Food and Drink

Amigoni Urban Winery Proves There’s Much More to Missouri Vineyards

You may have heard about Amigoni Urban Winery through the grapevine. See what’s inside it and the philosophy behind it.

Story by Katie Van Luchene | Photos by Paul M. Ingold

Global warming? Michael Amigoni is all for it. As a Missouri vintner who grows grapes about 45 minutes east of Kansas City, climate changes mean the grapes he plants—European varietals usually only found in California and milder climes—are less challenging to grow. Mourvèdre grapes, for instance, will be as happy in Centerview, Mo., as two hours south of Barcelona.

In fact, Michael and his wife, Kerry, continue to surprise wine aficionados by growing Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Chardonnay and Viognier. It was a risk they started in 1997 with just 40 vines of a hardy French variety that could weather the Midwest winters in the backyard of their Leawood home.

The risk is more than just weather related. From the day the couple began selling their wines in 2007, they’ve had to educate the wine-drinking public about their style of wines.

They don’t grow Norton, Mo.’s official grape, which has been described as heavy-handed, or Chardonel, the Midwest’s version of Chardonnay. Kerry often fields questions about their wines—four whites, seven reds and a rosé—served in the tasting room they opened in the West Bottoms in 2012. “Someone new will come in and ask if we have anything sweet. I’ll tell them we have dry and dryer.”

Michael adds, “We’re changing perceptions of Missouri wines one glass at a time. What I love the most is taking local fruit like Chardonnay and producing a product that highlights Missouri’s unique soil and microclimate and using locally produced American oak barrels. It’s a wine that can’t be replicated anywhere else in the world.”

Ryan Sciara is one of Amigoni’s most ardent fans. He started selling the wines when he was with Cellar Rat, a wine shop in the Crossroads  Arts District. He plans to save shelf space for several varieties when he opens Underdog Wine Co., in the Crestwood Shops in the next few weeks. “I’ll be honest. I was a skeptic when I heard Michael was the first person in the region to focus on vinifera varietals. But his wines have gotten better and better every year. He is making great wines, period, not just great Missouri wines,” Sciara says.

Amigoni’s Viognier is one Sciara especially likes. “It has that classic white peach and apricot marmalade aroma I love. It’s fresh, balanced and delicious,” he says. But the Cab Franc is his favorite, he says, adding that its “marked minerality, medium tannin and juicy red cherry fruit” remind him more of a Loire Valley Cab Franc, with than a big California version.

“Michael likes to say, ‘The world would be a better place if everyone drank more Cabernet Franc,’ and I couldn’t agree more. We’ll be big supporters of Amigoni at Underdog, along with many of the best local and regional wine producers.”

It’s also an easy sell for regular consumers, especially those familiar with California-style wines. For $6, guests can try five wines, including that luscious Viognier that Sciara raved about. This grape is also found in Amigoni’s popular Urban Bianco (blended with Sauvignon Blanc) and Urban White, which is 80 percent Chardonnay, making it a refreshing wine with hints of citrus and pear.

But winter’s comfort food begs for one of Amigoni Urban Winery’s lush reds, such as the 2011 Cabernet Franc, made from the grape that started it all. It’s an elegant wine that came into full bloom after 14 months in American white oak barrels the couple buys from a cooperage in Missouri. The 2011 Urban Drover—blended with equal percentages of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot—is rich and complex with notes of black licorice and fig.

Several Kansas City restaurants serve Amigoni’s wines, and Kerry suggests pairing its earthy Urban Red with the Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange’s lusty pork soup, or the Cabernet Sauvignon with Blue Bird Bistro’s oyster-mushroom risotto. One of Michael’s favorite pairings is Mourvèdre, that rustic, Spanish-style wine with aromas of black pepper, with Pierpont’s 12-hour short ribs.

Amigoni has found its fan base: people who stop by for a pour during First Fridays when nearby art galleries are open or hurry in when new wines are released. But Kerry still gets a kick from watching someone new come in and see the handsome building for the first time, taste a few wines to find a favorite, then head upstairs to the mezzanine with a glass or a bottle on a lazy afternoon. Now that the winery serves small plates—starring cheeses from fellow Missouri producers, Green Dirt Farm and Shatto dairy farm, along with Farm to Market baguettes—it’s easy to while away an hour or two.

The tasting area and bar, which connects to a barrel room, is notable as well. Constructed in 1909, it housed the Daily Drover Telegram Newspaper, serving the livestock industry for 50 years. John O’Brien restored the space using more than 24 reclaimed doors and tiles that reflect its era. The urban winery is a sought-after venue for wedding receptions, corporate events and private parties.

By summer, the Amigonis will open a second barrel room half a block away. What else is coming up? A sparkling wine on tap. “And a bocce ball court,” adds Michael. “I’m a second-generation Italian. You have to have bocce ball.”