Secluded McLouth winery doubles as weekend getaway
McLouth Don and Maxine Bryant have lived on this Jefferson County farm for 16 years.
Established in 1920, the farm once was a dairy.
Gone are the cows. Rows upon rows of grapes now fill the countryside.
“It’s just moved from milk to wine, that’s all,” Don Bryant said with a laugh.
The couple owns Jefferson Hill Vineyards and Guest House, situated a few miles north of McLouth.
The Bryants always have been interested in growing things. When they learned that their land was on a glacial moraine hilltop, they also found that grapes thrive on such terrain.
The winery opened in February 2006, while the guesthouse was ready for business a couple years later.
Don Bryant said it’s the only combination winery and bed and breakfast in Kansas, to his knowledge.
The business at 12381 Washington Road offers overnight lodging, wine tasting, dinners and luncheons by reservation, and craft retreats. It’s also a popular spot for anniversaries, birthdays and other celebrations.
Guests usually make weekend reservations for the bed and breakfast. The guesthouse has two upstairs bedrooms with a shared living area.
Downstairs are tables that can seat up to about 30 people for meals, as well as a kitchen. A bar is set up for wine tastings.
“We do elegant dining with food prepared from scratch with the best ingredients money can buy,” Bryant said.
He said the couple uses fresh ingredients and buys from local farmers as much as possible. Fresh salmon, for instance, comes from Canada.
They also make pecan-crusted tilapia on a bed of grits infused with Boursin cheese, a French herbed goat cheese.
“It’s really flavorful,” Bryant said.
The Bryants grow a garden and use those vegetables in their dishes, too.
Filet mignon and prime rib have been popular, but Bryant said he and his wife make whatever their guests want. They chat with guests about the menu in advance of their stay. An evening meal and breakfast are part of the lodging package.
The Bryants handle most of the work at the guesthouse themselves, though for larger events they have assistance.
“The challenge isn’t food preparation,” Bryant said. "The challenge is food service when you have that many.”
The food they have covered. The drink, though, is just as important a labor of love.
March is the time for tedious pruning, which is needed to help ensure the next crop is just right. Too many grapes can hinder the quality of the grapes. Too few and you have a smaller yield for wine.
As for a typical growing season, Bryant said, “you pick them when they’re rip, whenever that is.”
Bryant noted a late freeze a few years ago that wiped out many apple orchards also did significant damage to the couple’s grape crop, but they luckily had a reserve.
“You always want to have enough inventory hopefully to carry you through two seasons,” Bryant said. “At least you have to something to sell.”
Their wine, by the way, generally can be purchased at their establishment from noon to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, or by appointment.
They also sell their wine at the Lawrence Farmer’s Market and On the Rocks, a Lawrence liquor store on Massachusetts Street.
Jefferson Red, a semi-sweet red wine, is one of their most popular, Bryant said. It’s one of five wines they make in the guesthouse cellar.
Jefferson Hill is part of the Kansas Bed and Breakfast Association and is a Kansas quality certified winery. It’s one of just seven Kansas wineries to have that distinction.
The Bryants actually grew up in the Tulsa, Okla., area before moving around the country in the oil business. They eventually moved to the Kansas City area and decided that they were finished moving.
Bryant jokes that the staff at Jefferson Hill is “an old man and old lady.”
But dull moments are hard to find for the “retired” couple.
For Don, that’s just fine.
“It never gets boring. Let’s put it that way.”