James Lowery knows his wine. The Missouri native grew up on Silver Leaf Vineyard, a 120-acre stretch of land in Macon that his family has owned since the 1870s. After years of outsourcing their grapes to other winemakers, Lowery finally convinced his family it was time to produce and sell their own. In 2014, KC Wineworks was born, and this April, James and his wife, Lindsay, opened the doors to their 5,500 square-foot winery in the Crossroads.
You and your family have had a vineyard in Macon for years, but always outsourced the grapes to other winemakers. What finally convinced you to make and sell your own?
James Lowery: It had always been one of the things in the back of my mind. When you plant grapes, you’re like “Maybe one day we’ll have a winery.” I went to school and worked at a couple of wineries in New Zealand, and then it was time to start our own venture. We started making our own wine in the fall of 2014.
What made you want to open a winery in downtown Kansas City?
Lindsay Lowery: We were looking for a space, and James said “I think the Crossroads is going to be home.” Everyone is literally making stuff right here—it’s a makers community. We’ve been blown away by how collaborative it truly is. We’ve already been talking to brewers, distillers and coffee roasters about how we can work together.
When I think of wine, I picture the “I Love Lucy” episode where they’re stomping grapes. What’s the winemaking process really like?
JL: We start about mid-August and bring the grapes down the alley. We unload them from the truck and into our press, which squeezes the grapes. For white grapes, we’ll load them into the press and press the juice in the tanks to get them ready to start fermenting. For red grapes, we’ll give them a gentle crushing and put them into the tank and let them ferment with all the skins. After it’s done fermenting, we put it into the press and squeeze it out.
How can customers differentiate your wine from others on the market?
LL: We have two truly sweet wines, though our focus is a more dry presentation. There are a lot of wineries out there that are producing fruit wines and sweet wines, and we don’t see as much dry presentation as California or Oregon. People who come in and hear we’re doing drier wines are like, “Finally!” Especially in the urban core. They don’t have to travel. It’s a local product they can support.
One thing that we missed when we toured Sonoma and Napa a few years ago, is you really don’t get that contact with the person who’s making the product. That’s something you do get here. One of our goals is to be accessible and approachable. Even if you don’t know wine, that’s fine. Come in, let’s have a conversation and hopefully you’ll find a wine you’ll like.
Apples to Apples
“I love drinking hard cider, but after I got back from New Zealand, I couldn’t find any ciders in the American market that I liked to drink,” James says.
So they made their own. The couple produced about 65 cases of hard cider this year, but expect to run out by the end of the season. Eventually they’ll add two more flavors to the mix, James says.
“We wanted to make something that was truly crisp and refreshing, and just really focused on the fruit,” James says. “We wanted to make it seem like you could taste a bite of the apple when you take a drink of it.”
The cider contains much less residual sugar than mainstream hard ciders, but still packs plenty of flavor. A bottle of KC Ciderworks hard cider contains 7.2 percent alcohol, but without a hint of a harshness.
“We want that cider to truly be enjoyed, especially this time of year,” Lindsay says. “We did make it with a slightly higher alcohol content, but it’s a really nice balance.”