Winemakers pressing away despite late harvest

The wet spring delayed planting, so the fall harvest in Missouri is running a bit late. Farmers should have already been cutting corn, but that's off by about three weeks.

It's still too early for soybeans, so the crop that is first to market this year will end up in a bottle.

At the Les Bourgeios Winery in Rocheport, workers get up before the sun to press the white wine grapes coming in from southwest Missouri. The idea is to finish the juicing process before the heat of the day sets in.

"A lot of the off flavors come from the skins," said winemaker Jake Holman. "The warmer things are, the more of those flavors they're gonna absorb. What we try to do is get them as cool as possible and process them as fast as possible so they have minimum skin contact."

In Missouri, there are now 1,700 acres of wine grape vineyards. State officials estimate the economic impact at $1.6 billion.

"We rank about 10th in the nation in wine production," said Danene Beedle of the Missouri Department of Agriculture. "We now have 125 wineries in the state, with nine wine trails."

In a drought year such as 2012, and with young vines, each acre might produce as little as two tons of grapes. In a wet year such as 2013, with mature vines, that yield could mushroom to ten tons.

"On average, we usually balance our vines about four to five tons an acre," said Holman.

The heat of the summer determines more than the number of grapes. It can determine the flavor of the wine as well. Ironically, a drier year makes for a sweeter wine, as the grapes are smaller and the sugar becomes more concentrated.

Holman says the challenge this year was a late bud break - the point at which the plants leaf out and the new fruit-bearing shoots grow. That compresses the harvest period, a particular challenge to the red wine grapes, which ripen last anyway.

Winemakers worry about the grapes getting sunburned.

"I'm a little concerned about that," said Holman. "But if the weather hangs like it is right now, we'll definitely have some good fruit."

Les Bourgeois will hold its annual grape crush festival on September 21. It's a free, family-oriented afternoon where the public gets to stomp on the grapes.

The Department of Agriculture also notes that September is Wine Month in Missouri, the time when awards are given to the vineyards.

Stone Hill in Hermann won the Governor's Cup this year for its 2011 estate-bottled Norton.

It takes nine months to process and age a wine properly - which means you won't be drinking the 2013 vintage until the middle of next year.