enough warmth to melt these delicate ice structures.

Battling horrible holiday traffic for four hours, I drove down after Thanksgiving with the intent of flagging firelines around four separate tracts, altogether comprising roughly 2,000 acres. The cherty, rugged terrain and slippery oak leaf litter proved more difficult to traverse than expected; by the end of the first day, one unit flagged, I was truly exhausted, but excited by the beautiful country and 379 acre unit.

It's black bear country down there, with plenty of territorial evidence of scat on logs and much grubbing. In this fire-mediated landscape, food opportunities for wildlife abound, from acorns to the bright berries of Rusty Blackhaw, American Wahoo, and multiple species of wild grapes.

Development pressure is significant in this region, with bedrooom communities for Bentonville popping up all over the place. My hopes are high for the health and sustainability of the black bears, red-headed woodpeckers, and this rich landscape that today is virtually free from all the onslaught of homogenization.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Missouri Wine and Grape Board's Cookies and Wine Pairing

Every month, I receive really fun email newsletters from a whole mess of Missouri and Oregon wineries. In recent months, the Missouri Wine and Grape Board's monthly email newsletters have been so engaging, visually appealing, and fun to read that I generally think that I must be working for them in some parallel universe, one in which I have kickin' graphic design skills. See below a fantastic graphic illustrating which Missouri wines pair with a variety of Christmas cookies. These people in the Department of Agriculture speak to me, and I listen.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Augusta's Candlelight Christmas Walks

If you haven't been to Augusta (that darling wine-producing region near Hermann) during Christmas, you're missing out on a gem of an experience. On Friday, December 5 and December 12, the town will be lit up with hundreds of luminaries, chestnut roasting in the town square, and Christmas decorations abound for their 32nd annual Candlelight Christmas Walk. While you're there, stop into Augusta Winery for their perfectly supple wines, perfect for gift giving, and a taste of their Christmas specialty, mulled wine warmed by the tasting bar.

Monday, November 24, 2014

"Emulating natural disturbance factors?"

The leaves on my backyard chinquapin oak have only recently started to fall. In a matter of days and weeks, Missouri’s 31 year old woodland prescribed fire season will begin in earnest. Sadly, and due primarily to reckless and/or under-educated practitioners who are not well versed in the power of this natural process, prescribed fire may be implemented not as a means of responsibly emulating a natural disturbance, but as a destructive tool that few should be allowed to use. Much as one would not willingly allow a 2 year old to hold a scalpel in an operating room, one should be cautious of the power of fire and the person behind the torch.

Most unfortunate (from my perspective) is that much of the fire-related damage I’ve seen in recent years is preventable, and largely due to improper fireline placement and timing. Fireline installation is underway all over the state, so I'd like to reiterate this basic fact, an integral part of any responsible burn plan: roads and trails do not make appropriate firelines. To truly emulate a historic fire regime (which is challenging in itself in the Ozarks due to dominant out-of-historic-context fuel types resulting from years of abuse by logging, grazing, and fire suppression), a responsible practitioner will allow fire to move naturally across the landscape, will allow fire to follow topography, aspect, slope with properly designed burn units that include appropriate fuels and historic fire-mediated systems. Old logging roads and hiking trails were not designed with fire behavior in mind. Too many times in recent years I’ve noted highly destructive forces at work from improperly placed firelines, and it’s giving responsible fire a bad name, along with burning out of historic prescription and burning areas that likely never saw fire on a frequent return interval.

So, I’ve repeatedly written for years that significant woodland acreage across the Missouri Ozarks no longer resembles its historic character, that of large diameter oaks mantled in grasses, sedges and forbs. I’ve reiterated that high quality sites are hard to come by, that I seek them out, but it’s becoming harder to find them thanks to mismanagement -the human element-, deer overpopulation, and continued development. Our scattered nice sites exist today as vignettes, not largescale landscapes. I spend time in nice woods, and I help develop really nice burn units in appropriate settings for fires that follow a cogent prescription with restoration or maintenance in mind. I do hate to cast stones, but just as the vitriolic Westboro Baptist Church does not accurately portray religion, irresponsible practitioners do not represent all of fire management in the state.

