Award-Winning Wines With Memorable Views in a Family Atmosphere
By: Gerald Dlubala
Follow the Oregon Trail through Kansas, and you’ll run right through the aptly named BlueJacket Crossing Vineyard and Winery in Eudora, about halfway between Kansas City and Lawrence. “There’s a historic landmark,” said Kandaya “Pep” Selvan, owner, vintner and viticulturist. “On the far side of the Wakarusa River, there was what they called a hotel, but really, it’s just a shelter that the Native Americans had established. That area was originally owned by the Bluejacket family, and where the ferry ran across the river became known as BlueJacket Crossing. So here we are. The watering hole and ruts are there for those interested and spend time researching those things.”
BlueJacket Vineyard and Winery is part of a family farm. Selvan was originally from Kansas, leaving in the ’70s and working the construction trade in California. His construction experiences included building wineries in St Helena. Thirty-five years later, he returned to Kansas to help his elderly parents run their farm. But to his parents’ surprise, Selvan began planting grapevines instead of soybeans and corn in 2001.
“From that time on, it was a learning curve,” said Selvan. “Kansas didn’t have any mature wineries at the time. Additionally, the wineries that were here were required to source at least 60 percent of their fruit from the state of Kansas. So, there were maybe seven or eight active wineries in our state. A handful were making a good product, but they were virtually unknown. We took the opportunity to spend five or six years working for these wineries to gain some experience.”
Selvan planted 4,000 vines, and in 2008, when they matured, BlueJacket Crossing Vineyard and Winery was born. He began with an initial planting of Nortons. In subsequent years, Selvan expanded his Norton line and added St. Vincent, Seyval, Chambourcin, Fredonia, Vignoles and Traminette vines.
“We methodically built the winery ourselves,” said Selvan. “There was a small tasting room in the winery building. We were comfortable and felt somewhat successful. After my time on the West Coast, my goal was to produce wines with good character and a local identity. In 2012, we expanded the tasting room and doubled our annual capacity, producing 6,000 to 7,000 gallons. That was and continues to be a comfortable level for us, and since then, we’ve been able to produce a modest yet successful product.”
Selvan mixes the best Midwest winemaking practices with inspiration from his favorite wines from California, Missouri and Italy. BlueJacket Crossing wines include dry, off-dry, semi-sweet and sweet white varietals. Reds include sweet red, blush, dry rose and dry options, with an excellent selection of dessert wines. Many of Selvan’s wines have won awards across the U.S.
“The labels are also significant to our area,” said Selvan. “I’ve always envisioned a wolf design on our label, but I didn’t want the usual type of image. It was by chance that we met a Native American impressionist painter named Brent Learned at our annual arts and crafts fair. His art reveals the life and culture of the Plains Indians. An original wolf print of his immediately attracted us and was exactly the type of image that I was looking for. We asked his permission to use his design on our labels and are grateful he agreed. We were lucky to run across him at the time. Today, he is internationally known.”
Bring the Family and Dog to Relax, Unwind and Connect with Nature
“Our goal from the beginning was for our guests to join us in a comfortable setting with a pleasant connection to nature,” said Selvan. “We aren’t your typical winery with a big venue. We’re about a mile off any main four-lane highways between Kansas City and Lawrence, with a rural setting and memorable landscape vistas. We have both patio and indoor seating to enjoy our remarkable farm vistas. We have included as many windows as possible to keep that connection with nature and the outdoors. Because of our location, we also have air conditioning and fireplaces to counteract the Midwest weather swings. We encourage families and well-behaved dogs to come and enjoy our setting and have good times and fun as a family. We feel that is important. We also occasionally feature live music and food trucks and do all we can to make our vineyard and winery a welcoming space for comfort and family fun.”
Additionally, Selvan’s original tasting area is now an Airbnb. The original tasting room had an upstairs space that accommodated up to 20 guests and was used for small gatherings or as a business space. After constructing a new 2,000-square-foot tasting room, the old tasting room, now an Airbnb, features a living space and mini kitchen on the lower level with a large master bedroom and outside deck overlooking the farm.
