This grape’s exploding popularity can help Missouri wine shed its reputation as sweet and simple

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Vidal Blanc is a dry white wine from hybrid grapes that grow well in Missouri. Vidal Blancs are exploding in popularity as more drinkers make the switch from sweet.

Kansas City has many excellent restaurants with impressive wine lists pulling interesting bottles from around the globe. Very few of them stock wine from the hundred and thirty or so wineries spread throughout Missouri. When I moved here a decade ago, I found this interesting: Why, with such an array of local wines, would chefs and restaurant owners willfully avoid them?

There’s a perception that Missouri wine is not good, largely because the bulk of the offerings are sweet wines that aren’t especially well-suited to food pairing. But that has less to do with the fertility of the soil, the climate, or the capability of farmers (who can grow anything with a little luck) and more to do with the preferences of Missouri wine drinkers. Missouri wineries have simply been responding to consumer demand, according to every winemaker I’ve talked to in the area.

But lately, Missouri wine is getting drier. In a good way.

Vidal Blanc—offered at a handful of local wineries—stands apart as my new favorite local grape. This crisp, dry white can carry you to a seaside villa, a summer evening on a boat or an elegant al fresco dinner. In a blind tasting, you probably couldn’t pick it out from a few nice Italian pinot grigios.

French hybridizer Jean Louis Vidal developed Vidal Blanc in the 1930s using a combination of Tuscan Trebbiano and French Rayon d’Or grapes. He hoped the vines would produce Cognac—something that never quite took off. In the 1940s, the grape made its way to Canada, then the Finger Lakes region and eventually the Midwest. Today, it accounts for about six percent of all wine grown in Missouri. (Norton, the top local variety, is around eighteen percent.)

When winemakers describe Vidal Blanc, they are quick to praise it for its versatility and resilience to frigid winters. It can produce bone-dry whites and ice wines in the same vintage, depending on how long it’s left on the vine. In Missouri, where growers have long favored native American grapes (Norton, Concord) and French-American hybrids (Vignoles, Chambourcin), the rising popularity of the Vidal Blanc heralds a trend toward Vitis vinifera (that is, Old World wines) and the maturing palates of local wine lovers.

The truth? These Vidal Blancs are not just good for Missouri wine—they’re good, period.

Red Fox Winery & Vineyards

Red Fox Vidal Blanc, $15

Twenty-one years ago, Nick and Kayvon Jaberian were growing berries. Area winemakers came calling to purchase fresh fruit, and the father-and-son team saw an opportunity. They spent years as commercial growers before gradually expanding into winemaking, and in 2009, Red Fox was born. They’ve been growing Vidal Blanc grapes since 2007, fermenting the juice in stainless steel and bottling it as an unaged dry white. It opens with a spritz of grapefruit and green apple.

“We’re not manipulating the wine that much, so in the end, our Vidal Blanc is going to be very clean and crisp, which is how people should expect it,” Kayvon says. “I was very hesitant the first year I made the wine because I wasn’t sure how people would react. We knew consumers were into sweet wines. But it seems to be getting more popular each year, and our production has increased.”

Red Fox Winery & Vineyards is located forty minutes south of Kansas City in Ulrich, Missouri. The tasting room is open 11 am–9 pm Friday–Saturday and 11 am–5 pm Sunday

Peculiar Winery

Blissful Vidal Blanc, $16

Vidal Blanc was among the nine varietals Peculiar Winery opened with in June 2019. Chris Gough purchases most of the grapes for his wines from commercial growers, and he gets his Vidal Blanc from the nearby Red Fox Winery and Vineyards. But his bottling is much different from the Vidal Blanc offered just a few miles down the road: It’s rounder and fuller-bodied, with juicy apricot and citrus notes. There’s still that zippy acidity, though.

“We ferment the juice immediately after harvesting to keep that fresh profile,” Gough says. “I consider Vidal Blanc an anchor to our everyday offerings. It’s the Missouri dry white, and we’ve seen popularity increase so much even within the last couple months because it’s a great spring and summer wine.”

Still, Gough says, Vidal Blanc doesn’t outsell Peculiar’s sweet wines. “Down here in Cass County, it’s a sweet market,” he says. To stretch his Vidal Blanc stores, he offers it as a wine slush mixed with raspberry. It’s called Vidazzle, and it’s every bit as crushable as that nine-dollar frosé you saw on Instagram.

