Before the days of Prohibition, Miami County was home to entrepreneur John Ulrich Smith, known later in life as “Wine” Smith. On his property northwest of Paola, his 3.5-acre vineyard produced 4,000 gallons of wine a season and was considered the largest eastern Kansas operation of the late 1880s. His contribution to the craft is recognized with a display in the Miami County Historical Museum. His legacy to the community was cemented in the early 1900s when his wife, Martha, donated $10,000 to build the Paola Free Library. This George Washburn-designed structure was recently remodeled and still operates as the community’s library. Fast forward more than a century later, and wineries have come back to Miami County in a big way - particularly in the last two decades. Vintners have planted about 20 vineyards throughout the county. While some of the harvest is used for private stock, much of it is used by the county’s four larger wineries.
More than 30 acres of grapes are grown at Isinglass Estate, and then matured in their 15 stainless steel tanks. The largest vineyard in Kansas, the estate annually harvests more than 38 tons of grapes. During 2018, they produced more than 28,000 liters of Kansas wine. Isinglass invites visitors to explore the vineyards and taste its wines, or enjoy horseback rides around the estate. From their lounge area, visitors can peek into the operational side of things; however, the estate’s beautiful view tends to lure visitors outside to the oversized yard games and their exclusive food truck. Middle Creek Winery crafts their wines from local grapes, fruit and honey.
Their award-winning wines are available for tasting and purchase at the New Lancaster General Store, a landmark in its own right. Established in 1874 as a farmers’ co-op, it also served as the meeting place for the Kansas Anti Horse Thief Association. Currently restored to its nearly-original state, the old store is now on the National Register of Historic Places and features Kansas art, gifts, and antiques. It is also available for special events NightHawk Vineyard and Winery is nestled in Paola’s rich farmlands and offers hand-produced, artisan wines ranging from sweet desserts to full-bodied reds. The cozy tasting room and shaded patio area provides visitors with space to spread out and enjoy an afternoon picnic. Food trucks, musicians and time by the fire pit provide relaxing weekend getaways.
Family-owned since 2001, Dennis and Cindy Reynolds were the first to reintroduce winemaking into Miami County when they opened Somerset Ridge Vineyard and Winery. Every year, they produce 5,000 cases of wine from the 12 varieties of grapes grown on their sustainable vineyards. Regional musicians, food trucks and special events create new opportunities for exploration.
And, let’s not overlook elderberries. Fossil Springs Elderberry Farm & Winery raises their elderberries in rural Paola and started distributing their wines to regional liquor stores in late 2017. The wine is made from pure elderberries, no other fruit. They offer it in a semi-dry, semi-sweet and sweet. They also offer a strawberry semisweet wine, made from local U-pick farms. Fossil Springs also sells elderberry juice, which is cold pressed and pasteurized, and jelly. Public tours are expected to begin in 2019, but in the meantime, their special blends can be found on the shelves of many regional liquor stores.
And for visitors looking for an option other than wine, Bull Creek Distillery started as a concept on a napkin after a few beers. Now, their signature bourbon tickles the taste buds with the essence of oak. Crafted as a whiskey blended with tiny town pride, Bull Creek Bourbon is poured in a setting overlooking Bull Creek in Spring Hill. The distillery features a full-service restaurant and bar with plenty of space to enjoy the evening outdoors.