When it comes to Wyoming agriculture, grapes aren’t usually the first crop that comes to mind.
So, when Patrick Zimmerer suggested growing a few hundred vines of wine grapes on a little-used area of the family farm near Huntley, no one expected much to come from it. The farm had operated on more traditional agriculture – alfalfa, corn, a few cattle – for four generations.
Zimmerer started growing the grapes for his senior thesis in agricultural economics at the University of Wyoming in 2001.
“As volatile as agriculture is, we always have to find a way to add value and keep things going, both in ways we know work and by continually diversifying to ensure we always have a backup plan,” he said.
It turns out, the grapes became more than a backup plan.
“Little did we know that grapes would work here, and that they would work really well here,” Zimmerer said.
They originally planned to simply sell the grapes, if they did well. But what would have been a competing winery closed that year, opening a market and business opportunity for them. Even so, no one in the family knew how to make wine.
“It was a lot of learning on the fly. Some people grow up with wine backgrounds,” Zimmerer said. “We did not.”
Through hobby kits and the “tough job” of wine tasting, Zimmerer joked, they started to discover what they liked and what others liked.
In 2004, after a few years of learning, experimenting and writing a business plan, he and his sister, Amie, entered and won the University of Wyoming’s College of Business 10K Business Plan Competition. They won $10,000 to move forward with Table Mountain Winery in August of that year, and the business has grown ever since.
Today, in addition to many of the crops they’ve farmed for generations, the family grows about 10,000 vines of grapes. They are handpicked at the perfect moment; or as close to perfect as the Wyoming weather will allow, Zimmerer said. Then they're either crushed (for red wine) or juiced (for white wine) then fermented and aged for a year or two before being bottled, labeled and sold.
“Wine is the ultimate value-added agricultural product,” Patrick said. “We're happy we can produce a berry-to-bottle product in Wyoming that exemplifies diversified agriculture.”
Speaking of diversification, the Zimmerers haven’t stopped at grapes and wine. In addition to operating a tasting room and gift shop, they’ve added a sip-and-paint studio, bringing wine and
art together in their beautiful, off-the-beaten path location. They also plan and host events like meetings and weddings. And they’ve added a campsite on the grounds.
Between farming, manufacturing and marketing, it sometimes feels like he's working three or four full-time jobs on a “funny farm,” Zimmerer said with a laugh.
"We're very grateful for the support of our local neighbors,” Zimmerer said. “It’s a great feeling when people realize how hard you work to grow the crops and run the business, and when they support that hard work by buying the product.”
The winery produces the equivalent of 25,000 to 30,000 bottles of wine per year. They can be purchased at 40-50 retail locations across the state, and the winery also co-operates two wine-and-paint locations: Artisan Alley in Casper and Paint Post in Sheridan. Bottles can also be ordered and shipped nationwide from their website, wyowine.com, or by calling 307-459-0233.
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