Critters Drive Sustainable Success At Jowler Creek Vineyard and Winery
July 19, 2018
Written By Adam Buckallew
Fields of corn and soybean are common sights on the short drive from Interstate 29 to Jowler Creek Road in rural Platte County, Mo. A different kind of crop grown in rows soon comes into view as tires crunch the gravel of the road. An unpaved driveway leads the way to Jowler Creek Vineyard and Winery and the home of Jason and Colleen Gerke.
A quick scan of the premises reveals this is no ordinary farmstead. A Tesla charging station stands ready to dispense power to visitors. Bat houses jut above the edges of the vineyard. Solar panels soak up the sun on the roof of the winery’s tasting room. A flock of sheep stroll amid the vines chomping weeds.
The Gerkes got into growing grapes as a hobby in 2003 when they moved from Kansas City, Mo., to the countryside and planted 250 Norton grapevines. Bit by bit, they’ve grown the operation. The couple started by delivering wholesale wine during the lunch hour of their day jobs. As the business took off, they converted the basement of their home into a bonded winery before eventually building a standalone facility for wine production and tastings in 2010.
Along the way to becoming full-time vintners, the Gerkes have incorporated environmentally friendly management practices into their operation, which now includes 3,500 grapevines on seven acres surrounding their family home.
“We wanted to have a sustainable business that maintains the natural balance of the vineyard while protecting and preserving our natural resources for future generations,” Colleen says.
The sheep were among the first of many sustainable management practices the Gerkes have adopted in their 12 years of commercial winemaking. A dozen of the wooly creatures “mow” down unwanted vegetation, eliminating the need for herbicides and minimizing soil erosion.
Adding bats to track down winged pests and free-range chickens to control vine-munching ground insects has allowed the duo to keep bug populations in check while nearly eliminating the need for spraying insecticides.
Other eco-friendly choices such as conserving water with a drip irrigation system, harvesting solar power to offset up to a third of the winery’s energy usage and turning grape remnants into nutrient-rich compost led to customers referring to Jowler Creek as the “green” winery. The Gerkes have embraced the label and found it also makes financial sense to practice sustainability.
“The decisions we’ve made have improved the economic viability of our farm,” Collen says. “It’s not just something we do to make us feel good, it’s also helping to sustain our business.
We’ve saved a lot of money by bringing in our critters and spending less on spraying, fuel and other inputs.”
The couple’s commitment to responsible environmental stewardship earned Jowler Creek Vineyard and Winery the distinction of being Missouri’s first green winery in 2017. The Gerkes efforts were recognized by the Missouri Department of Agriculture for their sustainable practices across five categories: energy, farmstead, grassland, livestock and specialty crops.
Visitors to the winery can follow a self-guided sustainable agricultural tour which loops around their property and details the long list of green practices the Gerkes have incorporated into their business.
A t-shirt hanging for sale in the tasting room clearly states the Gerke’s goal: producing sustainable wine for “a better planet one glass at a time.”
Jowler Creek Vineyard & Winery, located at 16905 Jowler Creek Road in Platte City, is open Wednesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, call (816) 858-5528 or visit jowlercreek.com.