Returning home to the family farm is a common Nebraska story. But returning home to start a farm from scratch, with a crop that covers four and a half acres, is an unusual tale.
“We had approached our dad with nearly 100 business ideas,” Ben laughed.
It wasn’t until they proposed starting a vineyard that he responded positively and wanted to hear more.
Ben and John Siebert were raised on an acreage in the Bohemian Alps between Lincoln and Seward. It was a perfect place to grow up, and the brothers took every opportunity to roam the rolling hills.
While they were provided many freedoms as kids, Ben, John and their brother Jason were instilled with the value for discipline, hard work and engagement in the world around them.
Their parents led by example – their dad waking up early every morning to head into the office, while their mom was busy volunteering, working various jobs and caring for foster kids who lived with them.
When summer arrived and sports were on pause, the boys took on the many available jobs associated with farms: detasseling, roguing, working cattle, even catching and blindfolding a neighbor’s pheasants.
As John and Ben found themselves graduating and entering college, they continued to follow similar paths. Both went to UNL, graduated with business degrees, and landed jobs at Sandhills Publishing.
At Sandhills, the brothers’ work-ethic and desire to learn paid off. John was assigned to ad sales in an aviation magazine while Ben worked with a construction equipment publication.
It was a job you jumped into head-first, traveling, meeting with top-level executives and learning from your mistakes. They developed patience, business acumen and a value for listening to people’s stories.
It wasn’t surprising then, when they came upon a story that became the starting point to their business of making wine.
“We were at a washer tournament (which is a competition comparable to the game of horseshoes) near Sprague, Nebraska when we noticed this guy carrying a pony keg under his arm. He was going around, filling people’s glasses, but it looked more like wine than beer.”
A washer tournament is an unusual place to find business inspiration, but Ben and John did just that.
They came to find out that Chad, the tournament organizer and keg-holder, was indeed pouring wine, and it was good. A certified winemaker who had studied the craft in Europe, California and Washington, he had returned to the midwest and had been experimenting with Nebraska grapes for ten years.
Friends and family had occasionally suggested that the Sieberts attempt to grow grapes on their land. Meeting someone with the unusual expertise in winemaking and familiarity with Nebraska grapes and growing seasons made this seem like a real possibility. The pieces began to fall into place.
Soil samples and a successful test crop led to laying out the first acre of grapes in 2011. In 2013, they planted 3.5 additional acres.
“It took three years before we were able to produce wine. We use 100% Nebraska grapes – a combination of our own and varieties from other vineyards in the state.”
As Ben and John talk, it is evident they have thrown themselves into the labor and learning curve of owning a vineyard.
They discuss their method of production, which mirrors French winemaking. No sugar or preservatives are added in order to allow the flavor of the grapes to shine through.
They speak of the seasonal difficulties they have already encountered, acknowledging one of the most mild and optimal growing seasons and one of the most unpredictable, challenging years in Nebraska’s history.
“In sales, there is a predictability with four or five routines to each week. When you are growing grapes and making wine, your routines are responsive to the weather and your produce.”
They are beginning to enjoy the “fruits of their labor” quite literally.
“Opening a bottle of wine, you remember the year of that harvest and everything that was going on. Every bottle, every vintage, a memory.”
The brothers’ goals have been straightforward from the beginning: Make the highest quality wine and make the business successful.
In order to do so, they have maintained a philosophy of partnering with good people and facilitating a place where ideas and mistakes are part of the process.
Which is reflected in their name: Junto Wine.
“We had originally had a name that played off our location. One night, John called me and said he had a better idea,” said Ben.
John had been watching a documentary when he learned about a club Ben Franklin had begun to promote conversation about philosophy, community involvement and politics.
The name and intention struck a chord with Ben and John. The name reflected their own beginnings and pointed to their love of history.
Junto Wine is now in full swing, with a tasting room and an event space built right next to the vineyard. Friday nights are busy with local music and guests gathering after the week of work.
Ben and John speak of agritourism and the good relationships between Nebraska vineyards, but eventually come back to the simple pleasure of working so close to the land.
“There is a divinity in the process of making wine. It points to a higher quality of life. There is a delicacy in everything you do and in everything that is involved. Makes it easy to be proud of it.”
Ben and John are living out a new Nebraska story with Junto Wine. But it’s the weaving of history and tradition with the new industry of Nebraska grape-growing and winemaking that makes this place particularly special.