On the Road Again – Missouri

Setting off on launch trips became quite routine sometime last year.  Unleashing Stolpman Syrah upon Florida, Georgia, and Texas gave me new appreciation of the South, from Dallas to Miami.

Reckoning back to Loyola High School’s challenging and stimulating US History taught under Mr. Goepe who constantly told me to stop speaking “dudespeak” and to apply myself; Missouri was always a borderline Southern State.  Missouri never seceded from the Union to join the Confederacy, and today, I certainly don’t perceive commerce-driven St. Louis and wild west KC as Southern.

As always, I never launch a new market with a totally blank slate. 20 years of vineyard designates and an ever-growing direct demand for our high-end wines means that any knowledgeable Sommelier has tried Stolpman Vineyards juice and knows something about Ballard Canyon. Missouri proved to be one of the most pre-qualified states I’ve ever “launched”, meaning, I could kick back and let my chaperone for the week, Robin Connelly, drive our big ol’ Toyota Seqouia across the state.

Starting off in St. Louis, we quickly learned that our friend and grape customer Russell From of Herman Story Winery  had just released a small allocation to the best retailers in town. Talking about Russell’s “prescription worthy yum factor” gave us an awesome segue for “Stolpman Zing”.

Throughout the two days in St. Louis, it seemed like people were really getting our estate grown, organic, sustainable employment message. We got the local Missouri Beverage team revved up about the wines, but it wasn’t until the end of the day Tuesday, that I realized how at home Stolpman truly was in St. Louis. Upon arriving for our meeting at Robust Wine Bar buyer Lauren Blake quizzed me on why I didn’t have any Angeli or La Croce with me and then finally confessed she had become a huge fan while working at restaurants in Aspen, Colorado. Lauren had truly fallen in love with the 2001 Rhone Ridge Cuvee which she tried on her pilgrimage to Los Olivos. Lauren’s fiction author boyfriend, Daniels Parseliti, who was tasting with us, concurred that the wines blossom with age. I assured them we would hold a library tasting in the ghetto next time they come out to visit.

Our final appointment of the trip was with buyer Rich Sterkel at Saint Louis Wine Market, a large new retailer and wine bar open for only a few months. After looking over his great selection, Rich told me the best news I’ve heard since I first waged my ‘Battle for Syrah’. Since opening, Syrah is Saint Louis Wine Market’s #1 selling varietal! Rich added Stolpman to his already deep Syrah quiver and we made plans to return for a Stolpman tasting in a few months.

Up early Wednesday morning, I agreed to drive the monster Sequoia the first leg to Springfield, as I knew emails would be quiet with California still sleeping. We were off to see the single most important wine merchant in the Midwest, the store that first brought Stolpman to Missouri, and the best wine cellar in “The Show Me” state. Brown Derby is known to every winemaker and importer in the US as a powerhouse advocate of great, boutique wine. Owner Ron Junge found Stolpman 7 or 8 vintages ago and he and his son-in-law Brad were just out tasting in Lompoc with Sashi earlier this year.

Walking through Brown Derby’s refrigerated wine cellar with Ron, the wonderful reception we received in St. Louis immediately made sense. Doled out through Brown Derby’s extensive mailing list, Missouri wine drinkers have had access to the world’s best wines for two generations going on three! No wonder all these folks are self actualized enough to choose Syrah over yesterday’s plain Jane Cabernet!

Many of Brown Derby’s floor staff graciously showed up on their day off just to taste through the comprehensive 11 wine lineup I had brought. It was quite an honor to be given the floor in front of these young, passionate wine guys.

Hyped up after the intense tasting, we jumped back on the highway to arrive in Kansas City in time for dinner. I jokingly emailed our neighbor Jonata Vineyard’s winemaker Matt Dees, who was born and raised in KC, “the real Prince of Ballard Canyon has arrived in Kansas City”. Matt’s time spent showing the Jonata wines in his hometown proved extremely helpful for me. Buyers bragged that KC was Jonata’s biggest market outside of California, and their familiarity with the wines gave me a great reference point, showing the Jonata blocks just to the left of the Stolpman Varietal map. Every buyer was wowed at our quality, and jaws dropped when they saw the price sheet!

At Lukas Liquor we ran into wine writer and long-time Santa Barbara resident Dennis Schaefer who I enjoyed catching up on current events. At Lukas Liquor, Sommelier Jodi Dyer summed it up best “Kansas City is the BBQ capital of the world, we should be the capital of Syrah and dry rose as well”.

Amen, Jodi.

Over Lunch, all-star MoBev rep Stephen Gregory and I started planning a BBQ-Syrah party for my return trip. Being my last day in Missouri, when I saw a well-priced 2003 Chateau Beaucastel Vielles Vignes Blanc on the list, I decided to take a chance on it. 2003 was an extremely hot year in the Rhone, and I didn’t know if even those 75-year old vines could turn-out a beautiful wine. The color was even darker gold than any November picked L’Avion lot I’ve seen. Despite being a bit oxidized, the wine showed wonderfully, and was a great treat to show off L’Avion next to its mother!