Gently swirling a sample glass of merlot, Brett Schmidt discussed the wine-making process and the different aromas present. But before the wine tasting began, he asked his guests if they could first open with a prayer.
At Resurrection Vineyard, it’s all about faith — and family. Schmidt began making wine with his father, Allen, many years ago as a hobby.
As they began discussing innovative ways to sustain the historic family farmstead, the idea of starting a winery was a natural suggestion. That dream became a reality when the business was licensed last spring. Since then, the family-run business has been working to keep up with demand for its 11 wine varieties, ranging from sweet to dry.
“We just made the agreement that we start every wine tasting with a little prayer of thanksgiving,” Allen Schmidt said. “Because that keeps us tuned up, it keeps us tuned in to what we’re doing.”
Part of what they’re doing is repurposing an agricultural homestead that has been in the family since 1914. A framed black and white photo in the vineyard’s newly refurbished tasting room shows Allen Schmidt’s father and grandfather pitching grain into a horse-drawn trailer in front of a building that still stands on the property north of Hays on Hopewell Road.
It had been a wheat farm and dairy for many years, and the wine production now is based in the old dairy barn. Some of the milking equipment has been re-purposed for automated wine production, and the family already has upgraded to large holding containers in efforts to increase capacity.
The farm has seen many changes over the years. Allen — who spent his career in the military and also served in the Kansas Senate -- moved back to the family farm in 2010, with Brett, a teacher, deciding to follow two years later. The old dairy barn — which had been vacant for about 20 years — was completely remodeled into a tiny starter home for Brett’s family.
“My wife and I decided to redo this building. It had been vacant 20 years, had windows and doors boarded up. We lived in here for 18 months,” Brett said with a chuckle. “Talk about roughing it. But it was our own place.”
When the couple’s former home in southeast Kansas sold, they bought his grandparents’ house, which is right next door to his parents.
The renovation efforts on the dairy barn were significant, but it is paying dividends again now that the winery is based in the quaint building with rustic wood paneling and exposed beams.
“It was a team effort -- everything out here has been a family or a team effort from start to finish,” Allen said. “That’s the way I grew up. All these buildings on the farm were built by pretty much family, so that just evidently got in our blood because we just kept doing it.”
The family already has future plans to expand, and is working to stock up inventory in the hopes of one day offering their products at more commercial outlets. For now, wine can be purchased on site or at The Paisley Pear wine bar in downtown Hays. They also often have a booth at the Downtown Hays Market on Saturday mornings. Wine tastings can be arranged by appointment via Resurrection Vineyard’s Facebook page.
The winery offers 11 wine varieties, with favorites including the “Risen Red,” a blend of zinfandel with a hint of pomegranate, and the sweet “Strawberry Sunrise.”
The family also takes pride in a dry merlot blended from fruit juices grown on the coast of Chile, then fermented with toasted oak and premium oak. The winery sources grape and fruit juices from all over the world, and also is working to increase local fruit production.
The farm now is home to approximately 300 grapevines of four different varieties, and Brett is quick to say growing grapes has been a learning curve for the Hays family. The crop froze out last year after planting, meaning growth has been a bit slower than they had hoped. But it’s clear several of the vines are beginning to take off, and trellises will be added in the future.
Heavy pesticide use in surrounding farmland is another challenge, as the chemicals often are carried by the Kansas wind and grapes are rather susceptible, Brett said.
Wines are offered in traditional-sized bottles, as well as smaller containers for individual use or small gatherings. Resurrection Vineyard also is branching out to offer wine in resealable plastic bags, which can help keep it fresh longer, he said.
And on the label of every bottle or bag of wine is a panoramic shot of the family’s farmland, featuring a large decorative cross in the foreground.
The name Resurrection Vineyard is a nod to the family’s strong Christian faith -- the first public event hosted by the winery was a sunrise Easter service last year.
“It’s been a faith-filled journey for us, with the whole farm and everything that’s even brought us to this point,” Brett said. “There’s been blessings and trials and challenges, but that’s the main message of the winery. We want to try to be an outlet just to share, for friends and fellowship.”
It’s also a nod to the new life the family farm has received over the past decade -- and a hope for the future, Allen added.
“I never dreamed I would have two sons back at the farm,” said Allen, whose other son recently built a small home out of silos near the winery. “His kids are fifth generation.”
Brett said his two small children are already showing an avid interest in farm life and in the family business.
“Just the other day, my little one said, ‘So what kind of wine am I going to like when I grow up?’ I was like, I don’t know,” Brett said with a laugh. “He was like, ‘Probably the Chilean merlot.”