History and AVAs
MISSOURI WINE HISTORY
German settlers established the town of Hermann on the banks of the Missouri River. Although too rocky for many crops, the ground around Hermann was well-suited for growing wine grapes. A decade later, Hermann’s wineries were producing more than 10,000 gallons of wine a year. Eventually, more than 60 wineries populated the small town, and by the 1880s, wine lovers in America and Europe were enjoying two million gallons of Missouri wine each year.
A dangerous vineyard pest, the phylloxera louse, destroyed enormous tracts of vineyards in France. Missouri helped rebuild the European vineyards by sending phylloxera resistant American rootstock to be grafted with French vine cuttings. The resultant vines proved extremely hardy, and soon the French wine industry was back on its feet.
Italian immigrants established vineyards in the St. James area of Missouri. Missouri’s wine industry thrived at the turn of the century, with about 100 wineries throughout the state.
Prohibition dealt a near fatal blow to the Missouri wine industry. When the 18th Amendment was repealed 13 years later, little remained of the once strong industry. Negative aftereffects of Prohibition, in the form of high liquor taxes and license fees, lingered for decades and prevented the wine industry from reestablishing itself.
1960s and 1970s
The rebirth of the commercial wine industry in Missouri began with the restoration of several original wineries. The early pioneers worked hard to regain the former stature of the wine industry amid a slowly changing cultural and regulatory environment.
A new tax on wine provided for the establishment of the Missouri Wine and Grape program. A state viticulturist was hired to assist in the restoration process, and Missouri State University’s fruit experiment station began working with winemakers to determine grape varieties suitable for Missouri’s climate. Augusta became the first federally recognized American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1980. The wine regions around Hermann, the southwest Missouri Ozark mountains and highlands, and the south central region around St. James have also been designated as AVAs.
The Missouri wine industry in the new millennium is thriving. The number of wineries has increased, and Missouri wineries are producing diverse, complex and sophisticated wines that easily earn top awards in national and international competitions.
The Norton/Cynthiana varietal is passed in legislation as Missouri’s official state grape.
The Missouri Wine and Grape Board is formed now. No longer an advisory board, the Wine and Grape Board now directs the marketing and research efforts of the Missouri wine industry.
The Institute for Continental Climate Viticulture and Enology is established. ICCVE, funded by the Missouri Wine and Grape Board, conducts research on grape varieties and vineyard management techniques that contribute to the growth of the wine industry in Missouri and the Midwest.
The state of Missouri proudly welcomed its 100th winery to its lineup.
An American Viticultural Area (AVA) is a designated wine grape-growing region in the United States distinguishable by geographic features, with boundaries defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Missouri is home to the country’s first designated AVA.
The first AVA in the United States was accorded to Augusta, Missouri on June 20, 1980. Seven California districts and one in Oregon had filed applications with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; however, the honor went to the 15 square mile area surrounding Augusta. The bureau cited the unique soil, climate and wines, as well as Augusta’s long history as one of America’s oldest and foremost grape and wine districts. In the mid-1800s German immigrants found the Missouri River area just west of St. Louis to be well suited for growing grapes. Napa Valley was the second AVA named after Augusta on February 27, 1981.
OZARK MOUNTAIN AVA
The Ozark Mountain AVA was established on August 1, 1986 and covers a vast 3,500,000 acres in southern Missouri, extending into northwest Arkansas and northeast Oklahoma. The Ozark Mountain AVA is so large, several smaller AVA’s lay within its borders, including Augusta, Hermann and Ozark Highlands. It is the sixth largest AVA in the United States.
The Hermann AVA was recognized on February 27, 1987 and consists of 51,200 acres in the Hermann area between St. Louis and Jefferson City, Missouri. German immigrants settled the Missouri River Valley area in the 1830s and began planting vineyards in what is today one of the most historic wine regions.
OZARK HIGHLANDS AVA
The Ozark Highlands AVA was designated on September 30, 1987; although the grape growing tradition goes back to the 1870s. The fourth accorded AVA in Missouri encompasses 1,280,000 acres in south-central Missouri, covering portions of eleven Missouri counties including the town of St. James, Missouri.
LOESS HILLS DISTRICT AVA
The Loess Hills District AVA was established on April 4, 2016 and consists of 12,897 square miles of loess-based hills comprising a long, narrow region along the western banks of the Missouri and Big Sioux Rivers in western Iowa and northwestern Missouri. The topography is characterized by rolling to steep hills. The deep loess enables grape vine roots to reach deeply into the soil and allows water to drain quickly.