Couple to sell Smoky Hill Vineyard and Winery

? Norm and Jen Jennings have announced plans to sell the Smoky Hill Vineyard and Winery they own and operate north of Salina and embark on a ministerial career.

“Our hope is that we find an individual or entity that wants to run the winery as Smoky Hill Winery and just carry it directly forward as it is today,” said Norm Jennings.

He said the decision has nothing to do with the recession or the business.

“It is very successful,” he said.

The couple notified the winery staff of the decision recently and began notifying the public, he said.

Norm’s father, Steve, founded the winery in 1991 with a business partner, Kay Bloom, after the two men retired. Steve Jennings died in 2005.

The winery, which covers 40 acres and includes 10 acres of grape vines, has been managed by Norm Jennings and his wife since his father’s death. The winery is located at 212 W. Golf Link, just north of Salina.

The Jenningses hope to sell the winery intact. Norm Jennings says they are confident, given the reputation and popularity of the Smoky Hill brand, that there will be interested buyers. Plans are to begin looking for a buyer soon.

It’s a big career move for Jennings, who also serves as a Salina city commissioner, but not his first. He worked as an engineer for 12 years in cities the country before moving back to Salina, his hometown, and joining his father’s wine business.

Running the winery’s dining operation, “marketing and management were my areas, and wine-making and the vineyard were definitely Dad’s passions,” Jennings said.

Under the management of Norm and Jen Jennings, the winery completed an expansion project that enabled it to double production, as well as give it a bigger dining, reception and gift boutique area.

The couple says they’re moving ahead with plans to form a lay ministry, counseling engaged and married couples and children of divorce. It’s a religious calling the couple have been considering and praying about for about a year and a half, Norm Jennings said. He said the couple’s plans are to remain in Salina.

“The unknown is a fear, and it does exist. It kind of weighs against the call we feel the Lord has put on our shoulders,” he said. “We don’t know exactly where this is going to take us.”

He said he and his wife haven’t made a choice about how to list the business for sale, or whether to go with a national brokerage company specializing in wineries. He said wineries used to be difficult to sell, but today, existing wineries with good, established brands are stable and command good prices.

Jennings said it used to be that someone buying a winery had better have experience making wine. Now winery owners can focus on operations and managing their businesses and hire graduates of wine-making schools to make their wine.

“On one hand, there’s less money out there, but on the other hand, people are still looking for businesses, hoping to find something that hasn’t gotten beat up in the recession,” he said.