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Missouri couple find business in grapes and wine

Friday, December 31, 2010 | 4:44 p.m. CST

PLATTE CITY — Jason and Colleen Gerke continue to carve out an agricultural niche by growing grapes and making wine in rural Platte County.

The couple has run a vineyard and winery north of Platte City since deciding it was the right time to change careers and switch their hobby into a full-fledged business.

"We were both involved in ag communication," Jason Gerke said, with jobs in the field in Kansas City. He had attended MU, and Colleen Gerke was a student at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

Both discovered a mutual interest in winemaking and began taking up the hobby together in Kansas City. They moved to the Jowler Creek area of Platte County, where Jason Gerke said they "found our little piece of heaven" and decided to open a vineyard and winery. The business is known as the Jowler Creek Vineyard & Winery.

"It was very logical," he said. "It was an opportunity to get a little bit of elbow room."

Ground for the vineyard was broken in 2004, followed by expansions in 2006 and 2008.

"We just kind of slowly transitioned into doing it," he said.

A different direction also made sense for Colleen Gerke.

"It was the perfect time for me to do this full-time," she said.

It wasn't difficult for Jason Gerke to leave behind a central Missouri heritage of cattle and row crops.

"I grew up on the family farm," he said. Now, with the vineyard and winery, "you're making your own way. We're still out playing in the dirt."

The Gerkes understand they must continue to enhance their facility to survive and thrive.

"We're just getting started," he said. "We're at a point where our production is growing."

Their advice to other couples contemplating an agricultural-related business: narrow the focus first before tackling any new ventures, and rely on cash as much as possible.

"We did it bit by bit," Mrs. Gerke said. "We did it by cash."

Beyond the vineyard and winery, the Gerkes are also active in Missouri Farm Bureau at both the county and state levels. Jason Gerke was recently appointed chairman of the state bureau's Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee. The committee is composed of 16 couples from eight districts, with the Gerkes representing northwest Missouri.

"Technically I'm chairman, but Colleen is right there doing all the same stuff," he said.

Their roles will involve helping prepare the committee's annual February conference — an effective venue for education and networking. Jason Gerke is also an advisory member on the bureau's board of directors.

Jowler Creek's award-winning wines are distributed in the St. Joseph and Kansas City areas. Mr. Gerke also works part time for Osborn & Barr Communications, where he serves agricultural-based clients.


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