By Mike Pound
JOPLIN, Mo. —
While beer is still king when it comes to alcoholic beverages, more and more people are choosing to raise wine glasses rather than beer mugs. According to figures from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, 2011 saw sales of wine continue to take a bite out of beer sales.
Beer is still the drink of choice -- its sales account for 49.2 percent of the $59.2 billion liquor industry -- but it has lost market shares to wine in each of the past 13 years, the council reports. Currently, wine accounts for 17.1 percent of the alcoholic beverage market, while 33.6 percent consists of liquor sales.
In Missouri, not only is there a stronger interest in wine, there is also growing support for locally produced wines.
Andrew Pennington makes wine at Erv Langan's Keltoi Winery, located about 12 miles north of Joplin. Pennington said the Missouri wine industry has grown significantly in the nearly four years that he has been in the business.
Last week, Pennington attended a winemakers conference in Columbia and met with a number of area wine producers, almost all of whom reported increased sales.
"I know that our wine sales have increased by 10 to 15 percent each year that I've been here," he said.
Langan and his wife, LeeAnn, began growing grapes in 1998 and produced their first crop in 1999. For several years the couple sold their grapes to other winemakers. But about eight years ago they began making and marketing their own wines. Now, they produce about 2,000 gallons of wine a year.
In Carthage, Jim and Jan O'Haro started growing grapes at their White Rose Estates, located at 1301 Journey Road, in 1999 and began making wine in 2003. Today, the O'Haros produce 80 barrels of wine a year. In June of 2010, the White Rose Winery's Norton wine earned a gold medal at the 29th annual Lone Star International Wine Competition in Grapeville, Texas.
Neither the White Rose or the Keltoi wineries are in the position of challenging the larger, better known St. James and Stone Hill winemakers, but they are part of a burgeoning Missouri wine industry.
"In the last 10 years, the number of wineries in the state has doubled, going from 60 to 120, and the production of wine has also doubled," Pennington said.
Pennington said that when Langan first began making wine, there were plenty of winemakers willing to share their expertise with him. Conversely, Langan and Pennington are quick to share what they have learned with novice winemakers.
"In Missouri, there is no such thing as competition. People are always there to help you and share information," Pennington said.
While part of that willingness to help is done out of generosity, there is also bit of shrewd business strategy in sharing the information. The better the wines in Missouri are, the better it will be for the entire industry.
"Wineries like Stone Hill are interested in keeping good wine in Missouri," Pennington said.
While the Keltoi and White Rose wineries don't produce enough wine annually to sell their products in many of the large grocery and liquor chains, a number of Missouri wines are available at many liquor stores in the area.
For more information about the Keltoi or White Rose wineries, visit their websites at www.keltoivineyard.com or www.whiterosewinery.com.