It was while studying at The Wine and Spirits Education Trust of London more than 12 years ago. It was a somewhat monotonous day as our instructor was barraging us with an overload of information about grapes, origins, yields and other facts. During my note-taking frenzy, I heard her say, “The variety of American vine species making a premium-quality wine in the U.S. is Norton, a grape variety identical to Cynthiana.” She went on to say: “You can find it growing in Arkansas, Missouri and Virginia.” Obviously, sitting thousands of miles and an ocean away, the mere mention of my home state and neighbor Missouri got this Arkansan’s attention.
Missouri’s St. James Winery is not only producing this grape, but is excelling in mastering it, and has received numerous accolades. Italian immigrants brought the rich wine tradition to the area. Before prohibition Missouri was the second largest wine-producing state in the country, but many of the state’s wineries were destroyed during the no-alcohol years of the 1920s.
In the 1970s, Jim and Patricia Hofherr laid the beginnings of St. James family’s vineyards. Today, their son Peter is at the helm. St. James’ logo depicts a one-room schoolhouse next to the vineyards and is the winery’s way of honoring the families who brought the tradition of wine to the area.
Even though Norton and Cynthiana show up on many wine labels they may still remain unknown to many in the wine-drinking world. And even though the variety may not have a taste profile as well known as others lining retail shelves, when produced with quality and care this variety showcases an exceptionally unique wine.
Who knows? When the world fatigues of the similar styles and familiar tastes found in most wines, wine lovers may look to Missouri and Arkansas for the next grape craze.
- 2011 St. James Winery Cynthiana, Missouri (about $11 retail)
- 2011 St. James Winery Norton Reserve, Missouri (about $25 retail)