2020 proved to be a year unlike any other for Fence Stile Vineyards and Winery. After celebrating our 10th anniversary in 2019, who knew that the winery would face one of its most challenging years in business?
We thank you, our guests, long-time friends, first-time visitors, wine club members and partners. You visited, supported us, bought wine and food, attended wine dinners, shopped online, shipped wine, helped with harvest, and showed up throughout an atypical year. Support local, shop local, drink local – these slogans mean little without action. Thank you for being there. As this year draws to a close, we take a moment to look back at our accomplishments and work completed before charging into 2021.
Becca (pictured on the far right), the mostly-retired winery dog, turned 14 years-old on February 20, 2020. She was just a wee goldendoodle pup who got her paws muddy when the first vines were planted in 2006 at Fence Stile. Kai (on the left) celebrated her third birthday on March 3rd. Her role as winery dog was on “paws” for most of 2020, but she hopes to return when viable sometime in 2021.
We celebrated Leap Day, February 29, with a Library Wine Tasting and other special events. Fence Stile debuted its Leap Year Time Capsule, a specially-adapted wine barrel where guests and the Fence Stile team added items. The barrel will be opened again in 2024 at the next Leap Day.
We celebrated our 11th anniversary in April 2020 virtually and by sharing photo submissions of past visits to Fence Stile from our guests and friends.
Year of the Pandemic
People and businesses learned to adapt to the unknowns of the COVID-19 pandemic during the long stretch of 2020. The year was challenging for everyone. Fence Stile was no exception. We remained resourceful, flexible and determined to operate despite the inevitable slowdown in traffic. Fence Stile remained open as a business throughout the year, changing our service and safety protocols to protect the well-being of our guests and team. During spring, we temporarily closed the Tasting Room and served guests through our walk-up window. Guests were able to enjoy wine and food on the spacious patio during mild spring weather. We launched a Salute the Heroes initiative in April to recognize the tremendous work so many have done to help the public and assist those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. By summer, we opened the Tasting Room with limited capacity and protocols in place.
We reduced the size of our tours to 10 people or less, kept a log for contact tracing, maintained socially-distant spacing between tables, and managed occupancy and group sizes. We offered virtual wine tasting, virtual Wine Wednesday interviews with guests from the wine and food industry, and Zoom-based happy hours! Wearing masks and gloves and continuous cleaning became second nature for our team while upholding high standards of guest service and hospitality. We look forward to seeing everyone’s smile in 2021!
We acquired five new oak barrels and three J. Rieger & Co. bourbon whiskey barrels to expand our barrel-aging program. We can’t share what’s in the works yet, but we’ll have some intriguing red wine variants, white wine and bourbon whiskey barrel-aged wines developing for release in 2021-2022.
Next year we will resume barrel-aged wine tasting with winemaker Shriti Plimpton. Events will be posted throughout 2021 on our website, Facebook page and Local Wine Events. Tour guests will taste selected samples of barrel-aged wine and port drawn from the barrel in our wine cave. Our winemaker will present a guided tasting with notes on the craft behind the barrel-aging process.
We bottled quite a few wines from past vintages that were released in 2020. Check out the releases below.
This year we released brand new wines and new vintages of Fence Stile classics. In February 2020, we debuted 2019 Chambourcin Piquette, the first Missouri-made piquette (above, left) produced and released in the state. Read more about this lightly effervescent, unfiltered, all-natural piquette in our blog and in Feast magazine.
We also released the 2018 vintage of Reserve Chambourcin which hasn’t appeared on the wine list for nearly two years. We only produce Reserve Chambourcin and Reserve Vidal Blanc in years when we have superior quality fruit from harvest. In other words, we don’t make vintages of these wines every year. Winemaker Shriti Plimpton determines during the harvest crush if the qualities – flavor, color, aroma, tannin – of the grapes and juice is fine enough to reserve a small quantity and craft these wines. After careful barrel-aging, the 2018 Reserve Chambourcin was ready for release. The wine embodies Fence Stile’s focus on producing quality vs. quantity as a craft Missouri winery.
Several new vintages on the wine list include Fire Pit Red, a dry Norton-Chambourcin blend, semi-dry white Becca’s Blend, semi-sweet Vignoles, and KaiScape, a crisp citrusy off-dry blend of Vidal Blanc and Seyval. We also updated the label for KaiScape to feature winery dog Kai. The current vintage of Loft Red features a slightly deeper color, berry-forward flavor, and smoother finish than its predecessor. Our latest bottled French-style dry rosé, remmuS, exhibits the soft pink tint of cherry blossoms, a hint of strawberry flavor, and a crisp finish.
As part of our craft wine focus, we released a small batch of six cases of 2019 Cabernet Dore (above, middle) produced in the orange wine, or skin-contact, style. This release sold out within days. Read more about this unique wine and estate grape on our blog.
Parliamo, a sweet winter spice white wine, and Sweet Moments, a semi-sweet rosé with hints of strawberry and cotton candy, were new end-of-year additions (above, right) to the sweet side of our wine list. We expanded our specialty dessert wine list to include 2014 Deliciar, a Vidal Blanc white port-style wine, 2016 Viagem, a port-style wine made with Chambourcin, and a new vintage of Ishq, a late harvest Vidal Blanc.
