Grape Growers, Winemakers Learn About Opportunities in Kansas

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Greg Shipe had a fateful day back in 1969 -- the kind of day that determines the course of a lifetime.

For Shipe, that day came when he was serving in the Navy and stationed in Vietnam. He received word from home that his grandmother was planning to sell her farm near Eudora, in northeast Kansas.

His reaction might seem a little surprising, given that he was born in Chicago and raised in Dodge City, Kan. -- far from the land that his grandparents farmed. But Shipe, a self-described "city kid,"
contacted his grandmother and urged her not to sell -- rather to wait until he came home from overseas.

That decision resulted in what is now the 150-acre Davenport Orchard, Vineyard and Winery, which produces 15 varieties of grapes and 30 different wines, as well as peaches, apples and pears.

"I would love to plant it all to grapes," said Shipe, who was a presenter at the recent Kansas Grape Growing Seminar in Manhattan. He and his wife, Charlee, have 13 acres devoted to grapes.

The seminar was sponsored by Kansas State University Research and Extension and the Kansas Department of Commerce.

Shipe joined others who ranged from rookie grape growers to veteran viticulturists in exploring further opportunities for grape growing and winemaking in Kansas.

And opportunities abound, according to Janna Dunbar of the Kansas Department of Commerce. A survey of the 13 wineries currently operating in Kansas indicated that the state needs at least 100 more acres planted to grapes in the next five years.

That may not sound like much acreage to wheat and corn growers, whose crops sometimes spread over hundreds of acres, but the average size vineyard in Kansas is about five acres, according to Shipe, who is the president of the Kansas Viticulture and Farm Winery Association.
That's partly because of greater startup costs and yields per acre.

"An acre of grapes can yield from 2,000 to 8,000 pounds or more and can sell for $0.25 to $0.50 per pound. That means an acre of grapes can be worth $500 to $4,000," he said.

Determining the site on which to start a vineyard and selecting the cultivars to grow are the most important first steps, according to Kansas State University assistant professor of horticulture, Sorkel Kadir.

Her research at K-State's Research Vineyard at the university's Wichita Research Center identifies grape cultivars best suited for Kansas.

"If you don't do it (site selection and preparation) right, it's like preparing to run a race by shooting yourself in the foot," said Andy Allen, with the Mid-America Viticulture and Enology Center at Missouri State University-Mountain Grove.

"Grape vines don't really produce until they're three years old and don't reach maximum fruit production until they're four years old, but they can live up to 40 to 50 years," Kadir said, adding that most vines will produce at least 25 to 30 years if managed properly.

For maximum yields, grape vines like a soil pH of 6 to 6.5 best, but vines will grow under different conditions, even after much of the plant is killed by an unseasonable freeze.

"Grape vine is just like a weed - it will almost always come back again," Kadir said.

Deciding on the right type of trellis to support the particular type of grapes to be grown is another key decision that needs to be made up front, Allen said. Some trellis systems are more expensive to build than others. Some lend themselves to mechanical harvesting while others work better for manual harvesting.

More information on Kansas wineries will be available on a new Web site scheduled to be operational in January at Information about marketing and financial resources is available at

SOURCE: Kansas State University news release.