If you'd like to follow along with fire season, to check in with Spot Weather Forecasts so carefully forecast by our wonderful folks at the Springfield NOAA office, go here. May others listen and learn from the ongoing discussions, and may we carry fire forward responsibly to help restore fire-mediated systems across Missouri this winter.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Missouri Glade Map available to anyone with internet service....

The multi-year glade mapping project in which I was engaged came to a close this year after years of field verification of the existence of glades and mapping with various geospatial referencing tools. In October, Missouri’s Comprehensive Natural Glades Map was made accessible to GIS users. In recent weeks, a conservation-based organization in Mississippi has made the Missouri Glade Map accessible to everyone. Now, both GIS and internet users can access the virtual locations of Missouri’s restorable glades. Internet users can open the link here to view an interactive map tool that displays the locations of over 88,000 Missouri glades. The map tool allows users to zoom down to whatever scale they wish to view, change the map background layers (topo maps, satellite, terrain, etc), and save their own custom versions of the map. The Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozarks Landscape Conservation Cooperative (GCPO LCC) developed the interactive map link and provided funding support to complete the Missouri Glade mapping effort.

A concise map of Missouri’s extant glades separated by geologic landforms has major conservation implications. The glade mapping project revealed that the majority of Missouri’s glade acreage still exists, although in variously disturbed condition and quality. Mapping methodology and field verification assumes that the mapped glades are to some degree restorable (other than glades destroyed by highways, housing developments, reservoirs and quarries), which means that it can be reasonably assumed that if a landowner cuts and burn cedars, and keeps the cows off these native grasslands, that some semblance of biological integrity can be recovered. During the field verification exercises, I encountered multiple private landowners who were excited that they owned a special piece of landscape, and many of them commented about the "big dragons" and "pretty yellow coneflowers" that exist on their land, but not quite knowing what to do with it. Unfortunately, we also discovered thousands of acres of glades that had been grazed to hell by domestic livestock and may never recover. Missouri's landscapes are a patchwork quilt, obviously, of high, low, and restorable quality, but glade restoration is easy. Keep the cows out of native ecosystems, and use fire periodically to stimulate the seedbank.

An equally important application of the mapping data is the analysis of Missouri’s glade distribution/patterns, rock substrate type and floristic affinities. Throughout the Interior Highlands, it has been noted that 25 glade types across 8 states exist, and the conservation importance of these special natural communities include that at least 207 plant and animal species of conservation concern inhabit these areas. And now, anyone with internet service can see where the glades are.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

November 8: National Wine Tourism Day!

Today's crisp and sunny weather is truly ideal for the celebration of National Wine Tourism Day. The leaves are quickly shedding from the trees, and wineries all over the state are rolling out new vintages and featuring their special holiday wines. November is officially Chambourcin Month in Missouri, the perfect dry red wine for Thanksgiving. There is much, much to celebrate today at Missouri's 120+ wineries!

Holiday wines started showing up in late September with St. James Winery's Cranberry Wine, a sweet and tart little wine. Meramec Vineyards, just down the road from St. James Winery, has produced a lovely Harvest Moon pumpkin spice-white wine and their dessert wine, Stark's Star, which highlights an heirloom grape by the same name. The number of holiday-themed spiced wines in Missouri are becoming increasingly common. And according to all of my winery e-newsletters, folks have started cranking up the Crock pots for mulled wine, cinnamon and other baking spices added to sweet or semi-dry white or red wine.

The days are shorter, winter botany time has come, and recreational winery hopping throughout the state tends to be a surefire way to keep spirits up...

Sunday, November 02, 2014

In Pine-White Oak Woods

High winds on Monday shredded the fall color display in much of the Missouri Ozarks. The sugar maples, hickories and white oaks that occur scattered throughout the pine woodlands in the LaMotte sandstone region of the state, down in prime winery country, were ablaze in a lovely palette of reds, yellows and orange. Unlike in Appalachia to our east, Missouri's maples are a naturally occurring part of the landscape; the recent anti-maple craze going on in the Ozarks is not ecologically based and seems to be driven by a model for growing cellulose rather than an ecosystem.

