Making great wine requires hard work all year long. While many Missouri wine lovers visit vineyards during the warmer months of the year, it can be easy to overlook the critical offseason during the winter months. Westphalia Vineyards knows the quality of the wine correlates directly with a consistent work ethic and resolve.
Terry and Mary Neuner, owners of Westphalia Vineyards in Westphalia, Missouri, take pride in the work that goes in during all seasons to create their wines. Not only do they capture patrons with their wine and unique varietals, but they also diversify their operation with Wagyu cattle and beef business. They grow Norton, Chambourcin, Vignoles and Missouri Riesling in two vineyards in Central Missouri. They have six acres in Westphalia and six acres at Naught Vineyards in Jefferson City.
Missouri Riesling is a native American varietal that became extinct in the state post-prohibition. Vines across Missouri were ripped from their roots, causing the hardy varietal to fade into the past. After a by-chance discovery from Terry that Cornell University in New York still produced this vine, he reached out to their National Agricultural Experimentation Program for cuttings. Five of these cuttings from vines originally planted in 1890, have now grown to around 700 vines on their operation.
The importance of cuttings for vine replacement is imperative to vineyard health and improvement each year. New cuttings from each of their varietals come from the pruning process that occurs during the winter months. It is certainly one of the most important tasks for all wineries across the state, as well as independent grape growers.
“How you prune determines how your crop will be next year,” says Scott Berhorst, production manager for the vineyard and farm.
It is important to have a hard frost before pruning begins. This process begins after the first of the new year. After the frost, they begin pruning on the days above freezing, averaging 40 hours of pruning per acre. They start with their hardiest varietal, Norton, and work their way to Vignoles. Arms and shoots are trimmed to focus around the head of each vine. They leave the ideal number of arms to create new shoots and buds for the next round of the growing season.
This practice can be monotonous but certainly takes skill and strategy to prepare for growing the next grape crop. This allows the canopy growth to be at an advantage from the start, mitigating risk from pests, inclement weather and disease.
On the cold and wintery days, bottling takes priority, as well as other smaller tasks that add up such as barrel sterilization, vineyard maintenance and wine monitoring and management.
The state of Missouri is known for its strong agricultural industry. With that knowledge and strength in the practice of agriculture, Missourians have always seen diversification as a way to keep their land productive, even when it isn’t used for traditional crops such as corn and soy.
Terry was one of the first Missourians to be a Wagyu producer and a local source for Wagyu beef. After 20 years of raising Wagyu cattle, he is confident he has some of the best beef around. Terry had a long career utilizing his degree in biochemistry with 3M. He loves to continue this education with making quality wine and beef.
“There’s always something to learn,” he says. “I absolutely never stop learning and observing.” He believes there’s always a reason and a way to navigate problems towards a better product.
Scott plays a large role in managing the farm and vineyards and helps make key decisions. He takes the market-ready Wagyu to butcher at a USDA inspected processing facility each week. In addition to marketing and selling beef with Terry, he assists with wine orders and deliveries. Westphalia Vineyards has a tasting room a few miles away in town where Mary entertains customers with the stories of their wines, historic property, as well as other tales from her and Terry’s extensive expat life.
Terry is quick to admit that he is always learning and perfecting his craft, whether it be growing grapes, making wine or raising and marketing his Wagyu beef.
“We are sticklers for doing things the right way,” Terry says. “We don’t like to leave anything to chance.”
Terry, Mary and Scott, along with their office manager Arlene, are meticulous about details for everything they produce. A philosophy of practicing agriculture with intent makes the products unique, often calling for extra labor and time spent. Although it requires more energy, patience and investment, it is evident that quality shines through on every end product.
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