This summer is the perfect time to check out the growing selection of local wineries — with great vineyard views, cozy tasting rooms and opportunities to listen to music while responsibly enjoying a little liquid refreshment.
If you are a wine drinker, you might notice that Kansas wines have different names (besides brands) than the ones often seen from California, Australia and other mass-production regions. The reason? Wines are typically named for the grape from which they are made. And because the weather is a little different in Kansas than it is in California, Kansas grape growers rely on different grapes.
“There are three different classifications of grapevines, excluding table grapes,” explains Pep Selvan-Solberg, owner of Bluejacket Crossing Vineyard and Winery near Eudora. He says the Vinifera type is the most prevalent and is the source for most of the wines you might see in a liquor store. Vinifera requires a longer growing season than the Midwest offers and also prefers cool summer nights over hot humid ones. Trying to push these grapes through a less-than-ideal growing situation produces fruit that lacks the characteristics for which its species are known.
“The other two classes are native American grapes and what we call French hybrids,” Selvan-Solberg says. “These vines tolerate greater variables in weather conditions and are the result of about 150 years of rootstock exchange. The grapes have excellent and unique fruit characteristics compared to Vinifera.”
Selvan-Solberg’s face lights up as he describes the Vignoles’ citrusy peach- and apricot-influenced flavor and the full-bodied dryness of the Chambourcin.
“I also need to tell you that I was once a serious California wine-drinking snob,” Selvan-Solberg says laughing. A Kansas native and Kansas University graduate, Selvan-Solberg left the state to eventually build a business in California and lived there for many years. He made occasional visits back to the Lawrence area. On one trip back, he was finally talked into visiting Davenport Orchards and Winery, also near Eudora.
“I tried the Norton and looked at the wine on its own merits, and it was really excellent.”
A few years later, Selvan-Solberg moved back to the Lawrence area and planted the first of Bluejacket’s grapevines in 2001. He spent days at Davenport Orchards, learning the ropes to grape-growing and winemaking from Davenport’s owner Greg Shipe.
After a few years, Selvan-Solberg entered into an internship at Holy-field Vineyard and Winery near Basehor to work with father-daughter team Les and Michelle Meyer.
In 2008, Selvan-Solberg finally had enough fruit to open the winery where he now offers 20 different wines. He has expanded to nine acres of grapes.
Selvan-Solberg notes that just as there are different flavors of merlot, each Seyval and Cynthiana taste a little different depending on the winemaker. Also, some grapes are good for more than one wine — he makes six wines from the Chambourcin grape, varying from a semi-sweet blush to the full-bodied dry red.
If the wine is not enough, you can also feel good about supporting the local economy — local jobs and local people — when you visit local wineries.