Early in their marriage, Jason and Colleen Gerke of Platte City both worked stressful corporate jobs. They discovered growing grapes on their property was a perfect escape from the daily grind.
“I was working for John Deere, and Jason was in PR and advertising,” Colleen says. “We worked in the vineyard together to relax.”
That was 2004. As the vineyard grew, so did their dreams of opening a winery. But they didn’t want to take on a lot of debt, and they didn’t have a lot of cash on hand.
“The biggest challenge was capital. Neither of us had big trust funds,” Colleen says. “We started really small, putting in grape vines little by little. In 2006, we got a permit to begin a winery out of the basement of our house.”
Jowler Creek Winery
The Gerkes are one of many Missouri families with agricultural roots who are using their land and knowledge to start their own nontraditional agriculture businesses. Jason grew up as the fifth generation on a beef cattle and row crop farm in Windsor. Colleen was raised in the heart of California’s Central Coast wine country and took a winemaking class in college.
In 2010, the couple expanded their basement winery and built a new 1,440-square-foot facility with a tasting room next to their vineyard. They now make nine wine varietals, ranging from sweet to dry. Their children, 11-year-old Addison and 8-year-old Sawyer, enjoy helping in the vineyard. The family also raises sheep, which graze under the grapevines providing natural weed control.
“Our customers have identified us as a green winery because of our sustainable practices,” Colleen says. “We try to stay on the forefront of what we can do to be more sustainable. We have one electric vehicle we use both in town and in the vineyard. We also use chickens for natural pest control, and we sell their eggs in our tasting room, which people love.”
Visitors at Jowler Creek Winery can take a self-guided walking tour along an eco-trail with 16 stops that demonstrate how the winery is operating in an environmentally friendly manner.
Start Right Belgian Waffles
Clint Matthews grew up around cattle, and his family always had a big garden, so he learned the importance of eating healthy early on. Later, as a football player at the University of Missouri, Matthews and fellow college athlete Kyle Rood struggled to find a tasty and convenient breakfast food that had enough protein to fuel their morning practices.
“In 2015, we came across research at the University of Missouri about the effects of eating a high-protein breakfast – how it keeps you going and focused,” Matthews says. “People who eat 30 grams of protein for breakfast consume 400 fewer calories per day. We started working to launch a breakfast product that’s convenient and high protein without having to cook eggs or meat. Matthews and Rood created Start Right Belgian Waffles, a frozen, fluffy waffle that’s packed with protein. Made in St. Louis, the waffles come in original and blueberry flavors. In 2017, Start Right added frozen Waffle Sliders to their product line – a heat-and-serve waffle sandwich with lean beef sausage or turkey sausage and egg. The Missouri Beef Council helped fund the development of the waffle sliders.
“It took us a year and a half to get it just right,” Matthews says. “Our goal is to become a national brand, and we’re on our way.”
Start Right Belgian Waffles are currently sold in grocery stores in eight states – Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Texas.
Barrel 53 Cooperage & Stave Mill
The Berendzen family of Higbee has been rooted in mill and woodwork for generations, so in 2014, they opened a whiskey barrel cooperage called Barrel 53. Using top-quality white oak logs, the family constructs handcrafted whiskey barrels from their own staves (or narrow, wooden planks) sourced from their other family business, Mid West Stave Exchange in the Ozarks.
“My father-in-law, Neil Beatty, was in the pallet mill industry for 30-plus years, and my interest in milling started with his mill,” Barrel 53 Owner Robert Berendzen says. “In 2012, I decided to give the stave mill a try. It took off like wildfire.”
In 2013, the family opened another stave mill in northern Arkansas. They sell their hand-graded white oak staves to cooperages nationwide and overseas.
“We started building whiskey barrels in November 2014, and we sell barrels to distilleries nationwide,” Berendzen says. “Whiskey barrels are 53 gallons, hence the name Barrel 53 Cooperage. We char our barrels over white oak chips, so the flavor is not altered by propane.”
In 2017, the family business came full circle when they opened their own tasting room at Woodsmen Distilling in Higbee.
“At Woodsmen, we distill bourbon, whiskey, rye whiskey, rum and brandy. We also make wine, and grow our own corn and rye,” Berendzen says. “The spent grains from the mash – the mix of grain used in the distilling process – are fed to our cows daily.”
Among the three businesses, nearly every part of the log is used with little to no waste.
“With the combination of all three businesses, we are truly a forest-to-glass and grain-to-glass business,” Berendzen says. “We mill the logs into staves at Mid West Stave Exchange, we use the staves to build whiskey barrels at Barrel 53 and we use the barrels to age our bourbon and whiskey at Woodsmen.”