Eagle Creek Vineyards, located west of Olpe, Kansas, is an “oasis on the prairie” as one neighbor put it. Jo Ann Kuhlmann planted the initial grapevines in 2004, covering just one and one-half acres that year. Each year she has increased the vines and the number of acres planted, and it is currently one of the largest vineyards in Kansas with eighteen acres, 10,000 vines, and seventeen varieties of grapes. They plan to plant six additional acres in the near future bringing the total to twenty-four. Jo Ann is the primary operator and has accomplished a very impressive plant survival rate of 100%.
Jo Ann worked with the ESU KSBDC on formalizing her business plan and cash flow projections so that she could be better prepared to expand her business and sustain it in the future. The grape growing business takes tenacity and patience. The first significant harvest for Eagle Creek Vineyards was in 2008, four years after that first planting. It takes three years to produce even a light harvest, and longer to get the vines to good production. These among other factors, make planning and forecasting a
valuable tool for survival and growth.
For Jo Ann and her husband Rick, the vineyard has been an alternative crop for a fourth generation farm. Rick is still employed off the farm, but helps Jo Ann with the vineyard when possible. Jo Ann was previously employed by the federal government and managed a business before that. However grape growing was not among her prior accomplishments. She had time and energy, and wanted to start a business that would utilize her interests and talents. Having grown up on a farm, agricultural pursuits were
appealing to her and she wanted to find the niche that fit her and would also be something Rick could enjoy in his retirement. She went to great lengths to educate herself about grapes and grape growing, the Kansas wine industry, and the right way to build a vineyard.
Eagle Creek Vineyards has allowed Jo Ann to pursue an interest about which she is totally passionate. It has demanded hard labor, been dependent on unpredictable Kansas weather conditions and equipment that doesn’t always work like it should, but at the same time allowed Jo Ann to build a great business to be proud of and pass on to the next generation.