A sprinkling of chemistry, an understanding of the metric system, buckets full of grapes and time might just be the recipe for the perfect wine. At the very least, it’s a recipe for award-winning vino as Dan Fuller, Edgerton, recently learned.
His wines, home-grown and aged at Fuller’s White Tail Run Winery in Edgerton, recently earned four awards at the Florida State International Wine Competition.
When Fuller staked grape vines on approximately four of his 40 acres a few years go, he didn’t plan on making wine. After 31 years at with the post office, he planned to grow a few grapes to keep busy in retirement.
“We’ve lived out here for 35 years,” Fuller said. “We farmed the land before we did this, but once the kids were gone, I couldn’t do the farm by myself.”
Growing grapes alone brought little income, Fuller quickly learned.
“So we just decided to go into the wine business.”
After seven years, the vineyard produced grapes ripe for wine-making. And Fuller and his family started making wine on site at White Tail Run Winery.
“It was a real eye-opener how much chemistry you have to know, and the wine industry goes with the metric system, and you have to understand microbiology to protect the wine from bacteria,” Fuller said.
In 2010, White Tail Run Winery bottled the fruits of Fuller’s labor for retail sale. That year, they created about 2,600 bottles of wine.
That’s a lot of grapes. Each vine typically produces 13 pounds of grapes, or enough for approximately four bottles. Today, Fuller says the vineyard grows three kinds of grapes on more than 1,300 vines.
The Fullers, including Dan’s wife and adult children, are largely responsible for harvesting the vineyard’s bounty. They harvest white grapes, which make up the majority of their wines in late August, and the red or purple grapes in mid-September.
Because they’re all hand-picked, the winery posts harvest dates and times on its website inviting wine enthusiasts to take part in the harvest.
Although he poured hours of researching into starting a vineyard, Fuller admits he sort of jumped into wine making.
“I did research on the grape end of it,” he said.
He entered his first wine, made from the Seyval grape, in an amateurs competition in 2006 and was hooked.
Fuller grows Seyval, Lacross and Chambourcin grapes to create six varieties of wine – four sweet styles, a blush and a dry.
“That’s not available yet,” Fuller said. “It’s ageing in oak barrels.”
The winery makes one red variety from the Chambourcin grapes. The grapes used to make many popular red wines including Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots are uncommon in the Midwest, he explained.
“They can’t tolerate zero temperatures,” he said.
The grapes that grow well in the Midwest aren’t worth as much per pound as the grapes grown on the east and west coast.
That wasn’t always the case.
Before Prohibition, Kansas was the third largest producer of grapes in the United States. Missouri was number two. Of the hundreds of wineries in this region prior to Prohibition, only one survived – Stone Hill Winery in Hermann, Mo.
“Prohibition came along so everybody yanked their grapes out and planted other stuff,” Fuller said.
Stone Hill Winery survived by selling grapes to Welch’s to make juices and jellies.
Today, the midwest and the Kansas City Metro is bursting with vineyards and wineries, but there are no where near the number that existed prior to the 1920s.
And vintners, instead of selling their wares to wholesalers, are selling bottles in nearby retail stores. For example, Fuller said White Tail Run wines are available at the Liquor Barn and Moonlight Liquor in Gardner; Wolf Liquor in Edgerton; and at stores in Wellsville, Ottawa, Lawrence and Eudora.
Vineyards, including Fuller’s, are also hoping to cash in on the latest trend – agri-tourism.
White Tail Run is conveniently located within less than a mile of Geiringer’s Peach Orchard and Enright Gardens. By spring, Fuller plans to open a wine tasting room at White Tail, so visitors can make a day of it – touring the gardens next door, picking peaches up the road and sampling White Tail Run wines.
This fall, the winery will be featured on the Kaw Valley Farm tour.