And We Have Wine!

 by Jeff Korbelik

Beer is made by men, wine by God! —Martin Luther

What do the six wineries in the Lincoln area have in common?

Well, great wine, of course, but all six—James Arthur Vineyards, Deer Springs Winery, Glacial Till Vineyard, Cellar 426, Capitol View Winery & Vineyards and SchillingBridge Winery—also are members of the Nebraska Winery and Grape Growers Association.

And because they are members, they take part in two of the NWGGA’s most popular programs: the Nebraska Wine Passport and the spring and holiday Toast festivals.

The Nebraska Wine Passport is a year-long program encouraging folks to visit Nebraska wineries and tasting rooms, sample wines and win prizes. It’s a great way to introduce yourself to Nebraska wines and the people who produce them.

The spring and holiday Toast festivals bring NWGGA-member wineries from across the state together in one place to offer wine, cider and more for unlimited tasting. The spring event is usually the second weekend in May at Stinson Park in Omaha, while the holiday festival is on a November weekend at Fonner Park in Grand Island.

Attending a festival will give you taste of a Nebraska wines. But, visiting one will give you even more. The six in the Lincoln area have become destinations for wine, live music, special events and much, much more.

Leading the way is James Arthur Vineyards, now the state’s oldest operating winery. It started in 1992 when Jim Ballard, who co-owns JAV with his wife, Barb, suggested to his father-in-law, James Arthur Jeffers, that they grow grapes as a hobby. Soon the family planted the first 100 wines with tender loving care. As the number of vines grew, so did the idea of turning the family hobby into an actual business, and after careful consideration and research, James Arthur Vineyards was born.

JAV opened its doors in 1997 at its home near Raymond. A pioneer in the Nebraska wine industry, James Arthur Vineyards is still the largest wine producer in the state. Less than 10 minutes from downtown Lincoln, the winery has hosted hundreds of thousands of guests over their 25-year existence, including visitors from every state as well as international visitors. 

Surrounded by nearly 20 acres of vineyards, the winery also brings in grapes from nearly a dozen other growers across the state, making their final product truly unique to Nebraska. In the mid-2010s, Ballard introduced Curveball, a hard apple cider series. The winery began canning its Grand Slam and Double Play ciders in 2019, making it available at retail stores in the Lincoln area.

Today, the vineyard has literally grown into the thousands of vines that flourish near the 8,000-square-foot tasting room and production facility—surrounded by a panorama of gazebos, waterfalls and beautiful landscaping. A four-season porch, completed in February 2019, offers a spectacular view of the vineyards, and a large storage shed/farm headquarters sits just east of the winery.

JAV has become known for its “World Famous Murder Mysteries,” never-a-cover-charge summer and fall music series, October hayrack rides, cabaret and comedy shows.

It extended the winery experience into Lincoln with its purchase in 2014 of the From Nebraska Gift Shop at Eighth and Q streets, where the Ballards added a tasting room to the shop which features the best of Nebraska-made products. In 2020, From Nebraska Gift Shop completed an expansion and renovation, adding a cider house and mercantile, including a year-round Christmas store.

Since its inception, the winery has built quite a resumé of honors. In fact, over the years the winery has earned “best of” honors at the Florida State Fair International Wine, Monterey International Wine and Jerry Mead International Wine Competitions. The winery’s most popular and most-awarded wine, Edelweiss has been featured in Wine Spectator and earned two prestigious Jefferson Cup Awards. 

While being the oldest and most established in the area, JAV certainly isn’t the only award-winning, family-owned and event-driven winery.

Started in 2001, Deer Springs Winery is in east Lincoln at 16255 Adams Street The winery’s roots began as a dream of Jim Partington, retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral and strike fighter pilot.

After retiring from the Navy and returning to Lincoln, Jim and his wife Barbara built a house on the family homestead. Jim aspired to be a “gentleman farmer” and ended up planting some wine grapes, which eventually led to a tasting room opened in 2007. Guests can enjoy Deer Spring’s finest in the quaint farmhouse, renovated to reflect the charm of the original structure which sits on the land that was deeded to ancestor 1874 by Ulysses S. Grant. The winery is surrounded by pine trees, giving it the peaceful atmosphere of days gone by, while still providing the contemporary comforts.

Partington’s daughter Jennifer Reeder is the winemaker, and has created a plethora of wonderful tasting, award-winning wines that are distinctively Nebraska. The winery features live music on weekends with a quaint, bucolic backdrop and is home to Wine & Howl, an annual event benefiting the Lincoln Animal Ambassadors.

When Mike Murman planted his first acre of grapes in the spring of 2003 southeast of Lincoln, near the township of Palmyra, he was looking for a hobby that would provide fruit for amateur winemaking. Murman, the owner of Glacial Till Vineyard & Winery, always had an interest in winemaking and had been making small batches of wine in his basement for the last 30 years. With an interest to improve the quality of wine he could make, he turned to growing his own fruit.

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