John Brewer was raised on a farm and educated as a physicist. He combined those two influences to establish the largest winery in Kansas. Brewer grew up in Butler County. He received his undergraduate degree from Kansas State before earning a master's and doctorate in physics from the University of Arkansas.
But after 20 years, he left the high-tech world of integrated circuits, solar energy and super conductivity to start Wyldewood Cellars in Mulvane.
The business produces more than 50 varieties of wine and has won more than 450 international awards since it was established in 1995.
Brewer and his wife, Beth, have three grown children, all of them part of the business in one way or another.
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"Of the 35 employees, about 11 are family members," Brewer said.
How did you get into the wine business?
"This started as a way to make the family farm more profitable.... Too big to be ignored and too small to be self-sufficient. It's a problem all farmers have at this time."
Does your training as a physicist come into play in the wine business?
"Absolutely. (Of) the four most important things there are in making good wines, first and foremost is a professional winemaker who understands physics and chemistry of winemaking and the physiology of his customers, how things taste and how to create tasty beverages."
Is the wine business in Kansas different from, say, California?
"That's the mystique."
What is your response to people who say you can't get good wine from Kansas?
"Come try them, because really you'd be surprised at the hundreds of people who say, wow, they can't believe you can get good wine in Kansas."
You produce 51 kinds of wine. What's your favorite?
"Actually it depends on when. But if I'm just going to sit down and drink it, an elderberry-blackberry mix.... It just depends on your mood."
What's your favorite that you don't make?
"Sauvignon Blanc. New Zealand's are absolutely wonderful."
What's your best-selling wine?
"Elderberry semi-sweet, which is a 4 percent sugar just like White Zinfandel.... It's sweet, but it has flavor.... It's middle of the road."
Your wines have won more than 450 international awards. Does one stick out?
"The spiced wine. First time I sent that to a competition was New World International in California. That spiced wine won the nongrape portion of the competition. So I got the grand champion our first time out. That was the beginning of our second year."
You're going to have a new neighbor if/when the Kansas Star Casino opens. What are your thoughts on that?
"We're cautiously optimistic.... I'm on the economic development board for Sumner County.... The equestrian facility is something I recommended four years ago. That's tourism. That's going to bring people in from all over....
"If it were just a hotel and casino, I wouldn't be for that. The Senate bill was for economic development.... This is true economic development.
"We've got more than our share of tourists going through the state of Kansas. The operative word is going through.... We need to have fun things for them to do when they're going across Kansas....
"I think it's going to be a really good addition to the county. I'm just cautiously optimistic that it's going to get built. There are a lot of hurdles they have to get over still."
You recently were named to the National Federation of Independent Business Kansas Leadership Council. What do you hope to accomplish in that role?
"What I really want to do is bring in the agri-tourism point of view. We are an agri-tourism business, and a lot of the businesses they have on there are... traditional types of businesses, and agri-tourism is an up-and-coming area."
What do you do when you're not running the wine business?
"I'm a private pilot and an international wine judge. You can ask if that is a hobby or another part of work. It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it."
What's one thing about you that might surprise people?
"When they see the Ph.D. in front of my name, they're kind of surprised that I'm down to earth and can communicate with anybody. My official dress around here is jeans, pennies and a nice shirt. I wore suits long enough."