EUDORA — When Gregory Shipe was younger, he would come up from Dodge City in the summertime to help with his grandfather’s farm in Eudora. His grandfather had planted an orchard that consisted of 74 acres of peaches and six acres of apples.
Shipe, 72, served in the Navy during the Vietnam War but when he got out at the age of 23, he immediately took over the farm because his grandfather’s health prevented him from working. Shipe said he has been there ever since.
While his grandparents started an orchard, it was Shipe and his wife, Charlee Glinka, who started the winery in 1997. It is now known as Davenport Orchards & Winery, named after Shipe’s grandparents, and covers 24 acres of ground. They initially planted their first grapes in 1990 but weren’t planning to open a winery.
“My wife saw grapes growing and thought they were pretty, so we planted 80 table grapes,” Shipe said. “We now have 12,000 grapes.”
Davenport grows 14 varieties of grapes and by changing how the grapes are processed, Shipe said they can make many different types of wines even if it’s from the same grape. They also don’t add extra flavors or ingredients so the grape’s true taste can come through. Shipe said the grape growing and winemaking process is a long-term project and requires a lot of patience. Some of their wines have to ferment for years before they’re ready to be bottled up.
“Emphasis needs to be places on growing because if you have good grapes, it’s easy to make wine,” Shipe said. “If you don’t, it’s impossible.”
In addition to using completely Kansas-grown products, Davenport also uses local artists to make their own labels, Shipe said. Aside from traditional grape wine, he also makes apple, peach, blackberry and rhubarb wines.
Shipe said they get visitors from all over, locals and others who travel long distances. The winery does not ship or distribute their products anywhere, so the only places to get them are at their locations in Eudora and Topeka.
The winery is also a part of the Kansas Viticulture and Farm Winery Association. A representative from the association recently testified in Topeka in support of the bill that would designate chambourcin as the official state red wine grape and vignoles as the official state white wine grape.
Even though Davenport grows plenty of chambourcin and vignoles, Shipe said “I don’t think they’re connected with Kansas enough to be state grapes. Everything we have was not developed here.”
Ultimately, he said “it doesn’t really matter” and it’s “just one of those things.”
According to the Kansas Department of Revenue Handbook for Farm Wineries, wineries in Kansas have to use at least 30% Kansas-grown products. Shipe said there are some wineries in Kansas that don’t follow that rule, however. He said it’s misleading to customers who come to a Kansas farm winery expecting wine made in Kansas.
This is Davenport’s 21st year of selling wine, and with patience and hard work, Shipe said they have managed to stay a completely 100% Kansas grown winery–something that they’re extremely proud of.
“There’s a few more around, but not many. Because growing grapes is the hardest part,” he said. “If you don’t have good flavored grapes, you won’t have good wine.”
Angel Tran is a University of Kansas senior from Wichita majoring in journalism.