A new Highland Community College venture hopes to foster growth of grapes and business throughout Kansas.
Highland’s Wamego campus opened 456 Wineries last month. Part of the college’s viticulture (grape-growing) and enology (wine-making) programs, the winery incubator hopes to help grow the wine industry in the state, said Scott Kohl, director of the program.
“The idea here is they move in, pay rent, hopefully everything works out and they’re successful, they move out and start their own winery,” Kohl said.
The facility, 503 Miller Drive, Wamego, has a shared tasting room and space for six winemakers. One of those spaces is occupied by Highland. The first outside winery, Bodine Wine Co., held its grand opening this weekend. It also has a laboratory where winemakers can test things like sugar levels and and acid levels. Kohl said Highland received a grant from the USDA in 2016 to start 456 Wineries.
Each “bay” has three large tanks and two smaller ones. Kohl said that translates to around 500 cases of wine. Wineries have to bring in their own grapes and bottles, but they rent the space and equipment. Kohl said the opportunity to rent, rather than buy, lowers start-up costs, therefore making it easier for a new winery get rolling. After planting grapes, wineries don’t get their own harvest for around three years, delaying any profit they might make and making it even more difficult to get started.
“You’ve only spent a couple years’ rent instead of your life savings,” Kohl said.
Kohl said he imagines most clients will stay at 456 Wineries for two or three years and as many as five years before moving on. Highland staff are on hand to offer advice and help but the incubator clients stay independent.
“They’re their own business,” Kohl said. “We advise and help as much as we can, but it’s their own business.”
Bob and Joe Bodine, owners of Bodine Wine Co., worked on a family farm in Osage County and were looking for a way to diversify their crop. They became interested in wine making and took classes at Highland to learn the craft. Bob said having the resources, from equipment to advice from Highland’s winemaker, is helpful as their business gets rolling.
“That’s pretty invaluable,” Bob said. “It takes away a lot of the risk and fear.”
So far the Bodines have two wines for sale at 456 Wineries, a semi-sweet white and a rosé. Bob and Joe said their goals are to expand their product line to include more wines and possibly even cider, and ultimately open a permanent standalone location.
Bob said they’re looking forward to working with other wineries that might move into the building.
Kohl said he hopes those new, small wineries working closely together will help them grow. He said having more wineries in the state could also increase tourism for people who might be looking for something to do for an afternoon or for a day while traveling along I-70.
“We’re looking to help the wine industry statewide,” Kohl said.