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by Fred McMillin
for August 14, 2000

 

Norton's Number One


Prologue

In 1830, Dr. Daniel N. Norton sends a hybrid seedling from Richmond, Virginia to the great Long Island nurseryman, William Prince.

About 1892, a thousand Italians left Genoa for America.

The 1994 Norton Private Reserve by the St. James Winery in Missouri wins nine gold medals and three double golds.

Let's connect the dots.


The Rest of the Story

Private Reserve Norton, It turned out that the Norton makes America's best red wine from a native grape. Judges in Paris thought so, too, giving it a silver and a gold before 1900.

In 1941, the pioneering wine writer Frank Schoonmaker pointed out that the Norton does very well in Missouri. Consequently, it's not suprising that in 1970, when Pat and James Hofherr took their life savings and started the St. James winery, they decided to grow plenty of Norton.

Now, what do the Italians have to do with this? How did they bring their winegrowing wisdom to Missouri?

MALARIA!!

The thousand came to Arkansas to work in the cotton fields. In one year 130 died from malaria. In panic, 30 families fled to Missouri, settling near St. James.

They began growing grapes. The effort was so successful that three generations later it provided the basis for creating modern wineries, such as the Hofherr's St. James. The winery recognizes the Italian contribution. In fact, next to one of their vineyards stands a charming little wooden school house built by those immigrants to educate their children. It is featured on the label of the St. James School House wines.

Speaking of labels, pictured is a reproduction of Thomas Hart Benton's Trail Riders, which adorns...


Our Wine of the Week

1997 Private Reserve Norton, Missouri
St. James Winery, 540 Sidney St., St. James, Missouri, 65559
Contact—(573)265-7912, FX (573)265-6200, office of Ann Miller.
Stature—I first tasted a Norton about 20 years ago and was shocked at its resemblance to a good red from European varietals. See what you think.
Price—As for shocks, there's no sticker shock with this Norton Reserve...$15.


Postscript

Twenty years ago, the federal government established the first official Approved Viticultural Area (AVA). Where was it in California?

Answer: Nowhere. It was in Missouri!

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.

 
 


This page created August 2000

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