Sunday, November 12, 2017

November: Chambourcin Month!

Annually, the always-talented members of the Missouri Wine and Grape Board wisely choose November to celebrate and highlight Missouri's great Thanksgiving wine during the month of November. Chambourcin- light-bodied like a pinot noir, fruity like a Beaujolais Nouveau, pairs well with fall flavors, and a good gateway wine for white wine drinkers who want to venture into reds- is a versatile grape that is fantastic as a varietal, but is also a wonderful blending grape. Many in the Ozark Highlands are aware that Herr Heinrich at Heinrichhaus Winery in St. James is the official King of Chambourcin, but let that not diminish the incredible diversity and quality of so many other Ozark wineries' Chambourcins.

From Baltimore Bend Winery's newsletter, the background on the creation of Chambourcin:

Popular among Missouri winemakers, this versatile grape was developed by French biochemist Joannes Seyve to specifically withstand colder weather and to be more resistant to disease. Seyve often used Seibel hybrids produced in the 1860s, but Chambourcin's exact parentage is unknown. It is thought to be a crossing of native North American vines with a Siebel hybrid.

Unlike Norton and Cynthiana, I don't know about too much research into the origins of this fantastic grape. As a general rule, if I don't purchase a Norton at a winery, I'll normally default to the Chambourcin, a practice that has sometimes resulted in an entire rack of 30 bottles of Chambourcin or Chambourcin-Norton blends and super random bottles of the only palatable wine I could find-- apple, elderberry or otherwise. While Missouri wineries produce among the best examples of Norton in the United States, Illinois vintners are making great Chambourcin--it should serve as their state grape. Indiana wineries excel at Traminette, which is fantastic and so highly variable that it makes for an interesting tasting anytime it's on the menu. Nevertheless, Chambourcin grapes are a little bigger than Norton, a little more versatile than Norton, tastes great aged in steel or oak, and, these traits taken together, make this grape perhaps a little more popular to local winemakers. And it's perfect for the Thanksgiving table when you're tired of the light and fruity Nouveau.

At the time of this writing, November 12, I'm in a race against time to accrue 50,000 points in the Missouri Wine and Grape Board's MVP program, a rewards program that has been extended until next year. I need the 50K points by December 31, 2017 to score tickets to the wine and food extravaganza where winemakers and customers mingle over great examples of Missouri wine. I'm over halfway there, but to finish out the points, I must make targeted trips. I've paid visits to wineries in far-flung reaches of the state only to find out they don't have the rewards tickets--they didn't meet the deadline to receive them or they were just "never sent." Granted, visiting any winery in Missouri on non-busy days is a great time, but in the throes of fall, many are only open on weekends which can sometimes be related to being at a Chuck E. Cheese for sorority girls. Not my vibe. I go to wineries off-the-beaten- path, avoiding festival weekends like Oktoberfests and beer-and-wine extravaganza weekends. The drunken festival crowd is not a desirable setting for me.

And so, yesterday we set out for the Sedalia area wineries, a landscape where the Ozarks meet the prairies. The first stop was Wildlife Ridge Winery, a nice rustic setting with cows and donkeys next door where we enjoyed a bottle of Paintbrush Red, a Chambourcin blend named after the lovely Paintbrush Prairie, a local natural area that erupts in red Indian Paintbrush wildflowers each spring. Three winery dogs (2 old beagles and a Great Pyrenees), friendly staff, supple Missouri dry wines while we shared the tasting room with a catered birthday party for a designated "Princess." Wildlife Ridge also offers a sweet wine called Sweet Pea that made my travel buddy exclaim loudly in surprise of the sample after we had enjoyed so many tastings of dry offerings. A little embarrassed she was when she realized the entire Princess party was drinking it. I don't recommend following the Google maps directions here. Just follow the road signs from Hwy. 50. We ended up seeing entire 20mph neighborhoods when we could have just taken Hwy. 65 to Hwy. 50. This is a fantastic winery that serves cheese, sausage and crackers as snacks. The wine, the winery dogs and nice staff definitely make Wildlife Ridge Winery a destination.

Just a short drive away is the charming German town of Cole Camp, my first introduction to cute German communities in Missouri. Lovely architecture, their own little town fair with jam judging and quilt shows, an Amish bakery restaurant and a winery! Eichenberg Winery is located in the heart of Cole Camp and serves wine to please a variety of palates. Their winery is decked out now in holiday flair, including dark red Christmas lights in the bathroom. They can't serve wine by the glass because they don't have a food serving license. I've bought fresh bottles of their Chambourcin before and was pleased, but yesterday I picked up an apple wine to serve when my dad visits for Thanksgiving. I'm thinking of it as a brunch wine to serve with a cheese plate and maybe a poached egg on toast with avocado. The setting at Eichenberg Winery is always charming, but they may keep their tasting bar wines open for too long before tossing them. With limited hours, they probably can't go through entire bottles in the proper timeframe. I do love Cole Camp, especially the town's proximity to all of the great prairie preserves in the local area.

Thanks to the folks at Wildlife Ridge Winery, we learned of a winery that was not on Google and not on the Missouri winery map! Dale Hollow Winery opened in 2017. Located in the heart of Stover, which was once the mailing address to the wonderful Grey Bear Winery, now closed, this new winery is making outstanding dry red wine. I must add Dale Hollow Winery to the Missouri list of Norton wine producers and need to send a bottle to the secretary, the keeper of records of the Norton Wine Society. Their Norton was fabulous, nice tannins, good legs in the glass and certainly able to be aged a while in the bottle. I wasn't expecting this winery on the route so it's a great surprise and I'll definitely be back there when they're not just about to close.

In one day I was able to accrue 1600 rewards points, what with the first stop at Les Bourgeois Winery's tasting room for my 100 point ticket. I must be targeted in my approach to areas to visit as many more wineries to make it to 50K by December 31. There are so many new wineries opening in Missouri with so many great wines to taste, it's hard to stomach that I can't retire for 20 years and just spend my time traipsing through this great state collecting Nortons and Chambourcins.