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MU workshop puts winemakers in the laboratory

Missouri’s wine-producing industry has seen rapid growth in recent years, with many small wineries leading the way.

Missouri currently has 72 wineries and about 11 new ones open each year, said Rebecca Ford, University of Missouri Extension enologist. Much of the growth is from wineries producing less than 5,000 gallons a year, she said.

That degree of interest was seen recently in an MU training course on how to operate a small winery laboratory, a critical step in quality wine production.

Some 48 participants from around the state received one-day training at MU’s recently established Institute for Continental Climate Viticulture and Enology (ICCVE). The workshop drew people new to the wine trade as well as seasoned professionals such as Kraig Keesaman and Benjamin Housworth, both of Pirtle Winery in Weston, Mo.

“We’re here to get a little refresher course, to see if we need anything new and just get back on top of our game,” Housworth said.

Participants learned the equipment and chemical needs for a small winery lab, she said. Procedures taught included how to measure acidity, dissolved solids and residual sugars. Other instruction included degassing of wine and determining the correct concentration of alcohol in the wine.

Production of European grapes (Vitis vinifera) is difficult in Missouri’s changeable climate, but several native and hybrid varieties do well in the state. The most commonly used varietal is Missouri’s official state grape, Norton, which is native to eastern North America.

Other common varietals include Chardonel, Concord, Vignoles, Catawba, Vidal Blanc and Chambourcin.

Ford cautions that starting a winery is a long-term commitment. “Some people get a romantic idea of what it is really like to make wine, but it is a lot of hard work,” she said.

“New vineyard plantings require at least three years yielding a full crop and another one to three years of aging for wine to be ready to sell. An initial investment may be in the $300,000 range for a small winery,” Ford said.

Plans call for conducting the course once each year, she said.

ICCVE educates grape and wine producers, conducts research and will soon offer an undergraduate degree in viticulture.

The institute is funded by the Missouri Grape and Wine Board, which directs funds from a statewide tax on wine sales for research, education and marketing.

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