When listing the great wine capitals of the world, names such as Tuscany, Bordeaux, Florence, and the Napa Valley come to mind.
The small town of Bahner should be added to the list as it is the home of one of Missouri’s award-winning wineries, Wildlife Ridge.
In only its third year of operation, Wildlife Ridge captured first place as the People’s Choice for the best red wine in Missouri in March. The winery’s Deceitful Red also won a bronze award in July at the Governor’s Cup.
“We’re two for two, that’s going to be hard to live up to,” Kevin Long said while sitting with his wife Kristy in the winery Thursday afternoon. “I think we were both a little shocked when it was announced that we won.
“It was the first time we had ever entered a competition and we really didn’t believe it at first,” he added. “We were actually at the Governor’s Cup and that was quite an honor as it is the biggest wine event in the state.”
Kevin said winning the awards was very special but the most important aspects for the couple are the quality of the wines produced and the personal aspect of the winery.
“We are currently producing 30,000 bottles a year, and we can see ourselves at maybe 40,000 to 50,000 bottles maximum,” Kevin said. “We don’t want to grow so big that we can’t be personable with our customers.
“We like to be here and sit down and have a glass of wine and visit with the people who come,” he added. “We have developed a lot of relationships with a lot of the folks who come here and it is nice that we are able to do that.”
The couple hosts numerous events at the winery and is serving their nine wines at a number of functions throughout the month.
“September and October are our busiest months but it doesn’t really seem like we have a slow period,” Kristy said. “We host several bridal showers, bachelor and bachelorette parties and class reunions here.
“We also have some groups who come every month,” she added. “There is a book club that comes and a group from an assisted living center in Lincoln who pack their own picnic lunch and come here. They like to sit and enjoy the lake and it gets them out to enjoy the trip and gives them some time away.”
Both commented that some of their guests do not drink wine and for those visitors the winery offers a variety of beers including some craft beers as well as non-alcoholic beverages including soft drinks and teas.
“We try to support local businesses whenever we can so the limited snack items that we served are all from local businesses,” Kevin said. “One of the reasons we wanted to do this was to promote Missouri wines and products and the tourism industry in the state.
“We’re a place that people can come and disconnect while they are here and just enjoy a good conversation,” he added. “We do offer free Wi-Fi but we don’t have any televisions on here and honestly most cell phones don’t get service here either.”
Located on the family’s 98-acre farm, the quiet atmosphere is a feature customers appreciate, according to the couple.
“Who would have thought in the little town of Bahner you would find a winery,” Kristy said with a smile. “We don’t even have a post office.
“We don’t grow our own grapes here either,” she added. “Someday we would like to plant some for the aesthetic purpose but with Kevin still working full-time for Septagon it’s not feasible for us to grow our own grapes here.”
Although the couple does bottle some wine, about 350 cases a year, most of the production is done at other facilities in the state.
“Making wine takes time,” Kevin said. “Some of our labels take a year and a half to produce.
“That’s one thing that I don’t think people understand about the business — if we decided we wanted to retire tomorrow we really couldn’t,” he explained. “We could do it in two to three years from the day we said we would because that’s how long some of the labels age.”
When the business opened March 1, 2013, they started with eight labels, creating their award-winning blend Deceitful Red by just playing with their other wines.
“One day I was standing behind the bar just mixing together some of our other wines,” Kristy said. “I was really just playing around but I came up with a blend I really liked.
“I took some to a local radio station where I was doing an interview and I asked the guys there if they would like to try it after we had finished the interview,” she added. “One of them said the wine really has a deceitful taste because it starts out sweet but finishes dry, so that how we came up with the name.”
From their first year in business when they produced 7,000 bottles, their wine is now in 25 retail locations from Kansas City to Columbia and can be purchased in numerous restaurants in Pettis County and throughout the state.
The couple has no plans to retire soon, discussing their plans for the future.
“We’ve talked a lot about adding on a banquet room so we cold host more business and private events,” Kevin said. “We are also planning to have live music on Saturdays and Sundays starting this spring that we hope to continue throughout the year. It will be light easy listening because we still want people to feel relaxed when they come here and that they can carry on a conversation.”
“We couldn’t do any of this without a great group of nine people who work for us,” both he and Kristy added. “They are all part-time employees, many of them we have known most of our lives.”
The winery is open from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays.
“A lot of people ask us if we can be open longer hours,” Kevin said. “We’re located in the country with a lot of deer and wildlife that roams the area, hence the name.
“We’re not a nightclub and we don’t want to be,” he added. “”We’re a winery and we want our guests to come out and enjoy some one-on-one time with their friends in a quiet, peaceful atmosphere and make it home safely because we care for and value our guests.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484.