Like a fine wine, the evolution of Simmons Winery has been in small steps over time that resulted in an unexpected blend of ideas and ingenuity.
The winery, an attraction along County Road 450N between Columbus and Hope for nearly two decades, was honored Aug. 16 by the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce Venture Awards as Entrepreneur of the Year.
But the award may well have been more appropriately named ongoing Entrepreneur of the Year, as what started as the Simmons Winery has diversified over the years with the addition of the 450 North Brewing Co., banquet center and pizza restaurant, all the while under the guidance of the tightly knit Simmons family.
David and Brenda Simmons and their children — twins Daron and Aaron, 27, and daughter Lauren, 25 — have grown their business by carefully considering when and how to expand, and listening to the younger family members for advice on trends and ideas.
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While the parents are hands-on in every part of the diversified business, Daron Simmons is the operations wine and cider manager, while twin brother Aaron Simmons leads all the beer production — working full time with their parents.
Lauren, who is with the winery part-time, works on the design of the physical restaurant, the design of the wine labels and the restaurant menu and is the company’s social media specialist. When she’s not working at the winery, she’s a full-time registered dietitian with Core Dynamics in Noblesville.
The children were much smaller, and things were much different for the Simmonses back in 1998, when David Simmons was farming about 1,000 acres in corn and soybeans with his family at their farm at County Roads 425E and 450N.
He whimsically thought about the possibility of a vineyard on about four acres of the farmland at the northwest corner of the farm, which is now 165 years old.
With a degree in agriculture from Purdue University and a minor in chemistry, he was thinking about dabbling in growing some grapes that could be supplied to other Indiana wineries to be used in their wines.
But after consulting with a friend at Purdue, he decided to try creating his own wine from his own grapes and sent samples to Purdue for analysis. He chose grapes that were conducive to growing in Indiana’s climate and could weather an Indiana winter.
After Purdue tasters were complimentary of his efforts, and encouraged him to open a winery, David and Brenda decided to try it, and planted another 4 1/2 acres and began mixing their own combinations of the grapes on the farm and juice from other grapes that are out-sourced. They started out with eight varieties in 2000 and now have reached 25 different wine blends, including some specialty wines such as ice wine and spice wine.
The winery now sells varieties including dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet, sweet, port and seasonal wines by the glass and bottle, and has a to-go service and a wine-tasting bar as part of its offerings.
A banquet hall, and a restaurant
With the winery came opportunities to host parties and receptions, and the couple in 2006 added its banquet hall, which can seat up to 200 people for events. As the couple saw caterers coming in to provide food for those events, the idea to add a restaurant to the winery took hold and the brick-oven pizza restaurant was added in 2012, followed quickly by the idea to begin brewing beer to catch the craft beer trend.
That’s been followed by the latest expansion into specialty hard ciders, with the Simmons family working with fresh pressed cider from Indiana apples, adding enough tanks and equipment to make 225 barrels of cider at a time.
The winery has developed several different varieties — Dry Hopped, Legendberry (a cider with blackberry, raspberry and blueberry) and Original Blend, selling it on draft and in cans in Ohio, Tennessee and Chicago, and in the local restaurant.
That’s in addition to the 450 North Brewing Co. craft beer varieties, featuring a wide variety of choices from Farmer’s Daughter Farmhouse Ale to Petrov the Hitchhiker Russian Imperial Stout.
Unlike family owned businesses that struggle with too many cooks in the kitchen, the Simmons family has found a way to make their family ties stronger with each expansion and upgrade to their business.
Lauren Simmons said she grew up helping out at the winery since she was old enough to contribute, from helping at farmers markets to bottling products.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 5,” she said, looking over at her twin brothers who were canning cider nearby. “After school, I would come home, help bottle some wine and then go to basketball practice.”
Daron Simmons said it’s a lot easier working with his family and he enjoys it every day, particularly the chance to create new blends for beers and ciders.
“It’s all about the experimentation,” he said of his work in the business. “I’m in it for the long haul.”
His twin bother Aaron is more focused on the beer side, saying he started young by helping his father and reading a lot of books about brewing beer.
“It was a me-and-Dad thing,” he said of their 5-gallon setup in the basement starting out.
There isn’t really much sibling rivalry, which works for the family connection, all three said. Aaron Simmons joked it helps that he and his twin brother like beer.
A restaurant revamp
The family just completed a revamp of the restaurant area, moving some of the features around in the same space to create a waiting area for tables and expanded space for wine tasting.
In a four-day renovation blitz, they completed the new look with salvaged barn siding to keep an authentic rustic vibe. New wine shelves show the winery’s offerings and the beer and cider are also featured.
Now, the Simmonses turn to a new endeavor with the extended family, creating the Riverfront Taproom in Shelbyville, a brewpub that is under construction and scheduled to open this fall. Aaron Simmons is getting ready to begin brewing beer for the new Shelbyville facility, working with two of his uncles who are part of the project.
Next up, 450 North Brewing Co. and Indiana on Tap will sponsor the first Corn Maze Beer Fest from 1 to 5 p.m. Oct. 1, which will feature unlimited beer sampling from about 25 Indiana craft breweries scattered throughout a professionally designed, five-acre corn maze around the brewery. Food, live music and games are also part of the event, with a portion of the proceeds donated to an as-yet-unnamed local charity.
After completing all that, Brenda Simmons said she and the family will pause and take a deep breath before embarking on further expansions.
The Venture Awards honor was unexpected, Brenda Simmons said, something the family is deeply grateful for as it looks back on all that has changed since the grapes idea began years ago.
“My heart was pounding so hard,” she said of the moment the award was announced. “Just to be nominated by chamber members meant a lot to us.”
What: 450 North Brewing Co. and Indiana on Tap LLC Inaugural Corn Maze Beer Fest
When: 1 to 5 p.m. Oct. 1, gates open for VIP entry from 1 to 2 p.m., with general admission at 2 p.m.
Where: 450 North Brewing Co., at County Roads 450N and 425E between Columbus and Hope
How much: $55 for advance and online VIP tickets, VIP tickets include access to shorter lines and limited-edition beers during the first hour not available during general admission; general admission tickets are $35. If VIP or general admission tickets are available the day of the event, they will be available for $60 for VIP and $40 general admission — however, this event is expected to sell out in advance. Designated-driver tickets are $10.
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To learn more about 450 North Brewing Co. visit 450northbrewing.com/ or call 812-546-0091.