When you think of wine and wine country, Kansas may not be the first place that comes to mind, but farmers in Kansas have been harvesting grapes since the 1800s, almost the same time the first grapevine was planted in Napa Valley. On the outskirts of Lawrence you’ll find one of these historic Kansas wineries. Davenport Winery is family owned and run and dates back two generations. Owners Greg Shipe and his wife Charlee Glinka tend to the vineyards and make wines from a variety of Kansas grown grapes. “At one time, around 1901-1902, Kansas had 5,668 acres and produced 173,000 gallons of wine,” Greg said. “Kansas was one of the top ten wine producers in the nation before Prohibition.”
It all started back in 1949 when C.W. and Mary Davenport moved to Lawrence. They settled west of town where they raised apples, grain crops, and cattle and ran a meat market and auction barn. C.W. retired in 1960, and bought farm ground east of Lawrence in the Kaw Bottoms area where he planted 74 acres of peach trees and six acres of apple trees.
Greg, C.W. and Mary’s grandson, took over operation of the farm back in the 70s when he was 23 years old. His grandfather had undergone surgery that left him unable to work the farm. His grandmother decided to put it up for sale. “I remember I called her from Japan where I was on liberty in the Navy,” said Greg, a Vietnam veteran. “I told her not to sell the farm because I wanted to run the farm when I got back home.” When he returned from Vietnam, he began working the farm, which was an orchard at that time. “People would come and pick their own peaches and apples,” Greg reminisced. “Busloads of school kids would visit on field trips and we would make cider for them from the apples they picked.”
Sadly, a cold snap in the late 70’s saw temps drop to 26 degrees below zero and killed all of the peach trees. They replanted 20 acres of peach trees. Then, a few years later, another freeze killed those trees.”Being a farmer, you’re really at the mercy of Mother Nature,” Greg said. In 1990, Charlee had seen grapes growing on trellises and thought they looked pretty, so they planted some. That was the beginning of Davenport Winery. The grapes liked the Kansas sun and soil and thrived. Today, Davenport Winery has over 22 acres of grapes growing on 13 miles of trellises.
According to Greg, there are 5,000 different varieties of grapes you can use to make wine. “Some varieties don’t grow well here, so we use only grapes that are hardy in Kansas,” Greg said. The winery makes over 40 different kinds of wines from about 14 grape varieties, and there are usually about 20 kinds available for tasting. “We try to make something for everyone. We have reds, blushes, and whites that range from sweet to dry. Our Charlotte’s Red, named for Charlee’s mother, is a light red with a cotton candy flavor and is one of our best sellers.” he explained. “Our favorite grape, by far, is the Norton variety. We make about ten of our wines out of this one grape. It is extremely hardy and has a great flavor.”
The day we visited, they crushed about 7,500 pounds of grapes. “We had a really nice crush today,” Greg said with a smile. “It’s enough to fill our 819 gallon tank. We’ll add the yeast tomorrow.” Greg told us that the wines are filtered three times with the final filter being a .5 micron screen to remove even the tiniest of particles. They also take all of their wines down to freezing so the tartaric acid crystallizes and sticks to the side of the tank. Removing the acid keeps the crystals from ending up as sediment in the bottled wine. Running a winery requires a lot of hard work. They harvest, crush, and ferment primarily in the fall, prune in the winter, then rack, finish, and bottle wine year round.
Besides the acres of vineyards, the winery features a crush room, a tasting room, and there’s even a large yard out back where guests like to relax. Many bring picnic baskets. “Because we’ve been around for several decades, people passing through town who haven’t been here for years will stop in,” Greg said. The winery is open year round, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays 4-7 and Saturdays and Sundays noon-5. “I’m usually around after hours too,” Greg admitted. “You can call the number and declare a ‘wine emergency’ and I can probably get you what you need.”
Visit them online at Davenportwinery.com, call 785-542-2278 for “wine emergencies” or just stop in for a taste of Kansas sunshine in a glass!