In 1996, Jerry Eisterhold was running Eisterhold Associates Inc., his design firm, when he became fascinated with the idea of growing native grapes in Missouri for winemaking. He soon got his hands on cuttings from 60 grape varieties native to North America, largely identified by Thomas Volney Munson, an early 20th century viticulturist, and launched a vineyard with those unique – and almost forgotten – varietals.
In 2012, Vox Vineyards released its first vintage under the TerraVox label, and a new Missouri winery was born. TerraVox roughly translates to “voice of the land,” which is exactly what Eisterhold believes his wine represents. Last month, TerraVox released a pétillant-natural, or pét-nat, an unfiltered, naturally sparkling wine, made with America, an extremely rare variety.
How many of Munson’s varietals are you still using and experimenting with at Vox today? Eight years later, we’re down to growing around 40. In the future, our goal is to focus on about 20 grape varietals from the American heritage list. From that, our winery is on track to produce around 1,200 cases of wine for TerraVox this year. Besides the single-varietal wines, which have mostly sold out months ago, also popular are our red blends like the Munson Report, a silver medal winner at the 2016 Jefferson Cup Invitational Wine Competition, Wetumka RePort, a gold medalist at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and our Chateauneuf du Platte.
What’s the biggest challenge with growing native grapes and using them to produce wine? You just don’t know what you’re going to get in terms of flavor and color with these grape varietals, so we’ve learned to roll with what Mother Nature gives us. We planted America, a red grape from Munson’s list, in our vineyard and we were surprised at how light in color last year’s crop was. The flavor was strangely beefy, similar to how steak tartare tastes. Our winemaker, Whitney Ryan, had the idea to lean into the funky taste, color and unpredictable nature of the grape and use it to make a pét-nat, a method of producing sparkling wine by bottling the wine during primary fermentation, capturing the carbon dioxide that’s naturally released.
How did the pét-nat turn out? It’s our first unfiltered sparkling wine, and there’s not a whole lot of it! I think it’s uplifting, bright and bracing with notes of hibiscus, cranberry and pomegranate seeds. I’d recommend pairing it with beef carpaccio.
What’s your goal for Vox Vineyards and TerraVox? The truth is, we’re selling experimentation and discovery as much as we’re selling wine. But ultimately, I’m looking to get down to 12 to 20 native American heritage grapes that grow well in my soil and make wines I really like to drink. At the same time, while trying to hone down the number of grapes we plant, we’ve discovered a contemporary grape-breeder’s work, so there are more varietals yet to experiment with.
Vox Vineyards, 1099 Welton St., Weston, Missouri, voxvineyards.com