New winery in downtown Lecompton inspired by fruit, history and crazy vacation ideas

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Empty Nester's Winery, 338 Elmore St. in Lecompton, opened in January 2021 after being years in the making.

It is rare that I ever remember the ending of a story that begins with the question “What are we going to do with those 30 bottles of wine on the shelf?” But Troy Clark remembers the end of his story, and it actually is on display as a new winery in downtown Lecompton.

Clark and his wife, Vickie, have opened Empty Nester’s Winery in Lecompton, which of course, is in northwest Douglas County and about a 20-minute drive from Lawrence.

It was several years ago that Troy asked Vickie what they should do with all those bottles of homemade peach wine that were on the shelf. They had made the wine some time earlier, and it wasn’t very good when they last tasted it. But before throwing the bottles out, they had another glass and realized it indeed had improved with age.

They shared some with friends and restarted their wine-making hobby. Eventually, friends said the phrase that has launched many a business: You ought to sell this stuff.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Troy Clark and his wife, Vickie, own Empty Nester’s Winery in Lecompton. In addition to selling wine, the winery also offers cheese and chocolates, and during Valentine’s season, it’s offering gift baskets, including one with Doritos — a surefire way to win a certain type of heart.

Empty Nester’s Winery indeed is selling peach wine and about a half-dozen other fruit wine varieties, including a cherry, blackberry, blueberry and raspberry. More flavors featuring apple, cranberry and even pumpkin spice are on the way.

As you can tell, the varieties at this winery are a bit different than you’ll find at many others. You don’t need to know your different varieties of grapes. You’re more likely to be able to ask yourself what type of pie you like and use that to guide your wine selection. But don’t expect all the wines to be sweet like a pie.

“You can get some pretty complex flavors with fruit wine,” Troy said. “The problem with most fruit wine on the market is they just douse them with sugar. We don’t do that. Our wines are sweet but not overly sweet.”

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

The winemaking process happens in the basement of the Empty Nester’s Winery building in downtown Lecompton.

The couple mainly buys local fruit from area farmers. The downtown Lecompton building includes a basement where they actually make the wine. Guests can peer over a railing to see the tanks and bottling operation.

A few years ago, they could have taken an express trip to the basement by falling through the floor. The building — if you know where Aunt Netters Cafe is in Lecompton, the winery is next door — had long been vacant or used for miscellaneous storage. Parts of the floor were missing and other parts led you to believe they soon would be if you stepped wrong, Troy said.

Troy and Vickie spent three years fixing up the building. It now includes a tasting bar, plus several tables and chairs where people can enjoy a sampling of wine, a glass of wine or a bottle of wine. The shop also has cheeses and chocolates available.

The idea for the place came after the couple stopped at a small winery in Laramie, Wyo., after visiting Yellowstone National Park. Troy had already started wine making after going on a previous vacation that featured a tour of wineries near Niagara Falls. The latest vacation convinced him that a wine business would be fun.

“I shouldn’t go on vacations. I make big decisions every time I do,” he said.

But he said he and Vickie have been glad they followed through on this decision. They have lived in Lecompton for 26 years and raised their kids — now grown, thus the Empty Nester’s name — in the small town of about 750 people. It has been fun watching the business bring people to town who otherwise may have never come to Lecompton, such as the recent 75th birthday party by an out-of-towner and her friends a couple of weeks ago.

“They pulled up in a stretch limo — in Lecompton,” Troy said.

The hope is winery customers will explore the town a bit, which features some historic sites. The eyes of a nation were on Lecompton for a period of American history. It was the territorial capital of Kansas, and the leaders of the day were keenly watching whether Kansas would enter the Union as a slave or a free state. The old territorial Capitol and several other historic sites have been preserved. The winery gets business from folks who have come to town to see those sites, but the winery also draws people to town on its own. Troy has named several of the wines to pique the historical curiosity of those patrons. For example, the cherry wine is named Cherritorial Capital Cherry. Another one, Midnight on the Kaw, ties into the city’s history along the Kansas River.

“It is fun,” Troy said of the names and the business, “because we really do love our town. We love seeing people come here.”

Right now, the winery is open three days per week, Friday through Sunday, but Troy often has the business open when he is crafting the wines during the week. He said hours also may expand if the winery follows through on plans to get a food-processing license that would allow the business to start making jams and jellies from its fruit supply.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

A large painting in the tasting room of Empty Nester’s Winery features bottles of wine from the business, which uses Lecompton themes to name its wines.


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