Not only is there a war on sugar maples in Missouri, but a lot of rumblings about shortleaf pine woodland restoration. The solid shortleaf pine-bluestem region is a little south of where I spent the week, but the LaMotte region is dominated by pine with a white oak component. Fire-mediated for 31 years, this region represents one of the best examples of pine woodlands in Missouri with a rich herbaceous understory. Pine regeneration occurs on a landscape scale here, now that the fuel loading is not thick, dense leaf litter. To restore a pine woodland ecosystem, the primary driver should be the restoration of a flashy grass-forb understory so that the regularly occurring prescribed fires can rush through the area quickly, just to burn off the thatch. Alas, pine woodland systems of asters, little bluestem and a suite of plants and animals that depend on fire are not very common in Missouri where they once stretched for millions of acres. Maybe one day.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Cross Timbers Country

If you've ever seen the early 1980s maps of the ecological regions of the United States, you'll see a region where the Great Plains prairie meets the Eastern Deciduous Forest, aptly called the Cross Timbers Region. Widely scattered and stunted post oaks and black oaks dot the landscape, historically mantled in long lived perennial wildflowers and warm season grasses. Today, Cross Timbers country, located about an hour's drive from the Niangua Basin, is the land of recreational fishing lakes designed to generate hydroelectric power. In Missouri, we have several of these associated lakes surrounded by protected largescale wooded landscapes. While many of these wooded areas are generally depauperate from a biodiversity perspective, they're still undeveloped woods full of birds, and the world isn't making undeveloped woods anymore. Despite the local serious deer overpopulation problem, lack of fire, and long history of grazing, the wooded tracts in Cross Timbers county are protected from development and have an intrinsic value for this reason. It's nice to be in big tracts of woods with short little post oaks and scraggly black oaks that average 50 ft. tall.

Around the Current River, especially near Van Buren, development pressure is significant. When I first saw the new Winona wine shop, a fancy place called The Wine Cube of modern architecture, I couldn't help but think that there go the Ozarks--a vacationing population or full time residents of a class that can support a fancy wine shop? Outside of the Scenic Riverways, on the approach to Van Buren by canoe, massive homes of great value now line the streambanks. There's a lot of money moving into some parts of the Ozarks, especially around the Current River. It's a case of the country turning into the city, similar to the Lake of the Ozarks region; the reasons for having a country home no longer exist. It's a city in and of itself now. Not so much in this part of the Cross Timbers.

Recreational opportunities tend to be focused on the fishing resources and RV parks in the area. Huge, enormous campers and nice boats are pretty common around here. There's one winery, Crane Creek, that specializes in terrific fruit wines; Crane Creek's elderberry and strawberry wines are particularly nice. The drought, their location, and lack of traffic coincident with the end of the Missouri Wine Passport Program have, together, provided a great challenge to this little winery, located a stone's throw from the Nemo corner. At Hobo's, a family style restaurant, one could order Crane Creek's blackberry wine by the glass.

Dining options, like the wine options in the area, are limited to rustic fare: pizza at the bowling alley, a fun, diverse menu (with the ability to modify to make certain foods vegetarian and healthy) at Virginia and Tim's Pub and Grub, and multiple family style barbecue restaurants in the area. This is not the fancy part of the Ozarks or the Lake of the Ozarks region, and I think folks are happy with that. These are good-hearted, hard working people, appreciative of the surrounding natural world and their fishing opportunities. This is not the climate for a fancy wine shop, and it's great that way.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Glades in September

The asters and goldenrods have just started their autumnal displays. Those wonderful yellow composites are still hanging on this late September....

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Botany in Roadside Ditches

It's a seldom occasion when I champion the protection of obviously degraded landscapes like roadsides. In an effort to find Helianthus angustifolius in the southern Ozarks, however, I found myself becoming increasingly upset by the wanton and excessive use of herbicides on rural roadsides, and, worse yet, in ditches that clearly hold water (and invertebrates) much of the growing season. In this situation, the search for H. angustifolius and Solidago leptocephala, the only places we found these desired plants were on roadsides, the two roadside ditches that had been spared widespread herbicide application that serves to homogenize and kill everything in its path.