BlueJacket Vineyard and Winery can accommodate up to 200 people when hosting one of their many fundraisers for Alzheimer’s research, Habitat For Humanity, dog shelters and more. With these types of events, the upper level of the Airbnb, if not being used, can be transformed into VIP seating overlooking the activities. But the typical capacity of BlueJacket Vineyard and Winery is around 100, which Selvan says is a good amount for the solid group of people that come here to escape the exaggerated life we all now live.
Continuous Learning Helps Refine Winemaking Process
Selvan comes from a non-winery background, having a construction and architectural engineering career. He began with 11 grape varietals. Over the past several years, Selvan has seen what his customers want and what works within his vineyard. He is now refining his wines to reflect those results.
“What amazes me is that for some reason, Midwest wineries feel the need to have 25 to 30 wines available, whereas other locations seem to focus on consistently producing their best four or five,” said Selvan. “We’re refining our choices and narrowing from 25 wines to hopefully about a dozen. Doing this will help us maintain consistency and quality while remaining true to the qualities and characteristics of the chosen varietals. Our customers can also count on it, knowing that they will always get the same great quality with our wine.”
Selvan’s barrel room can hold about 50 barrels at any given time. While working with sommeliers, he told The Grapevine Magazine that they found that when they allow the barrels to age for three to five years, they can deliver a noticeably better product while maintaining their production goals.
Additionally, Selvan has added a traditionally produced sparkling wine to his lineup and a unique and difficult-to-find cabernet franc to their French hybrids.
Today’s Winemakers Need Mentors and Mechanization
“We had our family farm, but we had to learn the farming element of vineyards, determining which varietals are vigorous and which are, shall we say, moody,” said Selvan. “We eliminated three varietals just because they were fussy, and the amount of work needed for them wasn’t equal to the outcome. It would also be best to consider your geographical location and what those consumers want. We are in the rural Midwest. Here, sweetness sells, and we have developed a reputation for quality red wines in and around Kansas City and Lawrence, with a clientele that appreciates our dedication and commitment.”
Selvan said that it’s essential for those who want to be in the business to spend time with experienced, successful winemakers to learn the process, amount and type of planning needed.
“You’ll definitely have a more enjoyable time if your space and production areas are correctly laid out, but you need someone who has gone through it to guide you,” said Selvan. “Through the Missouri Winemakers Association, we met and became friends with the folks at Adam Puchta Winery in Hermann, Missouri. They use the same varietals as we do and have been a terrific resource for us. Having a winery and being a winemaker will be much more pleasing if your planning is good and the building is designed right with optimal access and thoroughly thought-out sanitation systems. We even took all the classes through VESTA, the Viticulture, Enology, Science and Technology Alliance. Still, we weren’t prepared to see how inefficient our awkward equipment and poorly accessible building would be. It wasn’t until we got together with Adam Puchta Winery 10 years into this process that we saw how his experience, organization and analytical skills enhanced and improved every aspect of the business.”
“It’s all a big learning curve, but I certainly still enjoy it,” said Selvan. “Our education comes from many different areas that we didn’t anticipate. I have a master’s in architectural engineering, but I sure wish I had studied refrigeration, too. It’s easy to throw away tens of thousands of dollars on the wrong cooling systems. You need a real passion for the industry and what you’re doing.”
Selvan says that the industry has changed over the last 10 years and that mechanization is a must for vineyard owners.
“We need the equipment to be efficient and to balance continued shortages in the labor market as well as to help replace the people leaving,” said Selvan. “I’ve been lucky to have family involved along with people of our rural community with the passion and determination to work with us. Our daughter manages the tasting room, events and activities, but as a general rule, once kids get a higher education, they seldom want to come back to the farm. They do still support us but in other ways. Mechanization is the only way to keep up with or increase production when labor falls off. Immigration isn’t happening, and those that do immigrate tend to move on quickly to other positions that are more lucrative when possible.”
Selvan says they are running a 20-acre farm with eight acres improved. He still has another 120 acres that are conventionally farmed and wrap around the winery, providing memorable views and breathtaking vistas.
BlueJacket Crossing Vineyard and Winery is located four miles east of Lawrence, just south of K10.
To learn more, schedule a visit or book a stay:
BlueJacket Crossing Vineyard & Winery
1969 North 1250th Road
Eudora, KS 66025