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Dwight and Jean Crevelt operate a Walnut Grove winery, buying honey for mead wine and juice from farmers for fruit wines. The Crevelts have planted their own vineyards and should harvest their first crop of grapes in 2014.
Dwight and Jean Crevelt operate a Walnut Grove winery, buying honey for mead wine and juice from farmers for fruit wines. The Crevelts have planted their own vineyards and should harvest their first crop of grapes in 2014.

Business Spotlight: Show Me the Wine

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History has it that Missouri once produced more wine than any state in the union. Those long roots drew Dwight Crevelt, and his wife Jean, back to his childhood home to begin wine making.

The Crevelts officially opened 7C’s Winery on Jan. 1, 2009, and although their own vineyards are still not producing, they corked their first bottle in mid-2009 by sourcing honey to make their mead wine and juice to make fruit wines from other Missouri growers.

The results have been as mixed as the Crevelts’ assortment of flavors. In 2010, the first full year of production, the company realized a 15 percent revenue growth compared to first-year sales in 2009.

“We were anticipating growth in 2011, but we were flat last year,” Dwight Crevelt says, declining to disclose revenues. “We think it was due to a combination of the economy and the hot weather affecting our events.”

Until three months ago, 7C’s Winery relied on weekly summer concerts, special events and direct retail sales at its Walnut Grove location. In October, the Crevelts added wholesale through local stores, a move Dwight Crevelt hopes will boost revenues by 10 percent this year.

Midlife crisis
As part of a military family, Crevelt moved a lot as a child, but he considered his home base his grandparents’ 20-acre Walnut Grove farm. After attending the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland and Iowa State University, where he met his wife, Crevelt landed in Las Vegas, programming slot machines for 37 years.

“We wanted to get back to the country, but we aren’t the typical farmers or ranchers,” Dwight Crevelt says.

After acquiring his grandparents’ land and learning that Missouri has prime areas for vineyards and winemaking, the couple decided to purchase the adjoining 100 acres and start a vineyard.

The Crevelts organized the business in 2005 but operated an online wine-themed gift shop from their home in Vegas while waiting for their youngest child to graduate from high school. “We sold corkscrews, wine racks, jewelry, just about anything wine themed,” says Dwight Crevelt.

The family began construction in 2008 on their 4,000-square-foot building that includes an additional 1,600 square feet of loft living space, and they moved to their land New Year’s Day 2009.

Dwight Crevelt declined to disclose startup costs, but he says the family applied private funds and an investment from his mother-in-law, Irene Cassens, who is also a partner in the business.

To learn how to grow grapes and produce wine, the couple took viticulture and enology classes online through Missouri State University and planted 3,400 vines on five acres. The grapes will not be ready for harvest until 2014.

To get production off the ground, the Crevelts purchased honey for mead and juice from other Missouri farmers. “I joined the Missouri Bee Keepers Association and learned enough about it to know I didn’t want to get into bee keeping,” Crevelt says.

7C’s Winery purchased 1,200 pounds of honey in 2010 and 960 pounds of honey in 2011 for its line of nine mead wines. The meads take at least six months to cure, slower than the three or four months for fruit wines.

An elderberry mead called Midlife Crisis is one of the top sellers. “That’s what our daughter calls our winery,” says Dwight Crevelt. “She says most people buy a new sports car, and we went halfway across the country and began a winery.”

Other popular labels include a jalapeno mead called After Burn and a grape wine called Cattle Drive. Most of the fruit wines are given a Western name. “When we started the business, we gave it the 7C’s name for all the members of our family,” Crevelt says. “The wines have a Western theme because coming out here is a day in the country for our customers; they can sit on the patio and watch the cattle on the land across the road.”

The country atmosphere attracted Tammy Batson and her husband from their home in Fair Grove. “Going to Missouri wineries is a pastime, and we seek out new ones,” Batson says. “Whenever you go out there, you immediately feel welcome and you feel like you have known the Crevelts forever.”

Dwight Crevelt says the Mead Fest Renaissance Festival is the winery’s largest event, and attendance doubled to roughly 600 in 2011. He expects a date change this year to September to increase the draw up to 1,000 people.

A new year and new tastes
Crevelt says he didn’t want to take his company into the wholesale business until the winery could produce enough wine to keep the retail outlets stocked.

Although 7C’s Winery has a relatively stable supply now, Crevelt also has had to discontinue some flavors, such as apple, due to poor crops last year. He’s adding 10 new flavors, including the Wagon Train vignoles and Chuck Wagon sweet vignoles.

By October, various bottles of 7C’s Winery’s 20 flavors were being offered through Pennington’s Supermarket in Ash Grove, Macadoodles in Republic, and Hy-Vee, MaMa Jean’s Market and Wild Root Grocery in Springfield.

Mike McCamish, owner of Wild Root Grocery, approached 7C’s Winery last year. The grocery carries all nine mead wines, with After Burn being one of the most popular.

“We carry unique products people can’t find just everywhere, and I think 7C’s wines fits in with our store,” McCamish says, who opened the store January 2011, with an emphasis on locally sourced products. “It’s also local and our customers like that.”

With wines ranging from $10.95 to $19.95 per bottle, Crevelt expects 80 percent of business will stick with retail sales at the winery, and 20 percent will come from wholesale.

Crevelt says a restaurant on site is in the long-term plans. “There is no projected date on that,” he notes. “It all depends on the economy and the weather.”[[In-content Ad]]

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