In the winter of 2007, some Kansas winery owners visited Highland Community College to discuss class offerings about grape growing and winemaking. No college in Kansas was offering this curriculum at the time, and these industry leaders recognized the need to educate a workforce.
Later in 2007, Highland offered one class in grape growing during the spring semester and a winemaking course in the fall. Coincidentally, a group of colleges and universities funded by National Science Foundation called VESTA (Viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance) was seeking new members throughout the Midwest. Highland Community College joined VESTA in Fall 2008, planted our first vines in spring 2009, and began offering degree and certificate programs in spring of 2010.
The main goal of the Highland Community College Viticulture and Enology program has always been to educate and help grow the industry. Mostly, HCC endeavored to teach about growing grapes and making wine. After doing that for a couple years, we wanted to know what else we could do to help. In 2014 HCC purchased a vine transplanter to help plant grapes faster and with less hand-labor. The next goal was trying to find a way to assist the wineries, and that’s when the reality of a business incubator began to fall into place.
The idea of a winery incubator goes back to the inception of the program with lofty goals and “wouldn’t it be cool if…” kinds of brainstorming. It turns out that 2016 was a pivotal year in the program’s growth. In spring, HCC acquired additional winemaking equipment from a fellow VESTA partner in Oklahoma. Then in fall HCC received grants from USDA and Kansas Department of Agriculture which included funding to purchase the equipment necessary to “eventually, someday” open a winery incubator. Finally, over the winter of late 2016, HCC was approached with the opportunity to purchase a property through a land-swap, and this particular building was perfectly located for such a facility. Suddenly, all of the pieces for the incubator had fallen into place!
In 2017, architects and contractors were hired. We sifted through the endless possibilities for layout and structure and came up with what we think is the best possible winery this new building could offer. In 2018 renovation and construction began, and in summer of 2019 the incubator opened its doors for startup wineries to move in. It is our goal to help wineries begin operations, build clientele and inventory, and then eventually move on to become stand-alone wineries outside of the facility, making room for new entrepreneurs to move in and get started.
As of the fall of 2020, 456 Wineries has five total wineries in the facility. 456 Wineries is the first American winery business incubator east of the Rocky Mountains. We hope to help grow the Kansas grape and wine industry and that other states might follow our lead to grow their local industry too.
Below is a series of images from various stages of construction.
Thanks for visiting 456 Wineries! Come see us at 503 Miller Drive, Wamego, KS 66547 or give us a call at 785-456-WINE.