Stories from middle America

As Jessica mentioned last week, a few of us from the COOP crew are headed to rural Nebraska for an overnight’s stay. The reason, you ask?


A girls-only glamping, to be specific. We have read about the trend of “glamorous camping” for quite some time and were curious about options near our homes in Omaha.

Ginger, Jessica, and I enjoy the outdoors year-round. But rouging it? Not quite. Which is why glamping seemed like the ideal outing before the onset of the hectic holiday season.

After a few searches online, we landed on Slattery Vintage Estates for our upcoming stay. Pour yourself a glass of wine (any kind will do) and learn more about this Nehawka, Nebraska gem from founder Barb Slattery.

COOP: Let’s start with your background. How did you come to the business of winery and outdoor lodging in Nebraska?

Barb Slattery: Slattery Vintage Estates Vineyard and Tasting Room (SVE) is a sprawling, 164-acre beauty spot in the middle of southern Cass County, Nebraska, in the scenic Weeping Water Valley. The Weeping Water Creek cuts a hilly, wooded swath as it makes its way to the Missouri River east of our place. My husband Mike and I bought the land for hunting and as an investment in the middle 1990s, and decided to plant grapes for fun in 2001. In learning how to grow grapes and make wine through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln viticulture program and the Nebraska Wine and Grape Growers conference every year, we met all the newbies in the business as well as those who had been doing it since the late 1980s. Growing grapes in Nebraska was fairly uncharted territory at that time.

After planting about 1,000 grapevines over the next three years, it became evident that we wanted to build a house and move to the beautiful valley. (We had been living in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, in the same house for the past 20 years.) The kids were grown and gone, and we were free to pursue another venture.

Mike is a successful lawyer and the Cass County public defender with an office in Plattsmouth. I was working as a grant writer, instructor, and adviser at Creighton University in Omaha. Moving to the country meant a lifestyle change. Grocery stores weren’t located at the end of the block, so excursions to Lincoln and Omaha became consolidated trips to save on gas. But the perks outweighed the downside: waking up every morning to the sights and sounds of nature, fresh air, and quiet. (Almost too quiet.) Soon, we decided to share what we found, opened our wine tasting room, and hosted music events (eight the first summer). Having written a grant to the State Department of Tourism, we were better able to finance our marketing plan for the second summer’s concert series. The concerts blossomed from eight the first year, to 21 this past summer.

Second on our to-do list was to build an outdoor kitchen and wood fired pizza oven. The concerts were about to get better with offerings of special pizzas every weekend, depending on the seasonal garden fresh ingredients. Our daughter Sarah helped; she’s a chef who trained at Metropolitan College’s culinary institute.

As the concerts became more popular, people began asking for lodging.

Our third adventure came with the addition of our bungalows, which we found out later are called glamour camping (or “glamping”). They are 12×14 tents on decks, with electricity and all the amenities: antique furniture, coffee pots, electric blankets, and fans. Breakfast is served in each morning in our tasting room.

The fourth addition to our property came as a banquet hall to host larger events: weddings, corporate outings, dinners, and reunions. Our weddings have increased to 21 this past summer, and the quality of the experience is guaranteed with a weatherproof indoor area and an outdoor veranda. The banquet hall was finished just eight weeks ago, and already has seen five weddings and four other events.

COOP: What have visitors said about SVE since you opened your doors?

Barb: The response of our visitors has been very positive. Some comment that it reminds them of Europe, (French County is our style) and it’s been pretty common for folks to bring back other friends and relatives for many more visits. We have started a Vintage Club wine club that rewards return visitors with discounts and special treatment.

COOP: What services/attractions/outings do you offer?

Barb: Services include restaurant-style food: from pizzas and sandwiches in the summer to our signature French Onion soups, baked brie, and other gourmet snacks in the winter months. Five-course wine dinners are commonly held in the slower months (fall through spring). Other amenities include a fireplace, duck pond, waterfall, elegant landscaping and friendly servers. We frequently host bus tours, special private dinners, Christmas parties, bridal showers, bachelorette parties, and more.

COOP: Why are Americans so enamored with the wine culture?

Barb: The wine culture is an age-old thing, dating back to the Bible. Wine has been a staple of existence for many generations, making its presence known at the dinner table to the cocktail party, from celebrations to cooking. Wine drinkers, in my opinion, are not the same as those who prefer beer or other spirits. They have an appreciation for the beverage — sip, not chug — and don’t drink to feel the effects of the alcohol, but to savor and hold on to the experience.

Nebraska had the most grapes in production at the turn of the century, until prohibition and 24-D cut it to almost nothing. It is coming back with a vengeance, and it is owed in part to the U.S. becoming more educated on the nuances of wine, how it’s made, and the different grapes and processes it takes to make it. Wine is very dependent on the terroir (or soil), climate, rainfall, and other factors that impact each vintage.

Even though you think you know what wine you may like, it changes every year. Since there is only one harvest, it runs out, and it will never be the exact same again. Therefore, people are drawn to taste wine since it may taste different the next year. They are more likely to buy a wine they like, since it may be gone soon. It’s a challenge to even the most avid wine drinker to get to know the current wines, since it is always changing. That is why tasting wine is of value.

COOP: What types of wine do you offer? Anything else that’s special on your menu?

Barb: SVE has a Class C liquor license from the State of Nebraska, so we are able to serve any kind of wine, beer, or other alcohol. We don’t choose to be a “bar,” but rather a wine tasting room that specializes in Nebraska-made wines and beers. We have about 60 wines on our menu, but the majority are from Nebraska. We offer a small selection of non-Nebraska wines and a few beers. We offer wines from as far away as Lewellen (near Ogallala) to Brownville to Hartington. About 14 Nebraska wineries are featured.

We also feature beers from La Vista, Cortland, Lincoln, Kearney, and Pawnee City (all in Nebraska). Besides the wood-fired pizza and French Onion soup, we offer seasonal garden fresh specials throughout the year.

COOP: Why has the trend of “glamorous camping” become so popular?

Barb: Glamping is popular mostly because you don’t have to pack a thing. A person just has to bring a toothbrush and a change of clothes. Everything else is available, including food and beverages. Food is allowed at SVE, so some folks bring in a smorgasboard of food, as well.

The appeal, I think, is that it’s fun to watch a concert and spend the night without driving. And during the week, it’s quiet and peaceful, back to nature away from the city. Couples celebrating anywhere from one day married to 40 years come for their anniversary.  It’s good to have uninterrupted bonding time.  We’ve had six marriage proposals, and countless anniversary celebrations.

Photos courtesy of Slattery Vintage Estates via Facebook.

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