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Wine Country In … Kansas?!

Wine country and Kansas. Those are two concepts I’d never put together and think it was a good idea. But, people, I’m telling you, I went to some Kansas wineries recently and they were surprisingly awesome.
According to the Kansas Grape Growers and Wine Makers Association, there are 19 wineries in Kansas — and four of them are in the Louisburg and Paola area, which is only about a 30-minute drive from my house. For this staycation-esque jaunt, we tasted at three of them — Somerset Ridge Vineyard and Winery, NightHawk Vineyard and Winery, and Middlecreek Winery — in celebration of my mom’s birthday. (Apparently it’s becoming a bit of a tradition with my family … )
But, before the tasting began — and because my dad was our DD and deserved to do something other than just watch us sip wine — we began our journey at the Louisburg Cider Mill, which is about the quaintest thing ever.
Inside, we picked up some local jams and jellies, played with all kinds of fun little cooking tools and toys and gadgets, and my dad made sure to stock up with a dozen of their pretty-darn famous apple cider donuts.
From there, we went to our first Kansas winery: Somerset. Somerset is probably the most established and most well-known of the three Kansas wineries we went to, and with good reason. We had a fabulous tasting, the grounds were beautiful (on the weekends they even have wood-fired oven pizza!), and we learned so much about the grapes they were growing and harvesting.
Tasting in the Midwest can be a little dicey, as A LOT of people like the really, really sweet stuff. So, it was nice to see a tasting menu that let you pick if you wanted dry, semi-sweet or sweet. We went with the dry.
Seeing that they’re in a pretty harsh climate (hello, Midwest heat and cold!), a lot of the varietals you see in Kansas are a bit unique — and many are a hybrid of other grapes spliced together to better work in the climate. The Chardonel was super light, and the Traminette was really quite good (we bought a bottle). They even let us do a few extra tastings, including the Crimson Cabernet. Crimson Cabarnet is a cross of Norton and Cabernet — two wines I really enjoy, and this special hybrid grape turned out pretty great at Somerset.
The second Kansas winery on our list was NightHawk!
Nestled in a little grove of old oak trees, it’s a gorgeous spot for a picnic. Which is exactly what we did! Well, after we tasted … Although a little on the sweet side, Camp 50 and Sunrise Blush were our favorites of the bunch.
We grabbed a bottle of the Sunrise Blush, and got to that picnic. We had planned to have a picnic while out tasting (one of my favorite things to do — and best tips to having a great time where you can actually taste the wine and still stand by the end of it), and packed all the essentials.
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Cucumbers, tomatoes, apple, crackers, cheeses, meats, salmon pate, olives … we know how to do it.
It made for happy bellies.
We even had a furry visitor to keep us company. And, you know, keep us on our toes from having our salmon pate stolen.
And with a view like this, how could you not love it? It was a gorgeous day, and the owners of NightHawk were so friendly and awesome.
The final stop on our Kansas-wine tour was Middlecreek. This was probably the smallest operation of three we tasted at, but had just as much character and potential.
Started in 2010 by these two lovely people (they were SO friendly and passionate about their wine!), they specialize in making handcrafted wines from Kansas grapes, honey and fruits. 
Of the three tastings, they definitely had the most unique one. I tried a Chambourcin that tasted, to me, almost like sunflower seeds. It kind of blew my mind. So much so that I bought a bottle to have the experience again. We also tried one of their peach wines that tasted almost as good as my grandmother’s peach pie. If you’re into local businesses and good people doing cool inventive things, check ’em out.
Clearly we had a good time — look at the loot we brought home!
Overall I was really impressed with these Kansas wines. I’m not saying I’d take Kansas wine country or Kansas wine over Paso Robles or France or anything — I mean, those areas are destined to grow great wine, and they’re gorgeous beyond words. But Kansas is holding its own. It’s not trying to be anything it’s not, and it’s doing really, really well with what it’s got. All the Kansas wineries we tasted at had people with heart, passion and knowledge — and they all seemed dedicated to making the most of what they could here locally. And isn’t that really what making wine is all about? Heart and character? These Kansas wineries had that!
I went to the area with pretty low expectations, but came out darn inspired. And now, whenever I’m jonesing for some good wine country vibes, I can get a fix! Well, at least when it’s not winter … I’ll take it though!
Have you ever been wine tasting in an area not known for wine? Surprised by the quality and passion, too? I’m going to have to check out things a bit more on the Missouri side at some point. Hermann, anyone? —Jenn

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