A business appreciation event at the Wine Barn Vineyard and Winery in Wyandotte County turned out a good crowd on Friday evening. Guests were treated to the unique setting of this American Dream Realized. Nestled behind a wall of trees and thick foliage, wine enthusiasts enjoyed a secluded sanctuary surrounded by acres of plump grapes on the vine and perfectly chilled Pinot Noir in the glass.
Wyandotte County resident, Kevin Braun, hosted the event to celebrate privately owned businesses in Wyandotte County. Trays of delicate pastries, breads, cheeses, specialty meats and fresh fruit (chocolate covered strawberries in particular), all beautifully displayed—and all purchased from businesses in Wyandotte County made the evening a fitting tribute to the entrepreneurial spirit in the smallest county in Kansas.
Success in local competitions and frequent wine requests from friends transformed a family hobby into a family business in 2009. Originally a partnership between the families of Sal Coco and Scott Hiatt, the Wine Barn is now owned and operated by Scott Hiatt and his daughter and son-in-law, Celeste and Brian Mikijanis.
Its initial vintage produced 500 gallons of Kansas grown grapes and fruit wine as well as vinifera and French hybrid grapes. The Wine Barn has grown and flourished in the nearly eight years since its launch, hosting events such as the recent business appreciation celebration, corporate meetings, weddings, family reunions and wine tasting every Saturday and Sunday.
Listed on the Kansas Agribusiness Tourism site, the family business established deep roots in the community, bottling wines with personalized labels and the now famous Original Dotte Wine, showcasing the county pride and creative spirit of a privately owned, successful business.
Three years after the Wine Barn began hosting weddings and other events with live bands, a Unified Government employee moved into the rural neighborhood and began a four-year turf war with the Hiatt’s and Mikijanis’. The primary complaint was about the live music and noise levels. UG commissioners eventually designed a long list of requirements for the business, including, among other things, denying the use of “rock” music for weddings, parties and other events.
While the Mikijanis’ and Hiatts’ indicate they followed the stipulations set by the UG commissioners, the new neighbor was not appeased. In early 2016, the UG commissioners denied the Wine Barn an entertainment permit. Live bands are no longer allowed during weddings and other events hosted at the Wine Barn, thus ending the primary source of revenue for this popular venue.
Selling wines and hosting wine-tasting events are allowed at the business, as well as business meetings and tours of the facility, however, those events do not generate enough income to keep the business operating at a profit. The property was listed for sale in early September, 2016.
A recent flurry of activity around the closing of the Wine Barn exposed a lack of support this private, family-owned business received from the elected city and state officials tasked to safeguard the rights of private citizens and businesses. Mikijanis approached her own Kansas state representative after a county commissioner shook his finger at the business owners and scolded them during a recent city commission meeting. The state rep cautioned Mikijanis that she (Mikijanis) would be “better off” not getting the representative involved.
State senator Steve Fitzgerald attended commission meetings and spoke on behalf of the business owners, as did several members of the community. Ultimately, the Unified Government Commissioners voted in favor of the UG employee who purchased property near the business. Minutes of the commission meeting indicate the UG employee was aware of the Wine Barn’s live music events before purchasing a home nearby.
The business appreciation celebration was a bittersweet event for the Wine Barn owners and employees. As the evening came to a close, Braun raised his glass and congratulated the owners for their courage and dedication to the business, for following their American Dream. Hiatt responded, “I’m just a farmer. It’s my daughter and son-in-law who’ve sunk their fortune into this business. They’ve given it everything, thought it would be their future. I just hate this for them.”
Kansas Insurance Commissioner, Ken Selzer asked Mikijanis where she would go after the property sold. “Out of Wyandotte County,” she said.