Jerry Eisterhold, Vox Vineyards
Wine aficionados regularly sip the products of a Cabernet, Pinot Noir, or Chardonnay grape, but what about the fruits of an Albania, Lenoir, Wetumka, or Starkstar? Today’s most familiar and famous wines derive from Europe’s ancient grape varieties, but America has a rich diversity of indigenous—and far lesser-known—grapes of its own beyond the familiar Vitis labrusca Concord.
To reclaim the commercial viability of rare American heritage grapes, Jerry Eisterhold established Vox Vineyards in Kansas City, Missouri. He found his role model in Thomas Volney Munson, the Texas viticulturist famed for saving French vineyards from the Phylloxera epidemic of the 1870s and ′80s through grafting Vitis vinifera (the Eurasian wine grape) onto American rootstock.
Munson also was an avid breeder of indegenous grapes, and some of the many varieties he cultivated and preserved in the late 19th century are represented among Vox’s collection of vines. Missouri, a state positioned at the convergence of eastern woodlands, western plains, Ozark highlands, and the Mississippi Delta, offered Munson a rich trove of source material, and Eisterhold a congenial environment for cultivating these historic varietals.
Eisterhold discusses the history of American heritage grapes; what they offer to today’s producers; and Vox’s 20-year quest to collect and develop its vines from sources around the country, moving from some 60-odd varietals to its current 40 (“Not every frog has proved to have a prince within,” he says). He also guides a tasting of Vox wines, paired with small bites selected by Jose Andres’ ThinkFoodGroup.
Selected tasting items:
Gravlax canape with mustard-dill sauce
Corn and saffron polenta cake
Roasted golden and red beets with goat cheese
Smoked duck breast with fruit chutney
Wild mushroom orzo pasta
British-born entomologist Charles Valentine Riley (1843–1895) collaborated with French botanist Jules Émile Planchon to identify the biology of the American grape louse, Phylloxera bastatrix, that was devastating European vineyards. Missouri’s first official state entomologist, he was instrumental in creating the U.S. Entomological Commission in 1877. The next year, he was appointed entomologist of the United States and directed the Bureau of Entomology at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He donated his entomological collection to the Smithsonian and served as honorary curator of the United States National Museum’s insect collection concurrently with his position at USDA from 1882 to 1895.
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