Kansas looks to make wine industry more consumer friendly

Alice Mannette
The Hutchinson News

Kansas wants to be recognized for its specialty wines. 

Although Kansas' grapes and wines are currently under the radar, small wineries are popping up across the Sunflower State.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture recently looked into upstarting the dormant Wine and Grape Advisory Council. Wine producers and grape growers would be elected or appointed to govern this council, similar to the state grain grower marketing commissions.

KDA is also looking into developing viticultural areas in Kansas, which is an area of origin used on wine labels. This grape-growing region contains specific geographic or climatic features. Having an American Viticultural Area designation on a wine label allows vintners to describe the region their wines come from. 

The AVA is a designation from the U.S. Department of the Treasury Tax and Trade Bureau. If a wine is produced in a specific area, it must contain a certain percentage of grapes from that region.

“The AVA would educate the public on what we grow in Kansas,” said Jeff Solo, manager of Grace Hill Winery in Whitewater.

But in addition to the climate, Solo said the product depends on what types of grapes the producer is growing, who is growing it and what types of techniques the producers are using.

Grace Hill Winery and dozens of other Kansas winemakers are a part of the Kansas Grape Growers & Winemakers Association. This organization has more than 25 members, with the majority sprinkled around the greater Kansas City area. However, several wineries run along the Arkansas and Smoky Hill rivers. Several are on the Kansas River or on tributaries.

To form an AVA, the location has to encompass a specific area that is not designated by county or state border. A river basin or region, like the Flint Hills, must be named as the location. 

The Kansas Viticulture and Farm Winery Association is another group of which wineries are part.

John Brewer, the owner of Wyldewood Cellars in Peck, said the AVA would help Kansas wineries with marketing.

“This is one way to get the word out that people are growing something unique," Brewer said. "We can make some very unique wines in Kansas. We just have to get people to try them."

Kansas, which along with Missouri was one of the leading wine and grape producers in the U.S. during the 1800s, has a long history with the product. Two grapes are designated Kansas State Grapes — the Chambourcin and the Vignoles.

The red Chambourcin grape is similar in character to a Pinot Noir, while the white Vignoles has notes of floral and citrus. 

Only wines that are made from grapes can be a part of this proposed designation. Grace Hill Winery has a special Fruit Bomb that uses apples from Rees Fruit Farm in Topeka, while Wyldewood utilizes its own elderberries, blueberries and blackberries to make some of its product. But both wineries market grape-based wines, which would qualify for AVA status.

“One of our big goals is to take some of the pretense out of the wine market,” Solo said. “We want to make it (wine drinking) more fun.”

Jeff Solo, the manager at Grace Hill Winery, examines the winery's grapevines.
Wine barrels filled with wine at Grace Hill Winery in Whitewater.
Wine for sale at Grace Hill Winery in Whitewater.
Jeff Solo, the manager at Grace Hill Winery, stands in front of wine tanks at the winery in Whitewater.