TOPEKA — Kansas wine country? It might not be what you first think of for a leisurely vacation or destination wedding, but it’s definitely nothing to shy away from. In fact, Kansas’ history of grape growing and winemaking is quite extensive.
Despite the Prohibition, in 1901, Kansas had over 5,000 acres of vineyards. By 1933, vineyards gradually declined until the state passed the Farm Winery Act in 1985. Since then, Kansas vineyards have been on the rise, according to the Kansas Viticulture and Farm Winery Association.
Last week, the Kansas House Federal and State Affairs Committee met to talk good wine.
On Tuesday, March 19, the committee met on Senate Bill 53, which is a state emblem bill and would designate the chambourcin grape as the official state red wine grape and the vignoles as the official state white wine grape, according to the Senior Assistant Revisor of Statutes Jason Long.
There were several testimonies in favor of the bill. Although Kansas is not typically known for producing wine, testifiers invited representatives to visit the state’s many vineyards to taste wines and take a tour.
Bob DesRuisseaux, a supporter of the bill, the president of the Kansas Grape Growers and Winemakers Association and the owner of Prairie Fire Winery said both chambourcin and vignoles are widely planted and harvested in Kansas, and are most awarded at wine competitions. More so, he reiterated that the Kansas wine industry is growing.
“These grape varietals will play an integral role in the marketing and identity of the Kansas wine industry,” DesRuisseaux said. “The ability to build our marketing programs around these grapes will be important to the continued success of our growing industry.”
Representative for the Kansas Viticulture and Farm Winery Association Philip Bradley also testified in favor of the bill.
“These are two very fine grapes,” Bradley said. “They have a long history in the Midwest. These grapes are chosen because they are relatively unique to the Midwest.”
According to Bradley, chambourcin and vignoles are scattered across the state, but are primarily found in in the northeastern and central regions of the state.
When questioned by Rep. Stephanie Clayton (D-Johnson) about whether or not Kansas vendors would accept the chosen grapes as the state’s official wine grapes, Bradley said that his organization spoke to the associations that represent them and that everyone agrees.
Christopher Tymeson, the chief legal counsel of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism, was another support of the bill. In his written testimony, he said the department supports having state symbols because they can be used to “promote the state and localities within the state” as well as increase “visitation and awareness of Kansas.”
“State symbols represent the magnificence of the great state in which we live and show others what we have to offer,” Tymeson wrote.
There were no opponents or neutrals to SB 53.
The bill was first heard by the Senate on Feb. 13 and was placed on the Consent Calendar. Matters on the Consent Calendar are typically considered non-controversial and do not require much discussion. The Senate passed the bill 40-0 on Feb. 27.
According to the bill’s fiscal note, the bill’s enactment would have no fiscal impact on the Secretary of State and the Kansas Department of Agriculture. If passed, it would be effective July 1, 2019.
Before the hearing was closed, Committee Chairman John Barker suggested an amendment to the bill so that it be published in the Kansas Register instead of the statute book. The Kansas Register is the state’s official newspaper and Barker said it would be cheaper. The bill amendment was approved by the committee. As a result, the bill will not be placed on the House Consent Calendar.
The committee recommended that the bill be passed as amended on March 20. There is nothing scheduled for the bill as of March 25.
Angel Tran is a University of Kansas senior from Wichita majoring in journalism.