McLouth area vineyard adds wine and B&B
Don and Maxine Bryant hold a couple bottles of their wine while sitting in the Garden Room in their bed and breakfast inn at Jefferson Hill Vineyard and Guest House near McLouth. The Bryants were the first in the state of Kansas to have both a winery and a bread and breakfast inn.
Story by Sara Peterson-Davis
Photos by Monty Davis
The words over the door of the Jefferson Hill Vineyard and Guest House sum up Don and Maxine Bryant’s philosophy: “Celebrate life with friends, food and wine.”
Over the last 14 years, the rural McLouth couple has seen their dream for the former dairy farm on the eastern edge of Jefferson County come to life. In the last six years they started selling their own wine and opened the state’s first winery bed and breakfast at 12381 Washington Road.
Jefferson Hill grows three grape varieties – Fredonia, Cayuga and Catawba – and produces five different wines in the cellar of the bed and breakfast inn.
The bed and breakfast offers two private rooms with a shared sitting room. The downstairs dining room can accommodate dinner for 30.
“We did it one step at a time,” said Maxine Bryant, who worked as a reading specialist in the Shawnee Mission school district before opening Jefferson Hill. “After talking with K-State, we started with a vision.”
Afraid they were going to become next door neighbors to a proposed amusement park in Johnson County, the Bryants moved to the farm hoping they could turn it into something more. The couple wasn’t afraid to try something new. They had experimented with many things as they moved around the country, including raising orchids in San Antonio and keeping horses and carriages in New Mexico.
The couple conferred with Dr. Charles Marr, professor emeritus in horticulture at Kansas State University. After studying the farm, Marr told the Bryants it would be ideal as an entertainment farm. The glacial moraine soil with its high mineral content was especially well-suited to growing grapes.
“I had always been fascinated with grapes and wine,” said Don Bryant, who worked as an accountant for Alamo Group Inc.’s Rhino Equipment plant in Holton before opening Jefferson Hill. “I’d never made wine before I moved to this place. I never had the right soil to do this.”
The Bryants started out slow refurbishing the farm, planting gardens and establishing vineyards. They sold produce and baked goods at the Lawrence Farmers Market and Don Bryant experimented with winemaking, giving it away to friends.
In 2005, Jefferson Hill received its license from the state and started selling wine at the farmers market and in a small shop in the farm’s former milk house.
The idea for the bed and breakfast came after the Bryants took a trip to the Finger Lakes Region of New York sponsored by the Kansas Department of Commerce. Known for its dozens of small estate wineries and inns, the region is a destination for visitors interested in good wine and fine cuisine.
“Jefferson County is actually prettier than most of those places,” said Maxine Bryant, sitting in front of the inn’s dining room windows which afford a panoramic view of the surrounding glacial hills. “We thought it would be nice to bring that model to Kansas.”
They opened the bed and breakfast in March 2009. Each guest is greeted by Mufasa, the Bryant’s 140-pound golden retriever. In the evening guests enjoy wine and hors d’oeuvres, a full meal with appropriate wine pairings and a country breakfast the next morning. In their rooms, guests are treated to chocolates from Lawrence’s Sleepy Jean’s Confections.
“We eventually want to build another building,” said Maxine Bryant, who does all the cooking and baking for guests. “We just had no idea the bed and breakfast would be so much fun.”
There are several other wineries nearby in Douglas, Leavenworth and Johnson counties, and the Bryants would like to see more open in Jefferson County. Just like in New York, the more wineries there are in the area, the more likely visitors are to make the area a wine tour destination.
In keeping with the spirit of a farm winery, the Bryants try to grow as much of the food they serve to their guests on site as possible. The rest they try to buy locally.
Jefferson Hill is open from noon to 6 p.m. on weekends for tours and tastings, and on weekdays by appointment. The Bryants continue to sell their wines at the Lawrence Farmers Market.
Jefferson Hill creates its wine from the grapes grown in its five acres of vineyards and hosts picking parties in August and September to bring in the crop. For every pound of grapes they bring in, pickers receive 20 cents, which is donated to their favorite charity. Pickers are also treated to a barbecue dinner at the guest house.
Once they are harvested the grapes are stemmed, pressed and the winemaking process begins.
Making wine is a constant experimentation with acidity and sugar, said Don Bryant. Not only does the vineyard’s soil create distinct flavors, so do the different grape varieties and the particular climate conditions of each growing season.
Among the wines Don Bryant has developed for Jefferson Hill is the winery’s dry white Catawba, off-dry Jefferson Red, deep red Rosa and Indian Summer, a blending of grapes and elderberries.
The satisfaction in making wine for Don Bryant comes in creating something unique that his customers enjoy.
“My wines are all different than anyone else’s,” he said. “I really don’t want to compete.”
Business has grown steadily for the Bryants since they started in 2005, and they plan on the growth to continue. Still they try to keep things in perspective.
At the farm, Maxine Bryant keeps a book that chronicles a vineyard and winery in Europe that has been tended by 13 generations of monks.
“I keep it up there just to remember that in Kansas we (vineyards and wineries) are just in our infancy,” she said.
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