- Associated Press - Friday, July 10, 2015

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) - A road less traveled is home to a local business with a European flair. Take the paved road of Scenic Drive to the dirt road of Wildcat Creek Road.

Then, take the dirt road of Wildcat Creek Road up the rocky driveway of 1745 Wildcat Creek Road to find Liquid Art Winery and Estate, The Manhattan Mercury (https://bit.ly/1M4xHXI ) reported.

If the sun is out, owners Danielle and David Tegtmeier are likely there working, watching their recently planted grapevines grow into a full-fledged business.

They’re the company’s only employees besides an intern from Highland Community College, which makes for long workdays that stretch from dawn to dusk.

“A lot of it we’re doing by hand with backpack sprayers,” David said. “Over the last two days, me and Danielle each hiked 10 or 12 miles.”

Liquid Art Winery is one of few wineries in the Midwest to focus on growing European grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.

David said the Midwest typically grows hybrids of wild American and European grape varieties.

“Instead of trying to use these hybrid grapes and force the consumers’ mindset to change, my theory was figure out a way to grow these grapes that people want to drink the wine from in the Midwest,” he said.

The couple moved to Manhattan in September after spending months driving back and forth from Firestone, Colorado, where David was the head cider maker and operations manager for Wild Cider and Danielle was in liquor and wine sales.

“We quit our jobs, sold our brand-new house and moved here to go on this crazy adventure,” David said.

Their adventure included participation in the K-State’s Launch a Business program for startup companies, where they won the $10,000 grand prize in the global food systems division.

They competed against 13 other startups in the program, put on by the university’s Center for the Advancement of Entrepreneurship.

David said the things they learned throughout the June program were more beneficial than the cash prize.

“It was getting to sit down with the mentors and being forced to leave the vineyard for a couple of days a week,” he said. “We dove into the inner details of our company.”

The company name comes from a saying David heard when he planted his first vineyard at 16 years old on his family farm in Bern, Kansas.

“My uncle is co-owner of a couple of wineries on the East Coast,” he said. “One of his winemakers said, ‘Wine is liquid art crafted by the vintners.’ When he said that phrase, a light bulb went off in my head.”

David held on to the name because he knew he wanted to have his own winery one day.

“I fell in love with the chemistry of winemaking and the art of growing grapes and decided I was going to do it as a profession,” he said.

David graduated from Fresno State University, but he first went to Kansas State University for general classes. His freshman year is when he met Danielle, who grew up in Goddard.

They married in 2011, two weeks after Danielle graduated from K-State.

“Since we’ve met, we captured the idea that we bring two things to the table,” Danielle said. “It’s not like both of us are only vineyard or both of us are only sales. We make a team.”

David also studied abroad in Saintmilion, Bordeaux, France, where he learned about the importance of the soil.

“I realized the Flint Hills was almost identical soil and topography wise to some of the best grape-growing regions in the world,” he said. “That’s when I decided that someday we were going to come back here and build a winery.”

What it takes to grow great grapes isn’t what many other plants need.

David said the slopes, high pH and limestone help create a great environment for growing grapes.

He said it’s a lot different than his family farm, where they grew crops and raised beef cattle.

“They would think it’s crazy to ever grow anything on hillsides like this,” David said.

David and Danielle bought the land in March 2014 after starting to research it in January 2014.

It’s hard to know when you’re truly ready to make a big decision. For the Tegtmeiers, the land’s availability made the decision for them.

“We realized with the location, soil and topography that there was really no better place where we wanted to do our vineyard,” Danielle said.

Some of their research including using Google Earth to see the full view they couldn’t on the site because of the trees.

As they cleared the trees to reveal the land, it became like unwrapping a Christmas present. “It was even better than we thought,” David said.

Liquid Art is on a 157-acre property with 100 acres available for planting grapes. Each acre can produce 450 gallons of wine.

Ten of the 100 acres are currently planted. A planting party in May helped lay the groundwork for the 7,000 grapevines.

Danielle said the winery hopes to expand to 50 acres of grapes in the next 10 years.

It will take three years to grow the grapes, but David offered consultant and management services to other vineyards that offered grapes in exchange.

He said 3,000 gallons or 15,000 bottles of wine will be ready for next spring.

Danielle said they also are creating a venue for weddings and corporate events to generate revenue while their own grapes grow. It will hold up to 375 people.

The land also has three spots for outdoor weddings that provides a view of the Flint Hills or the city, or within the vinery.

Danielle said they hope to have the building ready by March since weddings have already been booked for April.

“Even if we don’t have the building, they are willing to put up a big tent,” Danielle said. “They came out to visit and said that the scenery is completely unique with the vineyard.”


Information from: The Manhattan (Kan.) Mercury, https://www.themercury.com

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