America’s Youngest Vineyard Owner?

“Feel good” stories are as rare in the wine world as elsewhere, so we need to revel in them when they arise.

Fourteen year-old Wade Hambright of Chapman, Kansas may well be the country’s youngest vineyard owner. His father Stan owns about five acres of grapes at the family farm, Kanza Cattle and Vineyards. The grapes are primarily hybrids (Chambouricn and Vignoles) which were specifically engineered for survival in cold climates. Wade works in the vineyard alongside his father and owns a half-acre of Cabernet Franc on his own. The Hambrights’ grapes are sold to a neighboring winery, which crushes them and ferments them into wine.

Alcohol laws in Kansas are among the strictest in the nation, and Wade won’t be able to taste wine legally for another seven years. His moment of awakening apparently occurred during a family trip to Sonoma County. As they drove from vineyard to vineyard, the Hambrights kept seeing signs declaring that individual sites belonged to particular 4-H or FFA clubs, and Wade suddenly realized that grape growing was something he could get involved in. He’s currently considering going to Enology and Viticulture School in Walla Walla, Washington, and embarking on a career as a winemaker.

As I read this story, I thought about a visit I made in 2006 to Nuriootpa High School in Australia’s Barossa Valley. Since 1992, the school has been offering a Wine Education program for students, many of whom continue on to work in the industry as adults. They get a chance to make their own wines as well, some of which are very impressive. The Barossa Class Wines (also known as Nurrihannam Wines) include the Barossa Class Shiraz and Port and the Barossa Scholar Shiraz and Chardonnay.

Critics have been generous with these wines, and not as an act of charity. Their 2003 Barossa Scholar Shiraz received a rating of 93 from The Wine Spectator. The 2003 version of the Barossa Class Shiraz scored 92 from Robert Parker, who described it as having “full-bodied richness, beautiful purity and a luscious, heady texture.”

The future looks bright, with one proviso: Let’s hope these kids actually enjoy wine when they finally get to drink it.




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