It's scary enough to learn that most of the American food supply consists of GMO foods and that industrial farms in Missouri have at their disposal a genetically altered seed bank that allows for massive-scale spraying of glyphosate and every other chemical legal on the market (with few if any actual studies on the detrimental impacts to human health....but I'm not going to address all of that and my political alliances). To add insult to injury that biodiversity in Missouri is crashing not just from the deer overpopulation problem, exotic species invasion, and development pressure, but even on the damned roadsides where a few Element of Occurrence Records persist despite plowing and logging and grazing and every other anthropogenic disturbance that degrades natural systems, even roadsides are blasted with ever-increasing potent herbicides to wipe out populations and the assorted biota that have tried to adapt to life on a roadside.

We found a ditch. We found a really nice ditch on a rural road in the Ozarks that had rare plants in it. In that one ditch, we located thriving populations of H. angustifolius (it really should be tracked by Heritage. It's just not going to magically show up on prairies in the Osage Plains where it once was in the 1950s), Solidago leptocephala (once known from sand prairie country, but likely extirpated with all the center point irrigation and plowing), and Eupatorium hyssopifolium. Next to this nice roadside that hasn't been sprayed, we found a little Heteranthera loyal to agricultural ditches and Rhynchospora corniculata, super showy. Everywhere else on the roadsides and what was once a native landscape? Herbicide, farming, herbicide, development. Even the monarch butterfly advocates are concerned about the new crops that can withstand glyphosate--all those milkweeds and other "weeds" that so many (except pollinating insects, birds, and other wildlife) find so baneful are being sprayed to oblivion.

It was actually pretty depressing to find most of the herbarium specimen records for certain fall composites restricted only to roadside ditches that have been spared herbicide treatment. It's not sustainable. And it's depressing. But I sure did see some neat plants this week.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sad Days in Van Buren

Kim, the head concessionaire at Big Spring Lodge and Cabins, has her quilting operation up and running. While tending to the masses coming to the remarkable cabins at the Ozark National Scenic Riverways Big Spring outpost, she quilts, making beautifully colorful blocks of Log Cabin designs and others. I do adore Kim, who will take my last minute calls for cabin reservations, sending the bill to the right address and letting me know whether there will be firewood waiting or if I need to bring my own. But after this season, Kim's operation will shut down as the Scenic Riverways will close the Big Spring Lodge and Cabins for repairs for three years.

Three years, that's a long time to live without a cabin at Big Spring. The cabins and Lodge are fully operational since the days of the Conservation Civilian Corps. In recent years, the concessionaire has added window unit air conditioning to make the cabins more bearable during the late summer nights. But in spring and fall, one can count on timber mill seconds for firewood to keep the cabins warm. Other lodging in Van Buren? There's Rosecliff, the hotel attached to The Landing, the premier canoe outfitter and nice restaurant with a full bar, great porch and vegetarian options.

But it's not a cabin at Big Spring. Our waitress at the lodge, wearing her watermelon apron and barrettes in her hair, said that the National Park Service wasn't going to change the rustic character of the lodge and cabins with their planned upgrades (I hope she's right). The closure of the cabins and the lodge will allow for foundation and electrical repairs, and upgrades to the cabin kitchens which are now spaces with electric hotplates and coffeepots. I'm worried they're going to bring wifi to the cabins, that they're going to upgrade the cabins and lodge so much so that fancy city people will come and change the character of the landscape. I hope my worries are unfounded. The jet boats in the Big Spring area have already decimated the river, I hope development doesn't destroy the cabins and lodge.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Fleeting

It's been a summer of scheduled appointments, of conferences, of not spending time in the natural world beyond the random trips to rivers and streams and the rogue woods hiking. Temperatures are high in late August in Missouri, so rivers and streams are more welcoming than ever. Daddy flies in from Louisiana on Tuesday, and Wednesday morning we're setting out for Big Spring country via St. James and Concord grape stands and earnest wineries like Heinrichhaus over on CR 1000. I told him to bring swim trunks, that splashing around in the Current River would be the best thing for him while we're staying at those fantastic Conservation Civilian Corps-built cabins at Big Spring that were not built for hot August nights. My grandpa Bacil worked with the CCC building Army barracks in the Gulf south, but they've since been torn down. I just can't wait to show Daddy how the Ozark National Scenic Riverways has done such a nice job (better than Louisiana) preserving the cultural heritage of that period.

