Missouri letting winemakers use more grapes from out of state

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Due to the crop loss from this month's freezing weather, the acting director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, Matt Boatright, is allowing Missouri wine producers to purchase up to 95 percent of grapes and juices from outside of the state to be used for making wine.

With more than 1,200 acres of vineyards in Missouri that produce more than 700,000 gallons of wine, Boatright said Monday that he does not want the state to lose the business from the tourists who visit its wineries.

Typically viticulturists are allowed to bring in the equivalent of 15 percent of their previous year's production in out-of-state grapes and juices for their wine to be considered a Missouri product. The decision to raise that percentage has been made in previous years, but never to this extent, according to Boatright. He recently toured some of the vineyards near the Hermann area to view firsthand the extent of the damage. After a preliminary review, the Missouri Department of Agriculture is estimating an overall 95 percent reduction in the grape crop in the state for this year, he said.

Tim Puchta, the chairman of the Missouri Wine and Grape Board, owns the Adam Puchta Winery in Hermann and said the freeze damage has wiped out nearly all of the primary buds on his vines and nearly half of the secondary buds. He typically produces between 35,000 and 50,000 gallons of wine a year with grapes from his five vineyards and the vineyards of 10 others growers. He said he's treating this season as a total kill.

"It's absolutely necessary to consider the livelihood of my business," he said in reference to the ruling for the 2007 crop. "Without a source of grapes, we're in severe trouble."

Still, there are Missouri grape growers who remain optimistic.

Bob Breuer of Tower Rock Winery in Altenburg expected to lose 80 percent of his grapes but figures he lost about 60 percent. He grows six to eight tons a year. He said he had a good harvest in 2005 and is still bottling wine from that year. He likes to make his wine from Missouri grapes only and thinks he can still do that this year.

So does Jerry Smith of River Ridge Winery in Commerce, whose grapes produced 6,000 gallons of wine last year.

"There's good wines all over the states and the world, but I think part of the attraction of the wine business is to see what different areas can produce," Smith said. He added that he needs about a week before he will know how much grape production he'll have this year.

tkrakowiak@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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