Born in 2015 Top Hat Winery was the brain child of Troy and Missy Lentz.
Bring the country winery to the city.
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A few years ago, Missy Turley did not care at all for wine and wondered why people would drink it.
Now, she’s advising customers as they taste different types of the drink, as she and her fiancé, Troy Lentz, have opened Top Hat Winery at 120 Main St. on the Independence Square.
“One night some friends came over and brought wine,” Turley said, recalling when they prevailed upon her to try a sip and changed her mind. “I tried some and it was, ‘Oh, I like that!’”
It was a matter of finding the right type of wine – something she and Lentz hope many visitors will do once they enter the establishment, which occupies of the space of the former Elena’s Catering and Carryout. The business officially opened Friday.
While a rural winery often is a point of destination, they hope to draw plenty of curious pedestrians and drivers passing by on the Square. Being in a downtown building area, Top Hat obviously can’t have an on-site vineyard like most wineries. Instead, Turley and Lentz purchase the grapes and berries from vineyards all over Missouri (and beyond, in some cases) then process them into juice and ferment the wine in-house.
“By us going to get them, we get to pick the best,” said Lentz, who also works with an insurance business and has had a variety of business ventures. “We try to take the premier stuff.”
Hence, the name.
“Personally, I’ve always been a hat person, and that’s the ultimate hat a man can wear,” Lentz said. “We threw around some names, but that’s what we voted.”
As a domestic winery, 85 percent of the wine Top Hat manufactures has to grown in Missouri, but for their Concord grapes, Lentz has been willing to travel to a premier region in western New York.
Top Hat can’t hold the giant stainless steel tanks visitors might find at rural wineries, but with the 15 to 20-gallon tanks on hand, Turley and Lentz and can manufacture a broader spectrum of wines. From the time grapes are picked and de-stemmed, it takes about six months to produce the wine through the fermentation, racking and slight aging process, Lentz said.
“Grape season for picking is mid-August to the latter part of October,” he said. “Every weekend we either harvested grapes or berries. We want to focus on perfection.
“I truly enjoy going and picking the grapes,” he said, adding that his ultimate dream is for the business to grow like St. James Winery east of Rolla, which sells thousands of cases annually to surrounding states.
Right now, they have 12 different wines available for tasting and purchase, Turley said, but the goal is to eventually have four times that amount.
“A couple of them are almost ready,” she said.
Turley and Lentz had been working at another winery and had a deal in place to buy the business, they say, before the owner the changed his mind. Instead, he encouraged them open their own place.
“Missy said, ‘You know, we could probably do it,’” Lentz said.
They received their liquor license in September, but the two had been working on the inside of the building since January and even started with the paperwork a few months before that. Many materials, such as the bottles and labels, have been purchased locally.
“I’ve been around wine almost my whole life,” Lentz said. “I know the business; my mother’s owned a business in Lee’s Summit for 30 years (Designs by Renee, a florist), but I’d never done a brick-and-mortar. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done – so much paperwork.”
But also the most rewarding thing, they agree. Lentz knows the nature of the wine business, Turley’s a savvy enough penny-pincher to outfit the building in a tasteful and budget-friendly manner, and their children from previous relationships (the youngest of which is 13) have been on board with the venture.
“My favorite part is getting to do this with somebody I love,” Turley said. “I wasn’t sure about running a business, but he’s walked me through this.”