Is there a history of wine making in Kansas? The answer is a resounding, YES! In fact, if it were not for the hardiness of midwestern rootstock, the blight ridden vineyards of Europe in the mid 1800’s would not have survived. That’s right, it was rootstock from midwestern grapes that were used as a graft for European grape varieties, because of their resistance to the bacterial infection that plagued European vineyards at the time.
At one point in its history, Kansas produced a sizeable amount of grapes and has a long history of grape growing and wine making. A timeline produced by the Kansas Department of Commerce shows that in 1901, despite Prohibition, over 5,000 acres of Kansas vineyards were still producing grapes. By 1933, although Prohibition ended, Kansas retained strict laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol and vineyards fell into neglect and eventual decline. In 1985, Kansas passed the Farm Winery Act establishing guidelines for wineries and by 2005, 13 licensed farm wineries in Kansas produced 50,000 gallons of wine from only 170 total acres of grapes. In January 2010, the number of licensed farm wineries had grown to 23 located in 21 counties from central to northeastern Kansas. Kansas vineyards produce wines from American native, American hybrid and French Hybrid grapes. These wines have won awards not only in the Midwest, but also on a National level, and the wine community is coming to recognize the value and unique quality of Kansas wines. The following is a brief guide to the varieties of native grapes grown in Kansas vineyards:
NORTON (also known as CYNTHIANA) – Norton grapes produce a robust red wine that is dry in style and similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, but also has the distinct berry flavors of Zinfandel.
CHAMBOURCIN – Chambourcin grapes make a medium bodied red wine similar to Pinot Noir, with a pleasing fruity aroma. Chambourcin is a French/American hybrid and can produce wines of light to medium body with fruity aromas, cherry and earthy/spicy complexities. Chambourcin goes well with barbecue, pork, and grilled dishes.
ST. VINCENT – This hybrid makes a red wine that is delicate and elegant. Often used for Nouveau style wines in the Fall, it also can have a Burgundian character and is occasionally slightly sweet, regarded by some as vaguely similar to a young Italian Chianti wine.
SEYVAL – This hybrid white grape makes a dry or semi-dry white wine with a crisp, refreshing flavor similar to Chenin Blanc. It can be fermented in barrels to take on the oak characteristics of a Chardonnay. Semi-dry Seyval pairs well with pork and Asian cuisines, while a barrel-fermented Seyval complements the flavor of poultry and rich cream and butter-based sauces.
CHARDONEL – This hybrid is actually a cross of the Chardonnay grape and the Seyval grape listed above. Chardonel is usually barrel fermented and is very dry. Chardonnel goes well with heavier seafood dishes as well as chicken with cream sauces.
VIGNOLES – This white grape is used to make a wide range of wine styles from quite dry to wines resembling late harvest wines. In both swee and dry styles Vignoles makes an amazingly flavorful for wine sipping on the deck or enjoying with anything Thai or Mexican.
MELODY – This white-wine hybrid grape was bred in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. Its parents are European and American. Melody is light-bodied with a crisp, refreshing acidity and is a perfect compliment to fish and poultry.
FREDONIA – A cousin of the Concord grape, this red grape is native to North America. The wine is full bodied and fruit forward with a delightfully crisp astringent finish and is a perfect match for Sangria in the summer and mulled wine in the winter.