When people typically think of what dominates Kansas agriculture, the first things that come to mind are probably a lot of wheat, cornfields and cattle. There’s a misconception that Kansas farmland is flat, boring and not much to look at. But if you explore and dig a little deeper, you’ll find an unsuspecting hidden gem: wineries.
Not a lot of people know this (and I sure didn’t), but Kansas has a long history of grape-growing and winemaking. In 1901, Kansas had almost 5,000 acres of vineyards despite the prohibition, according to Philip Bradley of the Kansas Viticulture and Farm Winery Association. Vineyards eventually declined, and it wasn’t until 1985 that Kansas legally allowed wineries to be established.
Since then, wineries are making a strong comeback in Kansas and fortunately, they’re not going to stop anytime soon. The Kansas Office of Tourism & Travel reported nearly 50 current wineries in the state.
And it’s no secret that college students love to drink, especially in LFK, our notorious party town.
Take it from Lilimay Bangoy, a University graduate from Los Angeles, who is an avid wine drinker and plans on visiting a few Kansas wineries. “Wine is like a mature drink but also a casual drink. You can just have a glass of it and be fine,” Bangoy says. “You just need a glass to relax. You don't have to pound shots.”
So, if you’re looking to spice up your alcohol intake and be a little classy, put the cheap beer and nasty hard liquor aside and try wine instead. Chances are you won’t wake up with a horrible hangover with the bitter aftertaste of vomit in your mouth.
We visited a couple wineries near Lawrence to talk about good wine with some experts. And it definitely didn’t hurt that we got to sample delicious Kansas-grown wines, too. But how to choose a wine?
Gregory Shipe, owner of Davenport Orchards & Winery in Eudora, says it just depends. “Everybody has a different taste, so it’s whatever you like. Some days, you like something different.” So, I asked him which ones he would recommend to a wine newbie like me, and this is what we came up with:
1. Bluesman, $16
Most new wine drinkers will like the Bluesman, Shipe says. It’s a dry red wine from Norton grapes, but is the only wine made in a different barrel. While everything else is made in a toasted barrel, the Bluesman is made in a charred barrel, which gives its a distinct smoky flavor. “The charred barrel makes it smoother too and less complex,” Shipe says.
2. Boujy Noveaulo, $12
The Boujy Noveaulo is dry red wine also made from Norton grapes, but it tastes completely different. It’s more tart and fruity — Shipe says this is because the process to make it is different. They put whole clusters of grapes in a tank with the stems. Then they pump carbon dioxide into it until the oxygen is forced and sealed up, Shipe says. It’s made in about 30 days and in France, it’s a wine to celebrate the harvest.
3. Charlotte’s Red, $12
Shipe calls the Charlotte’s Red the “main gateway wine,” which means it’s the one that people buy right away after they drink it. This wine is a red, but it’s also light. It comes from the American fredonia grape and Shipe says they have thousands of vines for just this one wine. The Charlotte’s Red is a bit different from the other dry ones and has a sweet almost cotton candy taste.
4. Ruslan, $25
The Ruslan is the most expensive wine on the menu, and for good reason. This wine spends the longest time fermenting in a barrel. As a result, the wine picks up a strong oak flavor and goes through slow oxidation over the years. Shipe says the Ruslan has extra grape skins which makes the drink seem thicker.
About two miles away from Davenport is another winery, BlueJacket Crossing. Like Davenport, they have an impressive wine menu. I met with Melody Stratton, who is the event and marketing manager of the winery. Here are some of our top picks:
1. Seyval, $17
The Seyval is an award-winning dry white. The menu indicated that it is rich in flavor with lime, guava and an apple finish. “It was one of maybe 25 wines in the nation to win [the Jefferson Cup]. All that is grown here on the property; they’re some of the oldest vines we have,” Stratton says.
2. Shady Betty, $14
This one is my personal favorite, and it was suggested to me by the winemaker himself, Kandaya Selvan. It’s a semi-sweet wine with hints of strawberry and tart — perfect if you have a sweet tooth like me. I had to purchase a bottle for myself. But if you’re looking for something more sweet and fruit-forward than the Shady Betty, then try the Betty’s Blush, also for $14.
3. Kansas Transplant, $13
Stratton says the Kansas Transplant is the only wine they currently make from grapes not grown on the property. It is a sweet white wine made with juice from South America. “Their season is opposite of ours,” Stratton says. “So that juice arrives at a time when it’s more convenient.” You can expect it to taste like a sweet Moscato with pineapple and candied orange flavors.
4. Rosé, $15
The Rosé won the Jefferson Cup Silver Medal, and if that doesn’t convince you enough, it’s also an absolutely gorgeous, vibrant color. It’s more on the dry side and has a rich fruity flavor. And if you’re feeling a little adventurous, Stratton says the winery just came up with a new Sparkling Rosé bottle for $24.
The wines I’ve listed are just a few of the many options available from Davenport and BlueJacket Crossing. The Kansas wine industry definitely is on the rise and that means endless wines to drink. “We have a really wide variety of styles,” Stratton says. “We do that on purpose so accommodate every taste, so you can almost always find something you’re going to like in a Kansas winery.”
So what are you waiting for? Find your local vineyard, grab a glass of wine, sit back and enjoy. Cheers!