Les Bourgeois winery, Missouri, is midway between Kansas City and St Louis, at the east side exit ramp of I70 by the Missouri River bridge.
The winery has gone from strength to strength since 1985 when owners Curtis and Martha Bourgeois started making wine in the garage of a wooden A-frame house they’d bought on a bluff on the banks of the Missouri. The A-Frame is now a popular stop and entertainment venue. There are terraces overlooking the river where you can sip Le Bourgeois wine and purchase picnic baskets.
The winery and tasting room moved to its current location alongside I70 and has expanded. Cory Bomgaars showed me the recently opened tank room. Here large fermentation tanks are controlled with high tech software which allows winemakers to use cell-phones to adjust temperatures from anywhere. The building itself is ecologically sound and controlled by the same software. Missouri gets cold in winter but instead of heating the airspace of entire building they’ve installed underfloor heating for the comfort of winery staff.
Cory came to Le Bourgeois as winemaker after training in California at UC Davis and working at wineries in Sonoma. He intended to stay for just three years but just stayed and now is Vice President of Winery Operations and a co-owner.
Les Bourgeois make a wide range of wines from mostly locally grown native American and French-American hybrid varieties from 5 acres they own and another 5 acres they manage, plus bought in grapes. Much of it is small production. They like to try new things and to play around. One new thing is Valvin Muscat, a newly released white hybrid from Cornell University in New York State.
Cory told me they decided to make it as a dry wine. On the nose it has the sweet grapey aroma of Muscat and then it finishes refreshingly dry.
New to me was Chardonel, a hybrid of Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc. Cory says the variety does well in Missouri and his Les Bourgeois’s 2012 Chardonel was 60% barrel aged. I found it a really attractive crisp dry food wine, a suitable alternative for an aromatic Sauvignon Blanc.
Vignole, which I have only previously encountered as a sweet wine in New York’s Finger Lakes, is here made very dry without affecting the variety’s pineapple rich flavours.
An attractive traditional method sparkling wine is made from Vidal Blanc, and Vidal is also blended with Chardonel and Vignoles to make Solay. This intriguing dry white wine has a sweetish finish yet is totally dry.
Chambourcin Rose 2012 was a soft easy drinking wine with a long finish. The red Chambourcin ‘Collector Series’ 2010 was rather porty and I showed its hybrid heritage.
Norton 2010 had aged 12 months in 70% new oak barrels. “Norton is low in tannin and it just soaks up the oak,” explained Cory. The wine had bright cherry tones and tasted young. Burning Barrel Norton 2010 has spent 18 months in oak. This comes from a two-fold selection; first the best grapes are vinified separately and from them are selected the best 5 or 6 barrels. This wine was a lot denser and rewarding and showed nicely Norton’s capabilities.
Another facet here of Norton is fortified. The name ‘Port’ can no longer be used, so it bears the local town’s convenient name – Rocheport -and it is a rich beautiful very sweet dark wine.
If you only visit the tasting room then you’ll miss a treat. A mile or so along the road, behind Norton vineyards, are both the A-Frame picnic area and also Les Bourgeois’ Blufftop Bistro. High over a bend in the Missouri it has wonderful views along the river. Crisp white linen cloths cover tables and the smartly dressed staff are friendly, knowledgeable and professional. The menu is modern eclectic with ingredients locally sourced from named farms. Les Bourgeois wines are at tasting room prices and they’ll happily recork unfinished bottles and seal them in a carrying bag. The bistro was buzzing when I lunched there and I'd suggest it's worth making a reservation
The winery website is at www.missouriwine.com
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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape.
Peter F May was a guest of Les Bourgeois winery