Archive for Thursday, May 12, 2005

Vineyard specializes in ‘lettuce’ production

May 12, 2005

For decades, 14 acres of land at the corner of U.S. Highway 24-40 and 158th Street has given birth to bountiful yields of wheat and alfalfa.

Lately, though, the sacred soil at Holy-Field Vineyard and Winery in Basehor has produced more "lettuce" than anything else. The term is owner Les Meyer's slang for the endless number of awards his business has earned in the last six years.

"When you start digging holes, you see how many different types of soil there are here," Les Meyer said. He added, "It's been good for growing grapes, too."

Call the ground versatile terra firma.

The land has indeed been blessed for Les and his daughter, Michelle, owners and operators of the vineyard and winery at 18807 158th St. in Basehor.

Their vintage wines have produced a devout following among connoisseurs in the Kansas City metropolitan area, and judges at wine festivals across the country are handing the father-daughter duo awards like samples of pinot at a Napa Valley wine tasting.

Since 1999, wines made from the Meyers' toils have earned more than 300 awards. The "lettuce" hangs on a wall inside Holy-Field's gift shop, and there's enough copper in the medals to fill up a room at Fort Knox.

"There's still some that aren't hung up," Michelle said.

Thus far in 2005, Holy-Field has received 14 awards at competitions on the east and west coasts. Late last year, the business received one of its most prestigious to date at the Jefferson Cup Invitational or, as it's dubbed, the "Wine Olympics." The business' Cynthiana, $17.95 per bottle, won for Best Non-Vinifera Red Wine. A Chambourcin, also from Holy-Field, earned a Jefferson Cup Certificate of American Merit.

Secret recipe

The recipe for success -- whether it be through winning awards or satisfying the palettes of customers -- hasn't changed since the Meyers first began growing grapes and producing wine in 1994.

Quality over quantity.

"If we don't have something that turns out really good, we just dump it," Les said. "We won't sell it."

Growing good fruit, an absolute in making fine wine, is placed at a high premium at Holy-Field. Each of the vines in the vineyard is nurtured and cared for under the ever-watchful eyes of the Meyers.

"There's nothing a grape likes more than the caring shadow of its owner," Les said.

And at Holy-Field, the grapes receive plenty.

However, on this day, a warm and sunny Tuesday afternoon, the Meyers are taking a break from work in the vineyard so they can mow the lawns at their homes, which are next door. Eventually, they take a few minutes and sit down under the shade at a table next to murky pond that's home to hundreds of goldfish.

A handful of the goldfish were placed in the pond as an experiment and have since blossomed with positive results. It's much the same story for the grapes planted in the vineyard.

Initial seeds of the business took root in 1986. Les and Michelle planted 400 vines that year and began tinkering with making their own wines. Eight years later, they began full-time production. They've found the work a labor of love and have been doing it ever since.

Just south of the Meyers' homes lies the vineyard -- a majestic plot of land that looks as if its been ripped from the pages of a John Steinbeck novel and placed in the middle of small-town suburbia.

Flanked by a bustling highway, construction of several residential and commercial developments and plush, green Kansas farmlands, the area may not seem ideal for a business such as a vineyard and winery, but the land has been good for more than a decade of success for Holy-Field.

"I think the success comes from the work you put into it," Michelle said. "Why do it if you're not going to do it the best you can? The thought of it not being successful never crossed our mind."

Keeping pace

Fast-forward 11 years and it's not the sticking power of their business the Meyers are concerned with these days. In April, the Leavenworth County Commission unanimously approved renewing Holy-Field's special-use permit, which allows the business to operate. The Meyers requested the permit be renewed for another five years. The county commission went a step further and approved renewal for 15 years.

Today, the biggest worry for Holy-Field is keeping pace with customer demand.

The winery lists 12 to 14 different brands on its menu and last year ran out of seven wines before the holiday season. And, events hosted by the business are filling up more and more quickly. Some eager visitors have been turned away.

It speaks to both the success and the dilemma of the small business.

"We had to really hustle to have wines ready to go before the holiday season," said Michelle, "but we did it."

For most businesses, an increase in customers would merit expansion, hiring more employees and raising prices. For Holy-Field, though, it means none of that. It's past history of staying small and keeping the emphasis on excellence before earnings has laid the blueprint for the future, the Meyers said.

"Some people expand so quickly they forget their purpose," Michelle said. "The joy in this doesn't come from managing a lot of people. That's not something dad and I want to do. We just want to sell something we're really proud of."

"Making more wine doesn't mean making better wine," Les said. "We make a living off of this. We're not getting rich or anything, but we're enjoying what we do. It's fun and that's really the secret to life, enjoying what you do."

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