Plans filed to locate a ‘wine academy’ in Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence

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You probably could make a pretty interesting list of what you could learn by attending music festivals in Italy for 14 years. For Michael Kirkendoll, wine is near the top of that list, and he’s opening a new “wine academy” in East Lawrence to share some of it — both wine and knowledge, that is.

Kirkendoll, an associate professor of piano at the University of Kansas, has hosted a contemporary music festival in the heart of Italian wine country for more than a decade. During that time, he’s not only learned a lot about wine, but has also met a ton of winemakers too.

“Wine is the way I experience the world and culture, and it is just really fun to share that,” Kirkendoll said.

So much fun that Kirkendoll and his wife, Mary, are going to be living it. The pair have signed a deal to open the East Lawrence Wine Academy and Tasting Room in a live/work space in the new Penn Street Lofts building in the Warehouse Arts District.

“You will be tasting wine basically in our living room,” Kirkendoll said.

The couple will have approximately 2,200 square feet on the ground floor of the building that is under construction at Eighth and Pennsylvania streets. The back half of the space is a traditional apartment, while the front half will be a combination living and business space that will house the wine academy.

But what is a wine academy? Kirkendoll — who is nearing completion of the training to become a certified sommelier — envisions it as a place where people will be able to not only taste a variety of wines but also learn about the wines through guided tastings or talks hosted by winemakers, chefs or others from the wine world.

The Kirkendolls have been offering some of those experiences through their Eudora-based business the Uncorked Pianist, which for several years operated in downtown Eudora but more recently has been hosting events at various venues.

With a new space in the Warehouse Arts District, Kirkendoll said he’d be able to expand the business’s offerings. He envisions people being able to sign up for a semester’s worth of courses at time.

“We’ll talk about individual grapes, regions of the world, buying wine on a budget,” Kirkendoll said of possible courses. “We’ll do studies of wines of Italy, wines of France, for example.”

In addition, he’ll use the business as a base to book national and international wine tours. Before the pandemic, Kirkendoll was planning to start taking tour groups to Italy and other wine regions.

Plans also call for the new East Lawrence space to be open to walk-in customers two to three nights per week for general wine tastings, along with special events like Final Fridays art walks. But Kirkendoll said the plan was not for the space to become a full-fledged bar. And while the apartment will include Kirkendoll’s grand piano, it won’t be a piano bar either. Kirkendoll, though, said he does expect the space will house some private piano concerts, which he arranges in his role as president of the International Foundation for Contemporary Music.

Kirkendoll said the business planned to serve various snacks to go with the wine — think cheese, prosciutto, assorted desserts — but the business won’t have a commercial kitchen.

“The restaurants in Lawrence can provide the food,” he said. “We really want to focus on giving people a wine experience.”

Kirkendoll hopes the Penn Street Lofts building will be completed in September and that the business could open before the end of 2021. However, the project does require some significant approvals from both the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission and the City Commission. The project has filed for a rezoning and a special use permit that would allow the project to proceed.

That will be an interesting process to watch. The Penn Street Lofts, which are being developed by Warehouse Arts District founder Tony Krsnich, have been designed to be live-work spaces. However, that is a concept that is still relatively new to Lawrence. Actually, it was somewhat common in previous generations, but it is making a comeback in many places as residents want to drive less and have more balance between home and work.

We’ll see how comfortable Lawrence officials are with the idea as they are asked to start granting necessary approvals for projects.

Kirkendoll said he and his wife were excited about the concept. Their unit will accommodate about 20 people in a “private, intimate” setting indoors, he said. An outdoor patio will provide some additional space.

In Eudora, the entrepreneurial couple — Mary owns Yoga of Kindness — lived above the downtown space where they hosted wine tastings. They, however, found themselves looking for new living space recently, and Lawrence and the arts district made a lot of sense. When they found out they could live in the space they would work from, the idea really started to take hold.

“When we found it was live/work space, it just made it an obvious kind of ask,” Kirkendoll said. “We’re excited to move and make it become our home. It is really exciting (that) these type of live/work opportunities are becoming available again.”


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