St James is one of the pioneer post-prohibition Missouri wineries. Although Missouri was a major wine producer the Volstead Act destroyed businesses and communities and it took a long time following repeal before winemaking was revived.
St James Winery is located right at the side of the I44 freeway at exit 195, about 100 miles south-west of St Louis. It was a new venture established by Jim and Pat Hofherr in 1970 and is still family owned and operated.
Its visible location by the interstate highway from Oklahoma City to St Louis no doubt helped its popularity. It’s quick and easy to interrupt a journey to visit their large tasting room and shop. But a winery’s reputation is built on its products, and St James doesn’t disappoint.
St James hit a winning formula in their first year with sweet Velvet Red Concord wine which is the best selling wine by far in metro St Louis. Production has soared from an initial 3,400 cases annually to more than 200,000 cases. The busy winery, which adjoins the tasting room, is one of the largest and most modern in Missouri and has been expanded and expanded over the years. They also vinify and bottle wines for others. They favour screwcaps and St James wines are available in 19 US States
St James Winery makes a wide range of wines from bone dry to sweet, from native American, hybrids and vinifera grapes. They have 175 acres of Estate vineyards and lease 200 acres vineyards in Arkansas and Michigan growing 15 grape varieties. They also make a range of fruit wines and juices. I especially enjoyed their deliciously sweet fruity blackberry wine later as an after-dinner dessert.
However I was on my Norton quest, and St James make several and older vintages are available at the winery. I tasted
Estate Norton 2008 Ozark Highland AVA ($11.99)
The Ozark Highlands American Viticultural Area (AVA) was recognised in 1987. This wine was tartly dry and reminded me of a southern Italian wine. It had been aged in American oak, as had
Estate Norton 2009 Ozark Highland AVA ($11.99)
Had a more expressly Norton nose with brighter fruit tones offering blackberry and violet flavours in the mouth and a smoother finish.
Estate Norton 2010 Ozark Highland AVA ($11.99)
This had more structure and depth with more tannins and a drier finish. The fruit had been left longer on the vines giving more intense flavours.
Estate Norton 2011 Ozark Highland AVA ($11.99)
Aged in oak for a year, this is a full bodied Norton with blueberry flavours, an a bit of a medicinal edge.
Estate Norton ‘Reserve’ 2011 Ozark Highland AVA
The Reserve had been aged 16 months in 50/50 French and American oak barrels.
This wine was just gorgeous; beautiful, classic and elegant with restrained fruit flavours of black cherry and plum, and a dry lingering finish. Lovely.
Estate Norton’42’ 2012 Ozark Highland AVA
A single vineyard bottling from 35 year old vines (pictured above)planted on a low hill close to the winery. 2012 was a hot dry vintage. This wine, like all the others for the past 11 years, had been naturally fermented. To make up for Norton’s naturally low tannins the grapes had been fermented on their ripe stalks and aged for 6 six month in mostly French with some American oak barrels.
Beautiful nose with sweet soft berry fruit flavours, a lovely wine and my joint favourite with the 2011 Reserve.
Why 42? 2012 was their 42nd vintage and it's also a reference to Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
Estate Cynthiana 2011 Ozark Highland AVA ($9.99)
A lighter fruitier take on Norton, bottled under its alterative name to differentiate it. It had just 10 days on oak chips and staves then went into stainless steel to preserve its fresh fruit flavours.
A Beaujolais style wine with a purple colour. It is light and fruity with a short finish. Ideal with friends, pizza and pasta.
Estate Cynthiana 2012 Ozark Highland AVA
70% fermented in stainless steel with the rest spending 5 months in American and French oak.
More fruit and better integration than the 2011, this is a lively fun wine for easy drinking on its own or with turkey, pizza and pasta.
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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.
Disclosure:. Peter F May travelled to Missouri at his own expense. He was a guest of St James Winery during his visit and his tasting was complimentary.