Kansas City’s Wine Scene Coming of Age
Story by Dave Eckert | Intro image courtesy of The KC Wine Co.
Kirk Berggren was in Shanghai, on the job as a pilot for Federal Express when his wife called to tell him she’d bought a vineyard. For years, Berggens had run The KC Pumpkin Patch, but after losing the land lease, they were looking for a new site-for a pumpkin patch, not a vineyard. From pumpkin patch proprietors to vineyard owners, it was a sudden switch for the Berggens, who were now running what they called The KC Wine Co.
Photo courtesy of The KC Wine Co.
A lot has changed since the initial purchase. The Berggens have added new grapes to those already planted in the seven-acre vineyard. But, most significantly, the Berggens built a winery. So, instead of selling the grapes to other wineries as planned, they make wine from their vineyards as well as from purchased grapes. The Berggens also produce cider, and they always have a couple of flavors of wine-infused slushies or sangria available. No matter what your palate prefers, KC Wine Co. will have something that suits your tastes.
Photo courtesy of Somerset Ridge Vineyard and Winery
Cindy and Dennis Reynolds have also evolved their plans over the years. The Reynolds were well into careers in the corporate world. They were also wine lovers who’d traveled the planet sipping the great wines of the world. Owning a vineyard sounded attractive, so Somerset Ridge Vineyard and Winery, just outside Louisburg, Kansas became a reality for the couple. “We loved the idea of having a winery, but we thought we’d just plant grapes and sell them to other wineries. We never thought it was going to evolve into the full-time thing it has become,” Dennis Reynolds shared. Full-time and then some.
An exciting change for the Reynolds is the addition of their California-trained winemaker son, Alex, who returned to take over the winemaking last year. “Alex was a winemaker in Napa and Sonoma for five years. He’s brought some new energy and ideas to the table. We like the size we are right now, but with Alex at the helm, I know we’ll be able to add new wines and improve quality across the board,” Reynolds stated.
Photo courtesy of Terravox Vineyard
From out south, I headed up north to TerraVox Vineyard and Winery where I chatted with owner, Jerry Eisterhold, and winemaker and vineyard manager, Jean-Louis Horvilleur, “I was born and raised on a small farm on the Gasconade River, just up for Hermann. I’m German, and at the time, it was almost mandatory that you try and make wine from something,” Eisterhold recalled. That was the genesis of what would become a lifetime passion for Eisterhold, tracking down the history and genetics of unique American Heritage Grapes.
It’s Eisterhold’s goal to plant the right grapes in the ideal setting and make the very best wines possible. The execution of that goal now falls to Horvilleur, who landed the job at Terravox with a combination of right time, right place, and right experience. “I was at this wine symposium in the Texas Hill Country where I met a guy who knew everyone in the wine business. I called him a few weeks later to ask if he had any opportunities. He said Jerry was looking for a winemaker. It was a perfect fit,” Horvilleur told me.
I asked him Horvilleur what he would want a consumer to know about TerraVox and its wines. “I think it’s great when people visit and love our varietals. We put a lot of work into that, obviously. But I also say if someone tells me what type of wine they like, I can find one, or more, of our wines that they will enjoy,” Horvilleur said.
Photo courtesy of Fence Stile Vineyard and Winery
They’re going for a slightly different experience at Fence Stile Vineyards and Winery, located on the other side of The Northland in the rolling hills of Excelsior Springs. Shriti Plimpton was looking for an immersive wine country experience. “It was the 57th piece of land we looked at. We wanted land that was driving distance from Kansas City because our son needed that. We wanted land that didn’t have farmer neighbors because we didn’t want the overspray. We wanted to be at the top of a hill, so we’d have the wind keep the grapes dry and fresh. And we wanted all the vineyards to be on slopes so that the water would drain away from the roots of the vines,” Plimpton shared.
To Plimpton, the wines are obviously important, but the grape-growing and winemaking part of the equation is even more important. “We’re really about the experience. You can have great wine anywhere, but to have great wine in the right environment is an experience you are going to remember. That’s what we’re going for at Fence Stile,” Plimpton shared.