Skip to main content
Skip to navigation

Oct. 24, 2013 Volume 35, No. 10

School of Medicine staff member and spouse open winery

Alternate text

Jennifer and Chris West are training Mizzou graduate Kayla Murphy Swantz to be the head winemaker at the Macon location. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

West Winery began in 2007 in Macon, Mo., and now has eight employees

When Jennifer and Chris West got married in 1998, Chris wasn’t old enough to partake in the champagne toasts. Fifteen years later, the couple is receiving awards for the wine they’re producing at West Winery — winner of the 2013 Best of Rural Missouri Editor’s Choice award for best winery. 

Jennifer, a donor relations coordinator for the School of Medicine, and Chris first forayed into the world of winemaking just for kicks. The first batch of wine, blood orange, made in their kitchen didn’t turn out well. 

“We saved it because it was just so horrible,” Jennifer said. “I think you could clean a toilet with it. It was just bad.”

Still, with a little guidance from the winemakers at Les Bourgeois Winery and Vineyards in Rocheport, Mo., and many hours spent researching online, the couple learned how to find the right kind of yeast, control the temperature and make five-gallon batches of their favorite wine. 

In 2004, Chris entered a blackberry wine sample in his first amateur competition at Les Bourgeois and won.

“We always knew we wanted to start a winery, but we thought maybe we would when we retired,” Jennifer said. 

A Growing Business

When Chris lost his job in 2007, the Wests seized the opportunity to open West Winery. They took the money they had been saving to one day send Jennifer to law school, cut out date night — the last movie they saw in theaters was the 2005 Star Wars film — and got to work. 

In 2007, they opened West Winery in a 1880s building in the heart of Chris’ hometown of Macon, Mo., making it the first urban winemaking facility in Missouri. Chris worked full time winemaking, and Jennifer worked part time in the tasting room and doing the books. 

Chris described it as a “large small-medium” winery. They typically carry 12 wines in 300 to 500 gallon batches. By focusing on smaller batches — an average batch at Les Bourgeois is anywhere from 500 to 5,000 gallons — the couple can experiment with different blends.

The most popular wines are the sweet ones: the semisweet pear, the spiced apple and strawberry vidal. But Chris’ favorite is the dry red chambourcin. The Wests source their fruit from local growers across the state, including a vineyard in Macon, an apple orchard in Kansas City and a blackberry farm in Kirksville. 

“We’re trying to get Missouri on the map,” Chris said. “It’s about making people realize Missouri wine is really good wine.” 

Donor Relations Benefits

People are taking notice. In 2008, they partnered with Jackson Stables to open a second location along the Rainbow Basin trail in Kirksville, Mo. In 2011, they partnered with the Mark Twain Cave Complex in Hannibal to open Cave Hollow West Winery, where they offer their standard selections as well as an exclusive Mark Twain series, including the Mark Twain Reserve and An Innocent Broad. They now have eight employees and are training Mizzou graduate Kayla Murphy Swantz to be the head winemaker at the Macon location.

Jennifer said the most surprising thing about running three business locations and raising their 3-year-old son is how comfortable she got with little sleep. For the first five years, she would work her Mizzou job until 5 p.m. on Friday, hop in the car and drive to Macon where she’d work in the tasting room for the weekend, and then return to Columbia on Sunday evening for work Monday.

Her winery work has opened her eyes to her donor relations job at MU.

West Winery has made more than 200 donations to charities, Jennifer said. The couple knows how frustrating it can be to donate to a cause and not know how the donation is being used — sometimes not even receiving a thank you or acknowledgement of receipt. When working with people who donate to MU, Jennifer is sure to offer plenty of thank yous. “I get to see how being appreciated does impact the other side,” she said. “It opens your eyes to how your donors’ minds work.”

The Wests don’t have plans to slow down anytime soon. They just broke into the Kansas City market and sell their products to more than 100 retailers across the northern part of the state. Columbia, St. Louis and Springfield are next on their to-do list.

“I won’t say it doesn’t feel like work. I think people are lying when they say that,” Jennifer said. “But it’s really enjoyable. It’s a labor of love.”

— Kelsey Allen