Kansas Wine Overview

In the years before 1880, Kansas and neighboring Missouri were two of the largest grape-growing and wine-producing states in the country. But, when Kansas imposed a statewide prohibition in that year, everything changed. Grape growing and wine making slowed to a trickle, if not altogether disappearing.

Fast forward almost 100 years and the rebirth of the Kansas wine industry began. The bountiful valleys north and south of Kansas City proved successful for vineyards growing French hybrid grapes, along with the storied native American grape, Norton. Once some vineyards became productive, wineries in Kansas followed suit, and now there are about two dozen wineries in the state.

You’ll find many of Kansas’ wineries in the northeast and eastern areas, but you’ll also find Kansas wine being produced in central areas such as Salina and Wichita. In fact, Smoky Hill Vineyards and Winery in Salina is the largest grape-producing winery in the state.

There are even a couple of vineyards growing true French grapes like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in Kansas. This is a rarity in the Midwest, particularly in Kansas where temperatures can vary to extremes. Geography and terrain in Kansas is unique, so much so that there is actually an AVA in the state — the Kansas AVA.

Most of the grapes grown here are French hybrid grapes. Chambourcin, St. Vincent, Seyval and Chardonel are most common. There are also some interesting new hybrid grapes grown here, like the Melody grape which originated in the Finger Lakes region of New York. The end result is a wide variety of wines being produced, and a wine industry that’s becoming more well known and respected as time goes by.

A relatively new organization, the Kansas Grape Growers and Winemakers Association, is at the forefront of promoting the Kansas wine industry. They’re placing an emphasis not just on marketing and promotion, but also ensuring superior quality of Kansas wines via a unique program called Kansas Quality Certified. This program, made possible by a USDA grant, aims to provide consumer confidence in Kansas wines by instituting a quality control process. In order to receive the Kansas Quality Certified designation, a Kansas wine must pass laboratory and taste tests and use a minimum of 75% Kansas-grown grapes in their wines. Not all Kansas wineries participate in the program, but the majority are on board.

We applaud this approach not only for the assurance of quality wines for consumers, but also for the emphasis on local sourcing. It is heartening to see Kansas encourage local wineries to use local grapes (as most do). This allows the consumer to truly taste the differences in one state’s wines versus another. We hope other states follow suit with similar programs.

Most of the grapes grown here are French hybrid grapes. Chambourcin, St. Vincent, Seyval and Chardonel are most common.

Kansas Wine Trails

Kansas is home to one wine trail, the Northeast Kansas Wine Trail. Information about the trail is somewhat dated, but the trail includes four wineries that are west and slightly southwest of Kansas City.

Two of the wineries are in the town of Eudora, which is near Lawrence, a charming university town home to the University of Kansas. Be sure to stop for a meal at the iconic Free State Brewing Company on Lawrence’s main drag, Massachusetts Avenue.

One of Kansas’ best known wineries, Stone Pillar Vineyard and Winery, is one of the four trail wineries located in Olathe. Stone Pillar offers a Melody wine, a pleasant and mildly sweet white wine. Another of their excellent whites is the Villard Blanc, a variety that’s not often seen elsewhere in the country.

Either Kansas City or Lawrence are perfect home bases to explore this wine trail. Lawrence is only 45 minutes from Kansas City, and we recommend you spend ample time in both of these iconic Kansas locations. The great barbecue restaurants in Kansas City are enough to keep anyone busy for several days at least!

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