Cicadas drone all day and night. Katydids don't start talking until nightfall, but when they start up, they are wonderfully vocal until the very early morning hours. Bats are still active at dusk as they flit around the street lamps hawking moths. While most folks recreate during June and July, I try to avoid people, so my recreation period begins when school starts and people disappear. I'm looking forward to a five day float on the Eleven Point River, to a trip to Arizona to see some of those ridiculously beautiful birds on their way south, and to shorter trips during aster and goldenrod season when the crickets start talking at night as they presage fall.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Seed Tick Country

Generally, as a rule, the only time I really use trail systems in Missouri's natural places is during seed tick season. As an asocial melancholic, I don't like seeing other people when I visit nature, so I avoid weekends and trails. But during seed tick season, I am somewhat and vaguely grateful for trails. Still, only between Mondays and Thursdays when few others recreate outdoors.

In the past few years, there has developed in Missouri a growing hysteria about the dangers of visiting nature: bears! mountain lions! snakes! rocky trails and twisted ankles! dehydration! I've always maintained that driving to nature is more dangerous than anything in nature, and I am certainly more wary of tick borne illness than I am of venomous snakes. But it doesn't keep me out of the woods. Seed tick season, however, is brutal. With the Ozarks' ever-burgeoning deer herd, ticks seem to be increasing in abundance. Regardless of my habit of wearing light colored trousers with duct taped ankles, seed ticks still manage to find their way to my torso and ankles. So I try not to bust through too much brush in August. Two steps off a trail at the toeslope of a glade and five big slugs of thousands of seed ticks scatter all over my trousers and ankles. Swatting them off with a big cedar branch helps, and if I liked my boots and wore them more often than I wear my running shoes, the tiny ticks wouldn't find their way through my simple cotton socks, but I don't wear my boots much. So I deal with seed ticks.

Nevertheless, seed tick infestation is preventable, and I have little empathy for hikers who wear shorts and flip flops to the woods in August. And regardless of the threat of ticks (and snakes and spiders and mountain lions and bobcats and bears and trees falling and stepping on natural tread that might twist an ankle...), there is nothing that will keep me from witnessing the explosive display of the yellow composites in August.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Stone Hill Winery does it again

