I spent Saturday at Michael Amigoni's vineyard in west-central Missouri. Michael is the godfather of Missouri vinifera, and his dedication to the growing of these traditional European varietals borders on obsession, but in a good way. Our region is still devoted almost entirely to hybrid varietals. I like many of these, but I personally feel that we need to grow at least 30% vinifera to help build a consumer market. Missouri vinifera could provide a bridge for consumers skeptical about both Midwestern viticulture and the unfamiliar varietals largely grown here. Michael would probably rather see 100% vinifera grown in Missouri despite the extra dedication, risk and labor involved in producing it here. He is having success, as you can see from the above photo, which shows veraison well underway in his Cab Franc block.
Michael's uncompromising dedication to premium winegrowing is tempered by his unrestrained enthusiasm for viticulture and a willingness to advise all comers. His vineyard is always filled with neophytes seeking knowledge, and he'll share everything he knows in exchange for a few hours of labor. One of his disciples has been recently motivated to sell his dental practice and plans to move to Washington to start his own vineyard and winery.
Michael has had his greatest success in the region with Cabernet Franc. Despite the fact of this year's freeze, he has a healthy crop of this varietal. With the number of Cab Franc plantings increasing, I'm tempted to change my plans and begin my commercial vineyard with a few barrels of this varietal. I believe Riesling would do well here, but it needs to hang a long time and Franc would have fewer problems with sour rot, bitter rot and ripe rot. Unfortunately, we have to contend with that trinity of cluster maladies rather than botrytis, which would actually be welcome in a Riesling vineyard. We also discussed Gruner Veltliner, an interesting, food-friendly Austrian varietal gaining popularity despite its cumbersome handle. It might be even more rot-susceptible than Riesling, though, and it has some issues with tenderness in early shoots. That doesn't bode well for my windy vineyard site or for the potential for more frost damage due to changing weather patterns.
So my goal has now changed. I plan to initially plant 300 Cabernet Franc vines next spring if I can get a block limed, plowed to at least 36 inches, and outfitted with an irrigation system. I'll then add at least 150 more vines (1 barrel) of Franc or Riesling every year after that.