The tasting room and patio at Peculiar Winery in Peculiar, Missouri, are open noon–7 pm Wednesday–Thursday, noon–8:30 pm Friday–Saturday and noon–5 pm Sunday

Fence Stile Vineyards & Winery

Reserve Vidal Blanc (2016), $21

In a testament to the versatility of Vidal Blanc, Fence Stile in Excelsior Springs offers it in five different bottlings: dry reserve, sweet, late harvest dessert, dry orange late harvest and sweet white port-style—all made with the same grape. (It’s also used in an off-dry white blend and a semi-sweet white blend.)

“Vidal Blanc has a thick skin and it’s extremely disease-resistant, so we have more time with it and it hangs on the vine longer,” says Fence Stile owner-winemaker Shriti Plimpton. “Normally, this grape is ready at mid- or late-September. Some years, we pick eighty percent of it at that point and finish picking at Thanksgiving. Leaving it on the vine gives it deeper, raisin-y flavors and allows us to do creative things.”

It’s the Reserve Vidal Blanc that shines brightest here. Drier than a conversation on Tinder, this pale white opens with ripe pear and lip-smacking citrus—a guarantee that you’ll keep sipping. The first Reserve Vidal was bottled in 2014, and Plimpton was confident that her clientele was ready for it.

“We wanted something that everyone else wasn’t planting,” Plimpton says. “Missouri wines have a reputation for being sweet, and thirty years ago, that was fine, but now a lot of people are looking for a more sophisticated dry style. We felt like a lot of people wouldn’t come into local wineries because they expected super-sweet wines, and we wanted to challenge that.”

The Fence Stile tasting room is in Excelsior Springs, Missouri.

Van Till Family Winery

Missouri Vidal Blanc, $25

Cliff Van Till did not intend to offer Vidal Blanc. The Van Till winery grows nine varieties of grapes in its small test plot (there are just ten rows of vines), and Vidal Blanc is not one of them. The winery purchases most of its grapes from commercial growers, and as a rule, they don’t buy grapes they don’t grow. But in 2018, they couldn’t get Chardonel. They looked for a white grape to fill the void and bought Vidal Blanc grapes from nearby Fence Stile.

“It’s not as fruity as Vignoles or Chardonel and less floral than muscat,” Van Till says. “It’s got a lot of acidity, so it’s not going to go to sleep on you when you drink it.”

The Van Till Vidal Blanc is a very dry pale white—just high notes of bright apricot and tangerine. It is distinctively different from the other white wines offered at the winery, and there are many: Van Till has over thirty different wines in its cellar, and none are distributed. If you find something you like in the tasting room, that’s your only opportunity to snag a bottle.

“When we started with the Vidal Blanc, it wasn’t a big seller,” Van Till says. “A lot of people in Missouri look for sweeter wines, but any wine that has the capability of being dry excites us. As time has gone on, we’ve seen more interest—and more sales—for the Vidal.”

The tasting room at Van Till Family Winery in Rayville, Missouri, is open 11 am–4:30 pm Tuesday–Thursday and 11 am–8 pm Friday–Saturday

Stonehaus Farms Winery

Strother Ridge Vidal Blanc, $13

When Brett Euritt’s parents began Stonehaus Farms Winery in 1996, it was meant to be a retirement hobby with fruit wines. A decade later, the business was still going strong—and that’s when Euritt took over and began planting wine grapes. Like Van Till, he didn’t go looking for the Vidal Blanc, but 2010 was a short crop year, and there was a grower near Jefferson City that he liked.

“I brought it in and gave it a run, and people really received it well,” Euritt says. He’s refined the wine somewhat with yeast changes, and like everything in the Stonehaus portfolio, the Vidal Blanc is cold-sheltered, cold-fermented, cold-filtered and cool-bottled, which helps duplicate the flavor profile year to year. The Stonehaus Vidal Blanc is semi-sweet (it’s got about two percent residual sugar) and similar to a Riesling. There’s a joyful burst of pineapple and a pleasantly tart grapefruit finish.

“It seems like the driving customer base pushes more for a very fruity and sweeter wine, and that’s the go-to for our customers,” Euritt says. “Our Vidal is the driest we make, and it covers the folks who come to us and don’t want something sweet. It’s a good middle-ground wine.”

The Stonehaus tasting room in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, is open noon–6 pm Wednesday, noon–8 pm Thursday, and noon–6 pm Friday–Sunday

Categories: Beer, Wine, Spirits