HERMANN, Mo - The 2014 Missouri Governor's Cup top honors were awarded to Stone Hill Winery for their 2012 Cross J Vineyard Norton. This prestigious wine also took home the top honors of C.V. Riley Award for Best Norton and the designation of Best of Class Dry Red wine. This marks the second straight year Stone Hill Winery won both the Governor’s Cup and C.V. Riley Award after winning both awards last year for their 2011 Estate Bottled Norton. The Missouri Wine Competition is a premier competition designed to recognize and promote quality wines made in the state. The Governor's Cup recognizes the best wine in Missouri and was determined by a panel of nine judges from across the U.S and one industry judge. During the course of the two-day competition, which wrapped up July 16, the judges tasted 300 wines before awarding the Governor's Cup and C.V. Riley honors to Stone Hill Winery. "This competition truly showcases the top wines in Missouri," said Jim Anderson, Executive Director of the Missouri Wine and Grape Board. "This year, more wines were awarded gold medals than ever before, which is a direct reflection of the quality of wines Missouri is producing." Stone Hill Winery, established in 1847, is the oldest winery in Missouri. Stone Hill boxed its two millionth case of wine last year. The winery, with locations in Hermann, New Florence and Branson, boasts many awards over the years, including multiple past Governor's Cup awards, including last year's sweep of the same three top awards with their 2011 Estate Bottled Norton. "To win the trifecta at the Missouri Wine Competition two years in a row is an incredible honor," said Jon Held, Vice President and General Manager of Stone Hill Winery. "It's a great compliment to our super vineyard and winemaking team and to the value of investing in state of the art technology." The C.V. Riley Award is for Best Norton, the official state grape of Missouri. The award is named in honor of C.V. Riley, Missouri's first state appointed entomologist who is credited with salvaging the French wine industry with his discovery of the state's pest resistant rootstock. Norton is a Native American grape and Missouri's premier red varietal, accounting for 20 percent of all grapes grown in the state. Norton grapes produce a rich, spicy, full-bodied red wine. The Governor's Cup winner was selected from the 12 Best of Class honorees: Sparkling: LBV Brut, Les Bourgeois Vineyards - Rocheport
Rosé: Estate Bottled La Fleur Sauvage, Augusta Winery - Augusta
Dry White: 2013 Seyval Blanc, Montelle Winery - Augusta
Semi-Dry White: 2013 Vignoles, Les Bourgeois Vineyards and Winery - Rocheport
Sweet White: 2012 Vignoles, Hermannhof Winery - Hermann
Dry Red: 2012 Cross J Norton Vineyard, Stone Hill Winery - Hermann
Semi-Dry Red: Hunters Red, Adam Puchta - Hermann
Sweet Red: Stone House Red, Montelle Winery - Augusta
Fruit Wine: Good News Red, Windy Wine Company - Osborn
Dessert/Fortified:Signature Port, Adam Puchta Winery - Hermann
Late Harvest/Icewine: 2013 Late Harvest Vignoles, Stone Hill Winery - Hermann
Distilled Product: Cherry Brandy, Montelle Winery - Augusta
Judges determined the awards through the process of blind tastings. Throughout the course of the competition, they granted 51 gold medals, 109 silver medals and 88 bronze medals. Thirty Missouri wineries participated in this year's competition. The winning wines will be on display throughout the 2014 Missouri State Fair, held in Sedalia Aug. 7-17. Many will be available to taste and purchase in the Missouri Wines tent on the fairgrounds near the grandstand.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

In mesic streambank forests

The morning cicadas starting their droning around 10 o'clock this morning when the temperatures had already climbed into the lower 80s. I would rather have been on a river this morning but drinking hotel coffee along a streambank rich with the big strapping blades of Carex albursina and drooping white flowerheads of Polymnia, loyal to talus slopes and forested settings, was also nice.

Walking the spring branch and seeing the forces of nature working alone as they do in these mesic woods, shaped not by fire but by windthrow and rain events, I was reminded of comments from a forester who visited the site with me years ago. He tried to tell me that these moist north-facing slopes should possess a carpet of warm season grasses and widely spaced post oaks rather than the old maples, white oaks and wild hydrangeas that exist today. He tried to tell me that we need to burn these areas, these mesic forest settings, to "promote savanna." It's just silly, frankly, when folks unfamiliar with ecologically complex systems try to offer one prescription across all landscapes for "restoration." So today I was reminded of the anti-maple craze going on in the Ozarks in reaction to papers and studies from the Appalachians. The Ozark Highlands do not have a "maple problem" along the lines of the deer-infested Eastern Deciduous Forest range northeast of the Ozarks. Our widely spaced large girth maples and white oaks, pine and Kentucky coffee trees are not necessarily out of context with the historic character of so many acres across the area, and these wanton maple eradication projects that I'm discovering throughout the region are not based on any ecological standards but as a draw for timber? Or just meddling with forested settings because practitioners have chainsaws and Tordon? I really do not know.

Streambanks and mesic forests in the Ozarks are rich, rich sites with a suite of flora that includes Solidago flexicaulis and delicate little plants that depend on cooler temperatures and deep soil. Streambank wildlife in the Ozarks usually include Louisiana waterthrush and those sneaky green herons. Today we encountered a den of four mink frolicking in a fallen tree along the sreambank, the young pups chasing one another and the adults swimming through the Sparganium and duckweed in the cool 56 degree water. The hike in shady conditions represented such a vast departure from working on glades in the summer months. But, like so many other fabulous natural history sites in the Ozarks, the moist forested conditions along streams here are associated in a heterogeneous matrix with hot, dry uplands and glades where fire-mediated flora and fauna exist just a stone's throw away from the maple-white oak woods on the north slopes.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Long July Afternoons

I have something even greater than the deepest depths of empathy and compassion for people like my Daddy who worked hard all his life and has been absolutely lost since he retired from teaching many years ago. Now age is taking its brutal toll on him (and probably thousands of other Americans) who worked for years socking money away into a retirement system only to find himself without a creative outlet and passion for healthful living so he spends entirely too many hours in doctors offices and spending hours in front of the television. Ach.

