Yes you read the title correctly! Alongside Burger King and Starbucks, Missouri wines have somehow cornered a section of Terminal B at Kansas City Airport. A new bar called ‘Missouri Vineyards’ , as if to reverse the norm in local restaurants where its Californian and French stuff, has a wine list that concentrates on Missouri vinos front and center and relegates other stuff to a section called, ’Additional Wine Selections’. As my wife and I stumbled around the terminal with a couple of hours to kill because of the usual flight delay I really thought someone was playing an elaborate hoax. Missouri wines can’t even make it into Kansas City restaurants, what are they doing here? I shuffled through a list of people who may be trying to fool me…wine expert Doug Frost? He’s a big supporter of Midwest wines and he travels a lot, often by plane, he’s a charmer, but how did he manage to pull this off? Or perhaps my friend Danene Beedle, marketing manager at the Missouri Wine & Grape Board - could she really be putting that twelve cents a gallon tax on wine sales towards a wine bar at the airport? Stranger things have happened.
The fantasies cleared as the escalator took us up to this swanky wine bar with views out onto the airstrip where some of the more usual elements of airport travel were before us. Like an elderly lady who was sitting at a table and offering her pizza to a family next to her – only she was also sipping a big glass of Missouri white wine. And there were a couple of men hunched at the bar over glasses of a deep red wine – could that be Norton? Several others, not quite hooked on the local vino, were sipping beers instead. The friendly bar staff supplied a menu and I asked for a few details about this surprising airport drinking hole. It turns out it’s the work of HMS Host, a large company that’s part of another large company: Autogrill, an Italian based, multinational catering company that’s the world’s largest provider of food, beverage and retail services for travelers, most of it in airport terminals. Europe’s in an economic crisis, Italy is next after suffering Spain, frantically trying to clean up its economy – could that explain why they forgot to put prices on the wine list? A minor oversight perhaps – but the old lady mentioned above, after downing her white wine, left the bar suggesting in a loud voice that if there aren’t prices on the menu the wines should be for free. Maybe she should have said it in Italian? But I kind of agreed with her as I paid the rather steep airport price of $10.53 for a smallish glass of Montelle Seyval Blanc. But the menu does give a really nice history of Missouri wines from the 19th century glory days, to Prohibition, to the current revival and I was just amazed to even be holding a wine list dedicated to Missouri wines in an airport. Great stuff!
The only real hitch seemed to be the strange contraptions used to serve the wine that convert the wine pouring experience into something like pushing the button on a soft-drink dispenser to squirt out your soda.
The wines are all kept in an acclimatized fridge and the idea is the bartender simply pushes a button and out sloshes the chosen wine through a tube and into a glass. If it worked. Our poor bartender had a lot of trouble getting the machine to part with the wine and I couldn’t help but think how much easier it would be if she could’ve just opened the bottle with a corkscrew and just errr, poured it? The same machines are used at Cellar & Loft, a wine bar in downtown Kansas City (where at least one of the wines is an incredible $30 a glass – but we won’t go into that! They do have free wine tastings so I guess that makes up for it) and funnily enough we had the same experience there where the bartender ended up giving up on the machine and pulling the bottle out to pour it with a human hand. Luckily that delay allowed us time to realize we’d accidentally chosen the $30 a glass option and instead get the $8 a glass option. But, back at the airport at the Missouri Vineyards bar…it turns out that Lambert-St Louis International Airport has had a ‘Missouri Vineyards’ bar since 2009! See: http://www.hmshost.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Lambert-St.-Louis-International.pdf What does this all mean? Comments very welcome, I know there is one reader out there somewhere.