Wine Cocktails and Wine Sangrias
We developed a seasonal series of wine cocktails that proved popular and are still available (while supplies last), including our Apple Wine Whiskey cocktail, Chocolate Cherry Vodka Wine cocktail, and Blackberry Cinnamon Vodka Wine cocktail. Our popular bottle wine sangrias flew out the door. The sangrias continue to be available by the glass or carafe in our Tasting Room, and by the bottle for to-go sales through March 2021. Our winter sangria is Spiced Apple. Look for the return of seasonal sangrias like Guava and Harvest Blackberry Lemon during warm weather months.
We launched our successful wine dinner series that sold out for nearly every event. Guests dined on the patio with socially-distanced tables for the summer and early fall Under The Stars events. We continued with Hearth and Vine-themed wine dinners in the Tasting Room during cooler fall weather. We will resume the wine dinners in March 2021.
2021 Wine Dinner Schedule
Guests visiting the winery this year may have noticed the shiny solar panels installed on the roofs of the Tasting Room building and vintage building. Installed in early 2020, the panels are another investment in sustainable operations at Fence Stile that reduces energy costs and our carbon footprint.
Fence Stile also purchased a Calderoni machine (or harrow) for use in the vineyards. The harrow operates similar to a tiller except the blades rotate horizontally like a helicopter. The harrow gently and carefully tills soil along the rows of grapevines. Breaking up the soil enables more moisture and minerals from rainfall to reach the vine’s root structure. We’re also better able to manage weed control (reducing competition with the vine’s roots) with a long-term more sustainable approach not dependent on herbicides.
We launched a partnership with New Roots for Refugees to operate as a community-supported agriculture (CSA) pickup for their weekly fresh farm produce subscriptions. Nearly a dozen guests and subscribers receive fresh produce and herbs during the summer and fall season.
We added new retail distribution partners in 2020 that carried our wine on their restaurant/bar menu and/or stocked us in their shop. Those relationships included Wind Shift Brewing, Affare, The Antler Room, The Pairing, The Campground, Buffalo State Pizza Company, Fox and Pearl, Nimble Brewing, Crane Brewing, Inn at Crescent Lake (under its new ownership), Upriver Urban Exchange, Bubbles Wine & Spirits, and Made in Kansas City’s new Summit Fair store in Lee’s Summit.
Fence Stile also collaborated with several local breweries, who used fresh juice and grape pomace from the 2020 harvest in limited-release beers at Strange Days Brewing in Kansas City’s River Market and Diametric Brewing in Lee’s Summit. We also co-hosted Grain and Grape, a Fence Stile Wine, Beer and Food Pairing at Boulevard Brewing's Beer Hall.
The Elms Hotel & Spa partnered with Fence Stile as a local source for natural ingredients used in its Vino-Perfect Body Treatment at the historic hotel this past spring. We also hosted a Winery Comedy Tour show on our patio this past summer. In October, we began selling local honey from Full Moon Farm based in Lawson, MO, and produced by wine club members Steve and LeAnn Pogue and their family.
Once Chambourcin harvest is complete in late September, most of the grapes are weighed, de-stemmed, crushed, and pumped into a stainless steel tank. We also added some grape clusters with whole berries. Yeast is added to the must to initiate the process of fermentation. Grape must refers to freshly crushed grape juice, pulp, stems, skins, and seeds. Fermentation spans roughly 10-14 days as the yeast feeds on natural sugars in the must, produces alcohol as a by-product, and transforms juice into wine.
The winemaker's work continues with punch-down of the must during fermentation. As the photos below and above indicate, solids in the must rise to the top of the tank and form a cap above the liquid. Fence Stile's winemaker-owner Shriti Plimpton "punches down" the cap daily using a metal tool called a punchdown that resembles an over-sized potato masher. She punches down each tank of red wine during the two-week fermentation period. The purpose of the punch-down is to break up the cap and submerge it, allowing wine to better extract color, tannins, flavor and aromas from the grape solids.
Skins, seeds, and even stems are included in the must for two reasons. First, the juice extracts color from the Chambourcin grape skin to yield a wine with a deeper hue. As the photos indicate, the 2020 harvest produced grape juice with a vibrant purple color that looks promising for the wine's appearance. Second, the skins, seeds, and stems contain tannins which adds structure to wine. Tannin, a natural substance found in plants, contributes slight bitterness or astringent flavor, and can leave a sensation of dryness on the tongue. Tannin is also a natural antioxidant which protects the wine from bacteria. Red wines with a higher presence of tannin often have a smooth texture and grow more complex as they age. Tannin is present in oak so wines aged in an oak barrel tend to accumulate more tannin.
Fermentation and punch-down began within a day or so after the grapes were picked and crushed in the fall. Afterward, the 2020 Chambourcin was pressed to separate the wine from the must. The wine was split into small batches and transferred into barrels for aging. We have a mix of barrels with free-run wine and pressed wine, allowing us to blend barreled wines when the winemaker determines the wines have reached that stage. For a second year in a row, we've retained the Chambourcin pomace (skins, seeds and stems remaining) and produced piquette (read more about our 2019 piquette here). The 2020 piquette has been bottled and now ages in our wine cave near the recently-barreled 2020 Chambourcin.
Brand and events manager, chef and cellar rat Pete Dulin documents wine, food and operations at Fence Stile Vineyards and Winery through writing and photography.