So the glade mapping project that lasted almost four years is over; the final shapefile will be made available in the next couple of weeks for anyone interested in seeing all 88,000+ mapped glades in Missouri (complete with substrate and a fully stocked attribute table!). Much fieldwork for the past four years has included field truthing mapped glades across the state--thousands of glades of questionable quality, but glades nonetheless. Even though the glade project is over, I'm not heading off to die in a pasture like an old bull bison but my days-hours-minutes are still absolutely packed. Summer is chugging along and I only learned last night that my yard harbors two species of katydids (which explains the heretofore unidentifiable nightly chorus that joins the "regular" katydids and cicadas). I have encountered monster-sized beautiful timber rattlesnakes in the St. Francois Mountains (moved this one off the road with a stick which his girth broke) and really nice pine woods full of Rudbeckia. I've devoured all of the compilations of David Foster Wallace's essays and really enjoyed all of his tennis-related articles. Regular fieldwork, visiting nice woods, chanterelles! my garden so full of kale, cucumbers and basil, daily tennis, and the early lights of the fireflies as they come alive in the yard at sunset I just don't have time to do anything indoors.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Moving Gravel

Over 100 years ago during the Big Cut in the Ozarks when every square inch of the Ozark Highland dome was ravaged by logging, hillsides throughout the region were stripped bare of vegetation. Without vegetation, major erosion occurred with every subsequent year--streams once characterized by limestone or dolomite slabs and narrow streambanks were filled with gravel accreting from the eroding hillsides. All that chert rubble in our Ozark streams are generally artifact of overlogging and the subsequent grazing by domestic livestock. It remains unfathomable that anyone would consider any of these practices coincident with conservation of our natural places.

And so, with all that gravel in the streams grew yet another industrial pillaging of our state's natural places: Gravel Mining. I won't explain how detrimental this practice is to benthic creatures and to the structure of these streams that have now adapted to life socked in with gravel, nor will I complain about how destructive it is to bring heavy equipment associated with mining and logging into our now highly erodable and fragile Ozark soils which clings to every fragment of vegetation to hold it together. One of the state's largest gravel mining companies existed along the lower Current River around Doniphan, now a truly trashed out part of the river that is subsequently littered with gravel mining equipment that was abandoned there when the industry lost its allure. However, gravel on all of our new roads and driveways and continued "improvements" must come from somewhere.

Now we have gravel quarries in the Ozarks. Sure, there's still a lot of gravel mining of the streams going on despite the significant ecological toll this practice has on native environments and biota, and the evidence can be seen on certain ridgetops that now have thriving populations of Ozark witch hazel or sycamores, plants normally associated with low, wet, bottomland woodlands and forests but have been transplanted through gravel traveling to our dry rocky uplands. Leave it to unassuming folks to file Element of Occurrence records for such out of place and unnatural occurrences of these species.

Last November, I went backpacking into the timber rattlesnake country of the St. Francois Mountains, home to enormous igneous domes and glades and flatwoods of significant integrity. When we returned to the parking lot after a three day trip into the backcountry, my colleague noted a strange population of a Rudbeckia unseen on the top of the igneous dome before. Thinking not much of it, I filed the conversation away until yesterday when I returned to the same site to see said Rudbeckia almost in flower. Not only was there a strange Rudbeckia uncommon in Missouri taking over the area, but the ever burgeoning perennial rhizomatous population was sandwiched between multiple limestone-dolomite glade and fen plants that had absolutely no reason to be on top of an igneous dome. The area had been "enhanced" by the addition of a limestone chat parking area, with the gravel carrying with it an entire natural community type that is now encroaching on the dry igneous flatwoods at the top of this dome.

Homogenization is occurring at a breakneck speed in the Ozarks, and most of it is caused by our own carelessness. It is not an accident if the results could be prevented.

