“Across the wide Missouri”, in a deep valley west of St. Louis lies the tiny town of Defiance. With a booming population of almost fifty (up from forty just fifteen years ago), Defiance doesn’t change much despite its popularity with bicyclists and week-end motorcycle riders. Houses of white clapboard behind boxes of red geraniums line winding Missouri highway 94 as it snakes south toward the Yellow Farmhouse at the end of town.
Yellow Farmhouse Vineyard and Winery is a special place. Built on high ground, that even the five-hundred year flood of ’93 couldn’t reach, it commands a sweeping view of the broad valley. Here the river hugs the far shore cutting high cliffs on the east side of the valley. Flat fields of corn and soybeans blanket the river bottom, and to the west steep hills rise to form some of the best grape growing soil in America. The Yellow Farmhouse vineyard hugs the lower western slopes and rises to the hilltop with a panoramic view of the valley.
On warm summer’s evenings we like to sit on the big deck or up on the hill above the winery with some wine, cheese and fruit, and watch the shadows blanket the bluffs on the eastern shore before the moon rises over the valley. By mid-summer the growth on the vines is complete and the trellises are heavy with new fruit. The long days of summer sun work their magic on the ripening grapes. The Norton begins to turn deep purple by mid-August. The Cicacia whine in the trees along the KATY trail and an occasional coyote howls at the moon from the river bottom.
Yellow Farmhouse Vineyard and Winery is not very big. Size, you must understand, has never been our goal. We grow a limited amount of Norton (sometimes called Cynthiana) in the vineyard on the hills that rise behind the house. Our Traminette, a hybrid of the German Gwertztraminer ripens in the small vineyard to the west towards the St. Paul church. Norton is a native American grape of the ripiarian species, naturally resistant to diseases and very prolific. The Traminette, a German-American hybrid developed by Cornell University , is very well suited to our Midwestern climate. It produces a semi-sweet grape that makes an excellent off-dry white wine.. Sometimes we buy grapes from our neighbors up and down the valley where we find Chardonel, Vidal Blanc, Vignoles and Chambourcin.
Our terrior, as most everyone who knows wine will tell you, is unique. Our steep vineyards face east to pick up the morning sun, much like the vineyards on the west side of the Rhone in France. The early morning sun burns the moisture from the vines and dries the fruit. Sometimes a thick fog boils up from the river at night and coats everything with a layer of sparkling dew. The direct early morning sun works its celestial magic by dispersing the fog and drying the fruit. The result is a grape with a high sugar content, which is an essential ingredient of great wine-making.
The soil in this part of Missouri is wind-blown Loess, ground down the river valley by the advancing glaciers in the Ice Age then blown up on the banks in huge quantities to form the western ridge of hills that line the river. It’s a beautiful combination of loamy earth and crystalline minerals that make a holding soil that allows the roots to go deep. Rain soaks in and the sponge-like qualities take the water deep into the soil nourishing the root systems and strengthening the vines. To the north and west a line of low hills protects the vines on the east-facing slopes from the coldest of north winds. The result is an almost perfect place to grow great American grapes.