• Last modified 2136 days ago (Aug. 16, 2018)


Heard it through the grapevine

Staff writer

Wine makes all things possible, author George R.R. Martin wrote in “The Mystery Knight.”

But, how possible is it to grow wine in Kansas – Florence — to be exact?

“We have been making wine for the past few years,” Florence resident Matt Spencer said.

Kansas has a long history of wine making. By the 1870s, Kansas and Missouri made up one of the largest growing and winemaking regions in the states.

Prohibition quickly called a halt to wine making in 1920. But it started to come back strong with 30 Kansas wine farms operating today.

Almost 10 years ago, Matt and his wife, Kelley, vacationed with friends in California. They toured four or five vineyards and decided right then, “We can do that too!”

They started with about 35-40 plants on their farm south of Florence. Because most grapes can’t handle Kansas winter lows, only a few varieties could survive.

“We bought our stock from New York. The first couple of years, we planted bare-root vines and they just didn’t do well,” Spencer said.

They planted Foch grape plants which are grafted to a stronger variety of root stock. This pairing increased winter survival chances.

The Spencers lived in Florence on Grandview St. for seven years. In addition to that home, they had their farm and a house in Wichita.

Last year they realized they needed a larger home so they sold the Florence and Wichita homes.

“We moved just across the street from the other house,” Spencer said.

The Spencers started making wine from pears and chokecherries. Pear is considered a white wine and is crystal clear. Chokecherry wine is in between a blush and red, Spencer said.

“The first five or six years of grapes were not very good — lots of trial and error, Internet searches, until we finally got a recipe we liked,” he said.

Producing wine doesn’t happen as fast as homemade beer.

“It’s a process that takes about six to nine months to bottle and then another six months to a year to sit,” Spencer said.

One step in the process is to kill off the wild yeast found in grapes, then later adding good yeast a producer prefers.

“We use a champagne yeast or ones made for a specific grape,” Spencer said.

Since it’s illegal to sell homemade wine, the couple makes it for themselves, family and friends.

The Spencers, both retired after teaching 32 years, are enjoying time with the grapes. It takes about 100 pounds of grapes to make between 35 and 40 bottles, he said.

Last modified Aug. 16, 2018