Monday Apr 22

augusta-thumb The weather in Southern California this summer has been unusually cool. Most of our mornings have had a cold haze and as the late afternoon sun opens up, we’ve welcomed in a warm mid-evening. We’ve not seen a summer this cool in 16-years and I can honestly say I’ve quite enjoyed the absence of our usual heat wave. In Northern California it’s been much warmer which has made the grape harvest come early this year, about two weeks earlier actually. Due to the absence of frost, the vine growth was hurried, which affected the stability of the ripening grapes throughout this area of Wine County.

The first harvests picked are usually for sparkling wines. For such a crisp varietal, a younger tighter grape is needed. Keep in mind, a young harvest could mean a legendary year. The last time a harvest like this happened was in a 1997 and in the Northern California wine districts that was one of the best years EVER. Only time will tell what will transpire, as many wineries barrel their wine for two to three years before bottling. I’m talking here typically about red grapes as the whites are 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 French, nor Italian. No. This this month we are going all the way to the Midwestern state of Missouri; considered the wine capital of the country in the last 1800’s and early 1900’s. Then prohibition hit and caused the closure of wineries and up-rooted many top vineyards of the day. The vineyards that did not close, replaced their wine varietals with Concord grapes which were used to make juice and jam. It was not until the early 1960’s that Missouri had a replanting of its vineyards and the most important grape grown there was revived; the Norton, which by the way is Missouri’s state grape. So you may be asking, “What’s so special about the Norton varietal?”

When vine clones landed in the Unites States by way of France, many would not grow successfully. The soil was much different than the terrior they came from. But then, around the 1830’s Dr. Daniel Norborne Norton developed a cross bread of different grape seedlings and came up with a hearty varietal that could populate in the tough Midwestern soil. There are still 170 year old vines that produce Norton based wine. The Norton grape is grown all over the West, from Missouri to Ohio and has the single largest planting in Virginia at the Chrysalis Vineyard.

Why am I seeking out obscure wines when I have hundreds of the world’s best wineries just 5-hours from my home? It’s because I’m on a quest. Did you know that all 50 states produce wine? That’s right... ALL of them! Now, by no means are they all producing stellar award winners, but nonetheless they’re all making wine, which I think is kind of great. So I’m on a quest to drink two bottles of various varietals from every state in the US. The biggest hurdle I’m having is that many states cannot ship wine ‘out of state’, so the way I’m circumventing that is by employing friends who travel the country to get me whatever they can. A good thing for us however is that Missouri actually can ship out of state, because this month’s wine is an excellent one and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it and just how good it was.

Like most things that spark my interest, I research-research-research. The fact that my mind is kind of a steal trap (when it comes to things I really like anyway) certainly doesn’t hurt. I enjoy finding the smallest details and then going crazy playing ‘chase the Wiki augusta-main link’ from one fun factoid to the next. The things I learn and the obscure sites I land on during my hours of research is all part of the adventure for me. For example, I was looking up “wines of Missouri” and that’s where I learned about the Norton grape. I clicked on the Norton Wiki link and as I was reading about it, I found information about Missouri’s wine region, which is Augusta. As you can guess, I clicked on that link and then learned that the Augusta AVA was the first federally approved American Viticulture Area, earning their status on June 20, 1980, just months before California. An AVA (American Viticulture Area) is a selected wine grape growing region in the United States that is distinguishable by geographic features. All of this great knowledge was at my fingertips, unfolding right in front of me, just like a treasure hunt... just the way I like it. People ask me why I donate every year to Wikipedia and I’m so happy to say that it’s for reasons and moments just like the one I mentioned above. It’s for making my life and research (and hopefully millions of others who also use + love Wikipedia) that much more interesting, thought-provoking and enlightened.

I chose Augusta Winery for this month based on their passion for viticulture and as well as their commitment to taking the time both deserved and necessary to train their staff in all areas of wine. They have quite a large selection, from whites to reds, ports and even ice wine.

The following is from the 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.

Even with their great selection of different varietals, my choice was easy. I was on a quest for the Norton grape after all and having found it, the wine I chose to share with you for this month’s review was...

Norton Reserva del Patron, 2009
Produced by: Augusta Winery
Tony Kooyumjian

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 (+ shipping)

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

Serving Temperature: 64°
Drink now through 2029 (This wine will age for 20 years)
Final Rating: 92

My rating system is based on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale. Even though I will not review a wine below 90 points here is the scale used by many industry professionals.

Wine Points   How Good the Wine Is

95-100        Classic: a great wine
90-94         Outstanding: wine with superior character & style
85-89         Very Good: wine with special qualities
80-84         Good: a solid, well-made wine
70-79         Average: drinkable wine that may have minor flaws
60-69         Below Average: drinkable wine but not recommended
50-59         Poor: undrinkable wine, not recommended


JohnTuri02 John Turi has had an impulsive career as a writer, wine aficionado, and artist. He has two published books of short fiction and poetry.  He is a former child actor with the anxiety to prove it. He began college with a major in Mortuary Science. With a desire for writing he switched to Creative Writing and then finally finished at a free love hippie art college in Southern California as a graphic designer / sculptor. For over six years he worked in the wine industry and acquired a delicate palate for varietals.  For the last 20 years he has become a private rare book and wine collector. He desires California Pinot Noirs, but his true love is the Italian Sassicaia. As a way to pay for his wine collection he works as a senior marketing manager / designer for an adult sex toy company. He is also training to be a certified master sommelier. Currently he resides in Southern California with his lovely wife Shawn-Marie.