Whitewater Though they both have active medical practices, Drs. David and Natalie Sollo needed a way to explore their other passion — wine.
Members of tasting clubs in the Wichita area for more than two decades, the Sollos are now vinting their own as the owners and operators of Grace Hill Winery near Whitewater.
“We visited wineries wherever we traveled,” David said. “There was a whole culture of grapes and making wine we enjoyed.”
“Besides,” added Natalie, “Dave always wanted an outdoor job.”
The couple purchased an abandoned farmstead two and a half miles west of Whitewater, three-quarters miles north of Kansas Highway 196 on Grace Hill Road.
They tore down old buildings, then started planting grape vines. There are now more than 3,500 vines covering seven acres of ground tucked into a secluded setting.
Both still practice medicine, which keeps them busy during the week. Saturdays are when they welcome the public to taste eight different wines they have made that range from sweet whites to dry reds.
The vineyard produced more than three tons of grapes per acre last year, and according to the Sollos, are just now starting to mature. The first grape vines were planted in 2004.
Once harvested with the help of family and friends, the grapes are stemmed and crushed, then fermented and aged in oak barrels.
While Dave gives a tour of the vineyard and talks about each of the eight varieties of grapes planted there, Natalie picks at the vines — making sure they remain pruned so all the energy goes to the growing of gapes.
In the cellar, the floor is wet. After moving wines and testing barrels, there is a mess to clean up.
The dedication is paying off, as this year’s wines are among the best — the flavors are getting fuller as the grapes mature and fewer grapes are purchased from other vineyards.
“Our Barrel Reserve Red is really good this year,” Dave said. “Our 2008 growing season was really good.”
The flagship wine of the vineyard is a red: Dodging Tornados.
Its flavor has improved, just like others.
“In five years, the vineyard will be mature, and we hope to be making from 100 percent of our own grapes,” Dave said. “We’re not doing that now.”
But they are enjoying the new venture, even though David Sollo said it has taken more time, work and cost more than they believed it would when they started.
The winery joins about a dozen in the state of Kansas, an industry that has been growing during the past few years.
“It’s part of tourism,” Natalie said. “There’s a push toward agri-tourism in Kansas.”
The winery is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each Saturday. The Sollos also open for tasting by appointment.