Attendance Surges at Mid-West Grape and Wine Conference

A 40% increase in attendance from last year shows the increase in interest in Missouri wine

February 11th, 2007

Courtesy of Daily News Links, 02/05/2007

View photos of the 2007 Midwest Grape and Wine Conference

The 2007 Mid-West Grape and Wine Conference held Feb.3-5, 2007, brought more than 420 attendees from 20 states to Osage Beach, Missouri, an increase of forty percent over 2006. The conference is in its twenty-second year.

The increased attendance reflects new interest from those considering getting into the grape and wine business, said Danene Beedle, marketing specialist with the Missouri Wine and Grape Board.

New for the 2007 show were simultaneous seminars on viticulture and enology, including separate tracks for “beginning” and “advanced” viticulture.

The new beginner’s track proved extremely popular, drawing by far the most people from experienced growers looking for a brush up to novices thinking of planting vineyards. Attendance at the conference and trade show also increased because the Missouri Grape Growers Association coordinated efforts with the local vintners group, with the growers holding their annual meeting concurrent with the show.

Missouri now boasts 100 wineries including 92 bonded facilities according to the latest Wine Business Monthly proprietary database research. That’s up from just 69 wineries two years ago.

“It’s not for the faint of heart or as lucrative as some people think, said Tim Puchta of Adam Puchta Winery in Hermann, Missouri. “But they’re looking for something different. Plus many farmers are starting to diversify and are looking at planting grapes. A lot of people in their 50s are looking to retire and most want to do something different.”

“The demand for ‘wine production 101’ brought a lot of new people to the conference,” said Greg Horstmeier, news director for extension and Agricultural Information at the University of Missouri-Columbia. This helps people to decide if they want to get into this. There’s a huge number of people in the state that own ten or fifteen acres and they’re trying to decide whether to get into it or not.”

Several leading academics were on hand to discuss research concerning trellising systems and various vineyard cultural practices with an eye toward improving grape and wine quality.

Much of the current research on topics such as vineyard irrigation has come from areas outside of the Mid-West, mostly from California, New York and Canada, noted Keith Striegler, director and viticulture program leader with the Institute for Continental Climate Viticulture and Enology at the University of Missouri-Columbia. That may be poised to change, however.

Last year the Mid-America Viticulture and Enology Center at Missouri State University became part of an invigorated Institute for Continental Climate Viticulture and Enology at MU-Columbia and a stable of new researchers are poised to join the department.

Much of the talk during the 2007 conference was about what trellising systems to use. Norton, for instance, is one of Missouri’s signature wine grapes, and has largely been planted with GDC systems. Growers, however, are being encouraged to consider switching to single-wire high cordon systems so that they may eventually employ mechanical harvesters.

“We’re trying to get our growers on the right trellising systems,” Puchta said.

Andy Allen, extension viticulturist with the University of Missouri, gave a presentation that delved into the economics and general suitability for various cultivars that thrive in the Ozark Mountain Region, grapes such as Charmbourcin, Chardonel, Norton and Seyval blanc.

Allen was followed by Dr. Justin Morris of the Institute of Food Science and Engineering with the University of Arkansas, one of the leaders in research involving mechanical harvesting, who spoke about vineyard economics. Morris said he continually meets individuals that are enthusiastic about becoming wine grape growers that unfortunately are caught up in the romance of wine and have not fully considered the true economics.

He echoed a refrain often heard in other parts of the country, particularly in California. “If you don’t have a contract with a respectable winery, you might not want to be planting grapes. You can’t have the romance unless you can figure out how to make money.”

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