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Ken Meyer shows the label for Meyer Farms vignoles, called Janie, after his late wife. Each of his wines is named after a woman in the Meyer family.
Ken Meyer shows the label for Meyer Farms vignoles, called Janie, after his late wife. Each of his wines is named after a woman in the Meyer family.

Meyer Farms begins grape harvest

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The future of Meyer Farms is looking a lot more like the past, as Meyer Communications owner Ken Meyer gets ready to launch a line of wines from grapes grown on land where his grandfather cultivated grapes.

In August, crews began harvesting white grapes on the 120-acre farm in unincorporated Lawrence County, four miles northeast of Freistatt. A second harvest of red wine grapes is set for Sept. 14–15, said Bonnie Bell, vice president of development and sales for Meyer Communications and marketing manager at Meyer Farms. If all goes well, Meyer said, he expects the total yield to come in around 50 tons.

“We could have several thousand cases to sell next year,” he said, adding that 250 cases from the 2008 and 2009 harvests are now bottled and ready for sale. More than $1 million in startup costs were invested by Meyer into the vineyard since 2007, he said. On its 29-acre vineyard, Meyer Farms produces five varietals: a vignoles, norton, Concord/St. Vincent blend; Cayuga white blend; and Catawba blend.

“We began bottling on a limited basis this year,” Bell said, noting an official launch tasting is planned for late October or early November.

The first sales of Meyer Farms wine came this year, when Meyer wines were served during the July 26 Gold Buckle Gala fundraiser for the Ozark Empire Fair Foundation, Bell said, noting people purchased bottles and cases at the end of the event.

The vineyard intends to sell wines via a wholesale distributor – which should be named in October – to retailers and restaurants, Bell said. Prices will range between $7 and $20 per bottle.
While the growing happens in Lawrence County, the juicing, fermentation and bottling take place at Les Bourgeois Vineyards in Rocheport.

“They pick the fruit and we bring the fruit back up here and go through the process of winemaking,” said Cory Bomgaars, winemaker at Les Bourgeois, adding that the winery also works with the vineyard to determine the best time to harvest.

Les Bourgeois is the third-largest winery in Missouri, processing between 600 and 700 tons of grapes and producing about 130,000 gallons of wine a year, Bomgaars said. Les Bourgeois produces wines under its own label and also serves as winemaker for other vineyards.

Grapes for its own wines are grown on 60 acres owned by Les Bourgeois and purchased from vineyards throughout the state, including Meyer Farms. Meyer Farms grapes comprise 5 percent of the fruit used in Les Bourgeois wines, Bomgaars said.

Bomgaars said Meyer Farms is on the larger side of Missouri’s independent vineyards.

“There are a lot of five- to 10-acre vineyards in the state,” he said. “The two biggest are at 70 and 80 acres.”

The number of vineyard acres planted statewide has increased of late, according to the Jefferson City-based Missouri Wine & Grape Board. Grapes were grown on 1,600 acres across the state in 2009, an increase of 200 acres compared to 2007. The value of last year’s statewide production was $3.9 million, up from $2.3 million in 2007, according to the state board data.

Bomgaars said sales are getting help from an increasingly better wine quality, which he attributes to a number of reasons, including the advent of second- and third-generation winemakers. He also noted that Missouri’s grape growers are a tight-knit community that gets together to taste, critique and offer suggestions.

“That raises the bar for everybody,” he said. “It’s pretty much a general belief among Missouri wineries that a bad bottle of Missouri wine is bad for everyone.”

Bell said a challenge for Missouri vineyards is the perception that if a wine wasn’t grown in well-known winemaking areas, it isn’t as good.

“Now, it’s trendy to drink Australian wines,” she said. “The big challenge is to get past that perception long enough for them to taste. Once they taste, the perception changes.”

Meyer Farms intends to break that perception by marketing its heritage. Meyer’s grandfather, Edward Roethemeier, grew grapes through much of the early part of the 1900s, Meyer said.

“I had an aunt who used to say that Ed, he ignored prohibition,” Meyer said, adding that his grandfather used to trade wine for sugar, when sugar was rationed during World War II.

Part of the reason Meyer Farms named its wines after the women in the family – the vignoles is called Janie, after Ken’s late wife Jane Meyer – is to honor the Meyer family tradition, Bell said.

“It’s the old Meyer homestead, and we wanted to wrap that into it,” she said. “Also, a lot of the wine that is purchased is purchased by women.”[[In-content Ad]]

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