The juices of Utah's new urban winery
South Salt Lake • Michael Knight tried for several years to open a winery in California, but after enduring bureaucratic red tape and restrictions, he decided to take his wine business someplace more accommodating Utah.
He opened Kiler Grove Winegrowers, a small boutique winery, about three weeks ago in a remodeled warehouse in South Salt Lake. While it's not the state's first winery there are two in Moab it's the only one in urban Salt Lake County. A tasting room allows wine lovers 21 and older a chance to try free samples of the Kiler Grove wines before purchasing. Currently Kiler Grove offers three red wines and a white.
Knight is still in the process of moving oak barrels and other equipment to Utah for the operation, which produces only about 1,500 cases of wine each year. The wines he currently sells are from the 2007 and 2008 grape harvest and have been aging in oak barrels in California while he worked to get his Utah operation up and running. The wine was then shipped and bottled in Utah, Knight said. In the future, just-picked grapes from his vineyard or freshly crushed juice will be shipped directly to the South Salt Lake winery for crushing, aging and bottling.
The winery received two licenses from the state Division of Alcohol Beverage Control, said John Freeman, the agency's deputy director. The first is a winery license that allows Knight to produce the wine and operate a tasting room. The second is a packaging license that allows him to sell his wine on site.
"There must be a clear delineation between the two rooms," Freeman said, "because under state law there can be no consumption of alcohol in a liquor store."
Kiler Grove is one of a growing number of Utah businesses that specialize in small-batch boutique spirits. Others include High West Distillery in Park City, which produces whiskey and vodka, and Epic Brewing in Salt Lake City, which makes high-alcohol beer. Neither of those business are allowed to have public tasting rooms, however, because the state distillery laws don't allow it, Freeman said.
Knight, who co-owns the winery with his wife, Elva, and his brother-in-law, David Olsen, grew up in the Sonoma and Napa Valley wine-growing region. As a young man, he worked as a "cellar rat," helping to harvest and operate equipment to earn money.
He went to college, earned a bachelor's degree and moved away from California. The Knights lived in various states before settling in Holladay about 26 years ago. He worked as a fleet manager for a local company, but in his spare time dabbled in winemaking. He even helped the owners of La Caille restaurant in Sandy turn their grapes into some notable wines.
But Knight yearned for a larger-scale operation. About 10 years ago, he purchased a 100-year-old almond grove in Kiler Grove Canyon, on the west side of the Paso Robles Appellation in California. While the soil is rocky and seems infertile, Knight said grapes thrive in the climate that boasts warm days and cool nights with misty ocean breezes.
For the next decade, he shuttled back and forth between California and Utah as he planted the vineyard and tried to get the permits to open a winery. The process was tedious and expensive and ultimately went nowhere. The final straw: San Luis Obispo County didn't allow wineries to have tasting rooms.
"At that point we thought maybe we'd just have to be grape farmers," Knight said.
Then a Utah friend suggested he open his winery closer to his Salt Lake County home. He purchased the property at 53 W. Truman Ave. (2330 South) in June 2010.
While the licensing process in Utah wasn't easy, it went significantly smoother and quicker than in California.
"Winemaking is something that has always been in my background and is a significant part of me and something I've always wanted to do," Knight said.
Kiler Grove Wines
There are currently four wines available for purchase at Kiler Grove Winemakers
Where • 53 W. Truman Ave. (2330 South), South Salt Lake; 801-746-0977 or visit http://www.kgwwine.com.
Hours • Thursday-Saturday, noon to 7 p.m.
2008 Trebbiano • A little-known Italian varietal that's bold and crisp, with fresh kiwi, grapefruit and melon flavors, $14.50.
2007 Interpretation • This blend of Grenache, Mourvedre and Petite Sirah pays homage to the wine of the southern Rhone regions of France, $20.
2007 Zinergy • This food-friendly red is a blend of Zinfandel, Grenache and Petite Sirah, $18.
2007 Petite Sirah • A dense, dark, rich wine packed with dark fruit flavors, $22.