WICHITA — Smoky Hill Vineyards & Winery in Salina is closing, which means the winery’s Wichita store also is going out of business.
“The winery has really been flourishing,” says owner Norm Jennings.
The problem is he and his wife, Jen, have a new calling.
“Essentially, about two years ago the Lord started to take us on a journey of working with different couples, premarital couples and couples in crisis, and students on just developing healthy relationships,” Jennings says.
They have At Stake Ministries.
He says it’s not feasible to keep the winery and let someone else run it.
“It’s very hard just to hire somebody that can manage the processes,” he says.
He tried selling the winery, but that proved tough, too.
“It’s not a viable investment,” Jennings says. “You really have to be owner-operators. You really need to find somebody that that’s their dream.”
He says there aren’t many winemakers looking to move to the Midwest. Also, as the state’s largest winery, Jennings says the business is too big to sell to many potential buyers, such as retirees looking to purchase a small winery.
Smoky Hill was his late father Stephen’s dream, and Jennings says his wines will live on.
“The name brand will be sold to another winery so a lot of the wines that people have come to know and love … will be sold,” he says.
The NewMarket and Wilson, Kan., Smoky Hill retail shops will close this month, and the winery itself will close next month. Within a year, Jennings expects to have news on who will continue making Smoky Hill wines.
“We’re really confident that customers are going to be able to find the same wines.”