Friday, June 20, 2014

June 20, 1980: Appellation Day for Augusta, Missouri

Missouri's wine and grape industry has grown by leaps and bounds in the past thirty years, perhaps even surpassing our prominence in the business during the 1800s--but probably not. Today, Missouri wineries are producing lovely, supple, and diverse wines, award winning numbers worthy of collection and aging. We've past the stage of being one of the largest producers of Concord grapes for jam (but you can still buy truly delicious Concords from roadsides around St. James every August), and we now grow what may be the best Norton grapes in the country (in my opinion).

On June 20, 1980, Augusta Missouri, nestled on the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River Valley, was recognized as the first U.S. Wine District, or American Viticultural Area #1, because of its unique soil, climate, historical significance, and quality of wines produced from grapes grown in vineyards that date to the 1800’s. While New York and California both were huge producers of grapes and wine at the same period, Augusta reigned supreme for their palatable wines. And so, in 1980, Augusta Missouri put America on the map for their wine production. Tomorrow, Augusta Winery will be hosting an Appellation Festival to celebrate this historic event. If you're looking for remarkably great Missouri wines (including Norton port!) head to this terrific region and start tasting...

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Moisture

The recent tropical weather pattern of late afternoon thunderstorms and high humidities has made planning long days in the field a little tricky. Vegetation is blooming like proverbial gangbusters and the leaves on my redbud shrubs are enormous, resembling South American philodendrons ready to climb into the forest canopy. While I don't know what all of this rain is doing to the Missouri vineyard grapes, I know that strawberry season is officially over with the last strawberry harvest last week of watery, overripe, and not very flavorful berries. The peach harvest in the upper part of the Ozarks is expected to be later than normal, so if you see peach vendors from the Bootheel selling peaches in June on your rural route, snatch them up. When they're in season, I generally live on a diet of Missouri peaches, Queen Anne cherries from the Pacific Northwest, and vegetables from the yard. While we don't have the 365 day growing season like we have in New Orleans, Missouri gardeners have all the growing conditions to grow some stellar food.

I don't like the sound of words like "moist," "nourish," and "belly," all of which have come into frequent use in my news venues with the not-so-recent upswing in the locavore movement, cooking, health, etc. but there's no substitute: the moist days have allowed early summer native vegetation to bloom profusely and perfectly, just waiting for a disastrous drought, a pummeling hailstorm, or worse. Chanterelles are popping up all over dry woodlands in the Ozarks, just gorgeous mushrooms, so charming it's almost difficult to pick them (but sauteed with olive oil, Tony Chachere's Cajun seasoning and red wine? Hard to beat the flavor. Especially on pizza.). High quality native ecosystems without too many deer and with a good not-too-frequent fire history should be in full bloom these days. It's always depressing to see shrubs like Ceanothus all clipped off by deer, so I go to those places without too many deer. Like my own land, I may try to find a way to put a massive fence around nice woods to keep the hooved locusts out.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

In the Flatwoods

The instructions I gave the group were simple: hike up the hill to where the land flattens out. In the Niangua Basin, these broad flat hilltops are ubiquitous, and, in many cases, still in wonderful ecological condition. The Upland Flatwoods here are characterized by a clay fragipan that allows for pooling water and stunted canopy growth; so, the scattered blackjack and post oaks that populate the area are short enough that one can easily see yellow-throated vireos up close in May.

A lovely day in late May awaited us with spiderwort in full bloom in the flatwoods. These perched water table-based landscapes tend to harbor different suites of sedges and, in some of the wetter areas, some different rushes than normal dry woodlands host. We were there to look for birds, but noted every few moments the passing of massive butterflies, at least thirty woodland and tiger swallowtails, along with some little falcate orangetips (host plant: a spring wildflower, pussytoes) hanging on this late spring day. Bird diversity was high, which was expected in an area that is surrounded by a landscape treated with regularly occurring fire for the past 30 years. Among the highlights were the Acadian flycatchers and yellow warblers. I am so fond of yellow-breasted chats with their silly calls and intonations, hanging out in shrubby areas that are par for the course in these fabulous woodlands.