Southwest Kansas Winery
by Carolyn Johnson
Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.
- Benjamin Franklin -
He's doing what? You've got to be kidding. That's what you might hear on the streets of Cimarron. They're talking about Darrell Strawn growing a new crop that requires less water and equipment to produce a crop here in Southwest Kansas.
But why grow grapes you ask? Darrell said his folks, Ira and Marjorie Strawn, had always talked about planting an orchard to grow peaches, apricots and other fruits. The first marketable crop would take 7 years to produce quality fruit. A vineyard can be in production in only 3 years and requires less water and space than other crops.
Darrell's project didn't just start on a whim. Years ago, when visiting vineyards in France, he talked with the vintners about growing grapes. This was enough to plant the thought that soils, rainfall, and other conditions in Southwest Kansas were very similar to those in France.
In recent years while in California, Darrell and his son Brandon visited wineries all across that state. Darrell talked with the winery owners when possible to get a better feel for growing grapes and producing and marketing wine. Darrell said the Kansas State University and the internet also have helpful information on growing and maintaining a vineyard. Growing grapes doesn't require a lot of water as fungus appears when conditions are too wet. Gray County has an average rainfall of about twenty inches and grapes require about thirty inches to grow. For this area then, minimal irrigation is required.
Before prohibition Missouri was ranked number one in the nation for the most vineyards. Kansas was close behind, coming in as the second largest number of vineyards in the nation. Ohio and New York also had a lot of vineyards.
Darrell started with 300 grape vines in 2011 which he planted near his home to keep a watchful eye on his new crops. Poles were set with wire strung between them for the grapes to climb and spread out. A drip irrigation system was installed along the lower wire so only the base of each vine would receive dripped water.
This year, Darrell started a large new vineyard and planted 1,200 grape vines and plans to add an additional 1,200 next year. Some grape varieties already established in his small vineyard include a white table grape named Niagara and a red variety named Catawba. The vineyard has two varieties commonly used for making wine, a red Charbonneau and a white Marquise. I picked some samples of all four varieties and was very pleased with their flavor.
Darrell is building a small winery which he named Terra Del Sol, land of the sun. This will be located north of his home with access on S road , 4 miles south of Cimarron on Highway 23. West of the winery will be a greenhouse for growing plants such as peppers, radishes, cucumbers, green onions and etc. using hydroponics. He plans to grow everything found in garden salads except tomatoes. Melons and cantaloupe will also be grown on the farm and will be available at the greenhouse.
There are currently 27 wineries in Kansas. The farthest west one is located near Russell and the nearest to Southwest Kansas is near Ellinwood. A new winery and greenhouse in the southwest part of our state will be a welcome new business. What more could you want than a nice fresh garden salad and a glass of Southwest Kansas wine.