Welcome Wichita’s first urban winery

Jenny Dawn Cellars set to open at Union Station

Written by Kelsey Ralston

For Jennifer McDonald, each bottle of wine she makes holds a memory. A strawberry wine of years past reminds her of a special moment with family — picking the fresh berries and putting them in her 1920s press to extract the juice. With her dad turning the crank and her daughter helping catch the juice, together they started the process of what became a decadent strawberry wine.

“I loved how winemaking became a process that my entire family could participate in and enjoy,” McDonald says.

McDonald started making wine at her home nearly six years ago. She read books, attended conferences and took online courses to hone her craft. “Being a huge wine connoisseur, I wanted to learn the art and science of winemaking,” she says.

After winning several awards at various contests, McDonald turned her hobby into a business. She received her master’s degree in agribusiness at Kansas State University, where she conducted firsthand research to understand what consumers like about wine and what they are willing to pay. Using that research data, McDonald built an effective business plan for what is Wichita’s first urban winery — Jenny Dawn Cellars.

“Our downtown location will be perfect for a happy-hour drink with coworkers or a quiet evening out with friends and family,” McDonald says.

Jenny Dawn Cellars will open its doors to the public in October as a full production wine facility, tasting room and event venue at Union Station. It will feature 11 new wines in two different series — the California and Union Station series. The grapes used for the California series come from premier regions for growing grapes in the U.S., and the wines made from them will be classic varietals such as cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, chardonnay and riesling.

“It’s an excellent wine that comes from A.V.A.-designated areas in California, sometimes it’s sourced from a single vineyard!” says Kristina Haahr, wine sales representative for Demo Sales Inc. “Each vintage is a limited production, created by hand. Unfortunately, not all wine is made this way. So much of what we see in retail stores has additives and flavorings to cover up mass-produced grapes. Jenny Dawn Cellars is truly a crafted wine.”

The Union Station series will feature wines made with Kansas grapes. These wines — named Wichita Moments, Wichita Passion, Union Station, Red Caboose and Black Locomotive — will be fun and approachable at a price point of $19.99. Customers can purchase wine by the flight, glass or bottle. Each wine can be perfectly paired with several food items.

“My vision for the winery is to be a place where moments are created,” McDonald says. “We want our guests to have a relaxing, enjoyable food-and-wine experience each time that they come in.”

The winery will offer other unique services such as Wineucation classes and wine locker memberships. “Guests will get to see the winemaking process first-hand,” McDonald says. “We will be crushing grapes on our patio and making wine right inside our garage doors.”

McDonald also recently hired two full-time employees, Kale Baire and Gabriela Martinez, as tasting room leads. They will be helping run the winery in the evenings and on weekends. Jenny Dawn Cellars wines are currently for sale through the Jenny Dawn Cellars website and at liquor stores across Kansas.

“Jennifer is a Midwesterner and she knows what we are eating locally,” Haahr says. “She understands the weather here, our traditions and which occasions call for wine. Jennifer has a wine that goes with all the foods we eat here, whether it’s a steak dinner, burgers, or fish.”

Customers who purchase from Jenny Dawn Cellars are not only getting a great-tasting wine, they are also supporting a local, young African-American female entrepreneur competing in a male-dominated industry, McDonald says.

“It is not just about the wine,” McDonald says. “It is about empowering other young people — especially young girls — to strive to become entrepreneurs and CEOs. I want to show girls that if I can do it, they can do it. All it takes is passion, a dream, hard work, and acquiring the skills and knowledge.”

To learn more about Jenny Dawn Cellars or to purchase its wines, visit jennydawncellars.com.

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