Y9 Review - Wine Reviews by Wine Critic John Turi
Norton Winery

Augusta Winery, Reserva del Patron, 2009

Wine Rating: 92

The weather in Southern California has been cool this past summer, most days starting out with a cold morning haze and warming toward noon, with late afternoon sun opening up to balmy mid-evenings. This is quite unusual weather for us. Up in Northern California, however, it has been much warmer, which is causing the grape harvest come early—about two weeks earlier than usual—because the warm spring with little frost promoted hurried vine growth and stability in grape ripening throughout wine country.

Usually the first harvests picked are for sparkling wines. A younger, tighter grape is needed for these crisp varietals. Keep in mind that a young harvest could mean a legendary year. The last time a harvest like this occurred was in 1997, and that was one of the best years ever up in the Northern California wine districts. Only time will tell what will transpire with this year’s harvest, as many wineries barrel their wine for two to three years before bottling. I’m talking typically about wine from red grapes, as wine from white is bottled much sooner. This varies by winery, but, by-and-large, this is the progression.

Oddly enough, my review this month is not about a California wine, nor a French, nor an Italian. No, this month we are going all the way to the Midwestern state of Missouri, considered the wine capital of the country in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Then prohibition hit and caused the closure of wineries and uprooted many vineyards. What vineyards did not close replaced their wine varietals with Concord grapes used to make juice and jam. It was not until the early 1960s that Missouri had a replanting of its vineyards and the most important grape grown there was replanted—the Norton, which is the state’s grape.

What is so special about the Norton varietal? When vine clones from France landed in the Unites States, many would not grow successfully. The soil here was much different than in the terroir they came from. Around the 1830s, Dr. Daniel Norborne Norton developed a crossbreed of different grape strains and came up with a hearty varietal that could propagate in the tough Midwestern soil. Even today, there are still 170-year-old vines that produce Norton-based wine. The grape is grown all over the west from Missouri to Ohio and as far south as Virginia, which hosts the largest single planting of Norton at the Chrysalis Vineyard.

Why am I seeking out obscure wines when I have hundreds of the world’s best wineries about 5 hours from my home? Because I’m on a quest. Did you know that all 50 states produce wine? This does not mean they all produce stellar, award winning bottles but, nonetheless, they all make wine. So I’m on a mission to drink two bottles of various varietals from each state. The biggest hurdle to overcome in fulfilling this goal is that many states cannot ship wine out of their state. So I’m employing friends who travel the country to get me whatever they can. But it’s a good thing for all of us that Missouri can ship out of state, because this month’s wine is excellent. I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

When something sparks my interest, I research, research, research. I find the smallest details and go crazy playing chase the Wikipedia links. Example: I was looking up wines of Missouri and learned about the Norton grape. I clicked on the Norton Wiki link. As I was reading about the Norton, I found information about Augusta, Missouri’s wine region. I clicked on that link. There, I found out that the Augusta AVA was the first federally approved American Viticultural Area, gaining that status on June 20, 1980, months ahead of California. An American Viticultural Area (AVA) is a selected wine grape-growing region in the United States, distinguishable by geographic features. All of this information just unfolded in front of me; all of this great knowledge was at my fingertips. People sometimes ask why I donate every year to Wikipedia. The answer is simple: It has made both my research and my life much more enlightened.

I chose Augusta Winery because of their passion for viticulture and their dedication in training their staff in all areas of wine. They have quite a large selection, including whites, reds, ports and even ice wine. From their website: Augusta Winery, founded in 1988 by Tony Kooyumjian, is located in the scenic town of Augusta, Missouri, which is nestled on the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River Valley.

Their great selection of different varietals could have made it difficult to select a wine for this review, but, since I was after the Norton, my choice was easy:

Reserva del Patron, 2009

Produced by: Augusta Winery
Winemaker: Tony Kooyumjian
Website: AugustaWinery.com

City: Augusta
Vintage: 2009
Region: Midwest
Location: Missouri
Varietal: Norton

Appearance (Color): Dark Ruby
Aroma (Complexity): Blackberry, Maple, Fig, Mascarpone
Body (Texture and Weight):  Full bodied, Syrah like
Taste (Balance of Flavor): Cherry, Plum, Strawberry, Tobacco
Finish (What lingers): Clove, Plum, Pepper
Price: $26

Food Pairing: BBQ, Steak, Duck, Hearty Western Food

Serving Temperature: 64°
Drink now through 2029 (This wine will age for 20 years)

John Turi