CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (AP) - Missouri has a long history of winemaking, and a number of new wineries are now seeking to add to that legacy.
Missouri has seen 30 new wineries open in the past two years. That brings to 99 the number of wineries in the state.
Suzanne VanderFeen, owner of Vines 2 Wines Excursions in Cape Girardeau, conducts tours of wineries.
"I would say we're busier now because there are more wineries to go to in the area, especially near Cape Girardeau," VanderFeen said. "A lot of the wineries have also expanded, so now they offer more of an experience with food and entertainment. Rothbrick is a winery that just opened up, and it's a good example of that. On top of wine tasting, they have horseback riding and cabins and they are very family-friendly."
Missouri was the nation's secondlargest wine producer, behind New York, before Prohibition. The state experienced a rebirth of wineries in the 1960s, and the growth has increased markedly in recent years.
The Missouri Wine and Grape Board helps market the wineries. One effort is the Passport Program, which allows wine lovers to earn points each time they visit a winery in the state. Those points can be redeemed for prizes that include dinners and weekend getaways.
The board also has begun research at the University of Missouri aimed at developing better grape hybrids and new varieties better suited to Missouri's climate, said Danene Beedle, marketing director for the board.
Steve Bricknell, one of the owners of Rothbrick Winery near Shawneetown in southeast Missouri, said running a winery is a challenge.
"It's just like any other business," Bricknell said. "Most people have this romantic idea about owning a vineyard, but the truth of the matter is it's a lot of hard work. It's also a lesson in adaptability because you have variables that you can't control. The weather, for instance. That affects how the grapes grow and what kind of wine they're going to make. It also determines when you can pick your grapes, so you can't always work around a set schedule."
But Steve Rothert, co-owner of the winery, said it is fun, too.
"The cool thing about wine is that it can be as simple or complex as you wish to make it," Rothert said. "We've got a lab and you can keep track of grape characteristics, and you can make wines according to whatever recipes you have. So it's fun on a lot of levels. There is a big learning curve to winemaking and a lot of work involved, but wine is cool."
Bricknell said the end product is worth all the effort.
"This is a product that you put your heart and soul into, and it's enjoyable to watch other people enjoy your product," he said. "That's actually the best part of it, I think. The money's not really the driving force. It's getting to share our wine and seeing people's faces when they're enjoying it."
Information from: Southeast Missourian, http://www.semissourian.com