by Kathy Lascala
Owned by Brandon and Sarah Vore, Isinglass Estate is a family affair, from the name, to the logo, to the food truck, the wine making and everything in between. To really appreciate the uniqueness of this family, friendly, fun place, you have to go back to the beginning.
Sarah Vore grew up in Connecticut. She spent much of her childhood on her Grandpa’s farm on Isinglass Road in Shelton, CT where she developed a love for horses and jumping competitions. Sarah studied pre-med at Yale, where she met her husband Brandon. Rather than medical school, she followed the man of her dreams to Kansas where they built and ran several businesses. Their entrepreneurial spirit led them to establish six private pre-schools, which in turn allowed Sarah to design and build her own equestrian center. With deeply etched memories of her childhood on her Grandfather’s farm, she looked at using Isinglass as the stable name. As fate would have it, Isinglass is the name of a Triple Crown winner in England, so it was a stable name meant to be.
Brandon and Sarah loved their careers, community and the diversity and accessibility of city living. But they also longed for dark nights, bright star lit skies and a place for their children to run and play. They wanted wide open spaces and a place where Sarah could have her horses with her.
A year and a half ago Sarah came upon an ad for a place that looked like it would fit the bill – 600 acres of vineyards, ponds, pasture and horse barns in LaCygne, KS. It took some coaxing to get Brandon to have a look, but it was love at first site. So, they sold their businesses and set out on an unexpected journey.
The original thought was that this home would allow Sarah to have her horses on the same property where they lived, provide Brandon the opportunity to tinker with the vineyard, give the kids a place to roam and to work toward retirement.
The estate includes about 20 acres of grapes, some of which are 15 years old. Neither Brandon nor Sarah had any experience growing grapes or making wine, but Brandon’s love of wine and entrepreneurial spirit, along with the help of a dedicated estate manager, paved the path to where they are today. Brandon credits Alejandro, who has managed the property for over 10 years, with teaching him the ropes when it came to growing grapes and running a vineyard. Along with Alejandro, Manuel and Marcos are tremendous assets and key contributors to the vineyard success. They’re responsible for pruning, mowing and trimming in the vineyard, as well as transplanting, pest control and spraying for mildew. At harvest, they help run the picker, crusher and press, as well as pumping over all of the wine.
Since Sarah has a deep knowledge of chemistry and math, she became the vintner and manager of the winery. The business needed a name, a logo and a differentiating trademark. Since Isinglass already made a significant mark on her life, she looked at using it again. When she googled Isinglass and wine she discovered that liquid Isinglass is used to finish wine. The name was perfect; it brought in a piece of Grandpa’s farm, intertwined the previous equestrian center and wove in the wine.
In searching for a logo and label design, Sarah did a lot of research on product presentation. Many questions came to mind, like “what makes a bottle of wine sell?” Her creative mind and buying studies told her that when people choose a bottle of wine, they look for a bottle of art that happens to come with free wine.
Sarah and Brandon’s second oldest daughter Claudia is an accomplished artist and her beautiful paintings adorn her bedroom and other rooms in the house. Walking in her bedroom a painting stood out to Sarah. It was a dandelion. A dandelion is much more than a weed — one person’s weed is another person’s wish to come true. Isinglass Estate was a dream come true, so it was a perfect fit for the logo and brand.
With no winemaking experience, Sarah set out to find winemakers in Kansas, but it’s an unavailable resource. It wasn’t realistic to import a winemaker and she couldn’t interview for one because she had no knowledge of the winemaking process. Her specialty was always programs and people. She had never run a company without knowing how to do every aspect of the business, so this meant sailing unchartered waters. She literally just started Googling. It was a constant sorting through fact vs. fiction, theory, practice and opinion.
Sarah spent numerous hours learning the vocabulary to better understand what product is used for what step of the winemaking process. Every step of the process included several checks and balances. Sarah was determined to excel at winemaking as she had with previous projects. She learned by making mistakes and correcting them. The greatest challenge was time. Would she be ready when the grapes were?
Sarah continues to fine tune her winemaking skills by reading specific industry publications to make the product and process better. With the constant need to balance time, Sarah also tries to attend conferences on winemaking and viticulture.
Another part of her learning process fell to digging through boxes of supplies left by the previous owner. She looked at product labels and Googled names and ingredients. She searched for supplier names and the most efficient way to purchase products. She wanted to figure out where things came from and if there was a better way or place to acquire them. Through this process she was able to identify key suppliers by their commitment to R&D and transparency. This, and price, were the deciding factors in product purchasing, all of which is done online.
There are about 10 varieties of grapes on Isinglass Estate. Half are Minnesota hybrids and half are vinifera. The greatest challenge when growing grapes in Kansas is trying to figure out Minnesota hybrids in Kansas versus the hardiness of native grapes. The ones that do the best in their environment don’t always taste the best. Winter hardy grapes that produce nice wines go through an adjustment because it’s hotter and drier. This leads to pruning modifications to allow for enhanced growth and production.
In asking Sarah to define her greatest success throughout this process, she humbly said that, at the speed this all occurred she hasn’t completely and utterly failed. Mistakes aren’t failure. She feels successful every time a customer comes in and says “Wow, this wine is good.”
“I’ve created something that someone else values,” said Sarah. On the flip side, the worst failure was using the refractometer versus the hydrometer in the production process and ruining an entire batch. She now keeps a bottle on her desk as a reminder. However, Sarah firmly believes that mistakes are a sign of growth and progress.
Through dedication and perseverance, Isinglass now offers 14 different wines, distributed through three local liquor stores, a handful of restaurants and at the winery.
Brandon and Sarah have owned a variety of businesses for 20 years. They’ve always been heavily involved in the community, participate in philanthropic events and have an encyclopedia of contacts. Their reputation for honesty and integrity precedes them, so they’ve never had to advertise.
Brandon and Sarah have five children and each has a role in the business. The eldest daughter Elizabeth is a student at Yale and runs the food truck operation during the summers. Claudia is the label artist, singer and cash register operator. Mitchell is the tour guide extraordinaire. Guests look forward to his tours and rave about the experience. Audrey is the food runner and part time trail ride wrangler. Francesca, the youngest, helps with the kid games and is the all-around entertainer. The whole family is engaged and pays attention to every detail because if the details are good, the big picture takes care of itself.
Designed for the entire family, Isinglass Estate offers valet parking, 300 acres of trails for horseback riding and hiking, a cottage available for renting and so much more. Inside the winery you’ll find a bright, colorful tasting room adorned with family pictures, paintings by Claudia and cozy seating. There’s something for everyone. While parents are tasting wine, the kids can play outside with the gigantic chess set or draw chalk pictures on a specially designed table. You can even tour Isinglass Estate by Kubota RTV or horseback any time the tasting room is open.
Brandon and Sarah set out on a journey to create a family, friendly, fun masterpiece in Isinglass Estate and they did just that.