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THINK GLOBAL, DRINK LOCAL

Locavores, goes the trendy and annoyingly specific term for people who, by eating fresh and local foods, lessen their carbon footprint (another less than poetic description for something really good). Locavores, I must agree with you: eat local, drink local. Food is fresher the closer it’s grown. Most foods that are destined to be shipped a thousand miles away are harvested earlier than those that somebody might eat tonight, and they have less flavor than they ought to have. Ripe is good.

Fresh is best, if you want the best foods. But some foods are different; maybe freshness isn’t everything. With cheeses, stews, soups and wines, among others, a little time can do wondrous things. Since alcohol is a preservative, fresh isn’t necessary to good wine. Drinking local wine shouldn’t matter, right?

Turns out it does.  Supporting local business is good for local economies; supporting local farmers saves land from less scenic and more damaging pursuits. Successful farms rescue land from the bulldozer and from concrete. You know what? I live in Kansas City and I want see a vineyard when I drive out of town.

So wine writer Dave McIntyre sends out a bunch of emails a few weeks ago and asks if I want to be one of a number of journalisti to coordinate our efforts: to Drink Local, and to WRITE local.  At least for a week. Write about the men and women who are making wine around you and then put your stuff on line; meanwhile, everybody else will be doing the same thing, each in his or her own spot.

Well, duh. I like local. I want other people to know about our local wines. So, yeah??

So here we go. Last week I talked about the Missouri State Wine Competition. I’ve been writing about that event for a couple of decades and more. Nobody listens. I mean, nobody reads. Okay, some people do. But half of those reading it think about writing me, as some always do: “Are you kidding me? Missouri wine??”

Yep. But this blog isn’t just about Missouri wine, though I’m eager to tell you about Tony Kooyumjian’s typically delicious Augusta Chambourcin. No. I am compelled to write about wines from this part of the country because there are excellent wines here, where few wines of excellence have ever been created. Those successes make me want to yell out, especially when nobody seems to be listening, that an utterly dedicated winegrower is capable of crafting enjoyable wine, even where no one has done so before.

That’s big stuff to me. Napa Valley? Yeah, we get that. Bordeaux? Uh huh. Burgundy, Champagne, the Mosel or Rheingau? Tuscany, Piedmont, the Yarra Valley and Mendoza? Yeah, you see where I’m going on this.

But northeastern Kansas? Central Nebraska? Iowa?

First, let’s talk Iowa. Last year’s Mid-American Wine Competition (it’s based in Des Moines) saw Iowa’s Fireside Winery win the award for Iowa’s best wine. This year was different: the Iowa wine was the Best White Wine of the Show. We judges voted it best white wine without being aware of its Iowa roots; Snus Hill Vineyard Edelweiss was just damn good. Snus Hill Vineyards has made some pleasant wines before, but this was absolutely at a different level. The grape Edelweiss is very much still a work in progress: some tropical hints on top of a rather pleasant but non-descript wine. At least that’s how it usually tastes to me.

The Snus Hill Edelweiss was far more complete: a bit sweet, very tart, and as layered as a parfait. Don’t get the wrong idea; it’s dry, but it’s more sweet/tart than it is dry, in that it’s more like sweet/TART.

Nebraska has far fewer than Iowa’s fifty or so wineries, but at least three of them have my full attention: Mac’s Creek Winery, Cuthills Winery and James Arthur Vineyards. They all do nice stuff; Cuthills has been creating its own good luck by working with new grapes, indeed, helping to put Brianna on the map as a grape of luscious pineapple and lemon notes.

Kansas has at least two wineries that should matter to you, and they always have something worth drinking on offer. HolyField is the senior of the two and they’ve made some of the best wines in the central U.S. for a decade. Their current Late Harvest Vignoles 2006 is as fat and oozing with apricot character as anybody else’s Vignoles from anywhere. Delicious late harvest wine with the kind of tart finish dessert wines from elsewhere must dream about in their sleep.

Somerset Ridge has a tidy little off-dry wine called OktoberFest. This year, their Late Harvest Traminette is even better: the sort of pretty fruit and crazy floral intensity that any child of Gewurztraminer (hence, the hybrid’s name TRAMINette) should have, in exuberance.

Which brings us to Missouri. There are over fifty wineries making wine in the state; about twelve of them are consistently on their game. The rest are more or less capable of surprising you in any vintage, though they don’t often make solid wine. And among the very best, nobody has been able to touch Stone Hill for years.

Then a few short years ago, Tony Kooyumjian started winning more than anyone else. He makes wines both at Augusta and Montelle wineries; maybe somebody might think that gives him too many opportunities. Yeah, but it would appear he knows how to make the most of his opportunities.

And while he has won awards for every grape he fashions into wine, I’ve come to rely on his Chambourcin to prove to my friends who don’t get it about wines from this part of the country. The raspberry nose, the red fruits mouth and the tangy finish, well, pretty much everybody gets it when they taste one of those wines.

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