Couple Sees Sweat, Investment in Winery Taken by Floodwaters
Ryan McGeeney

Couple Sees Sweat, Investment in Winery Taken by Floodwaters

Beat & Deadline

BEAVER — For a small-business owner dependent on the land, there’s never really a good time for a flood.

But as Vicki Kell-Schneider, co-founder of Railway Winery in Carroll County, will tell you, there are definitely times that are more inopportune than others.

“I hate the timing the worst,” Kell-Schneider said Saturday morning as she walked around the collection of winemaking equipment and patio furniture salvaged from nearby Butler Creek after flooding earlier this month swept nearly every man-made object from the winery into the creek.

“We had literally just finished — almost everything was in the bottle. We had literally a year’s worth of inventory in there to sell, plus all our equipment, that’s gone now,” Kell-Schneider said. 

On Aug. 7, overnight rains caused the creek to overflow, covering the winery’s 15.5-acre vineyard in 12 feet of water. Heavy rains in previous weeks had already saturated the ground, preparing the way for floodwaters to uproot trees and plants, even carrying the winery’s entire 400-square-foot production facility — along with about 400 cases of wine — across the fields and into the creek, an eighth-of-a-mile journey. 

Greg Schneider, Kell-Schneider’s husband and winery co-founder, said the two bought the property in 2008 and began planting the vineyard in 2009. For the past five years, the two have lived off Kell-Schneider’s paycheck from her work as an administrative assistant in judicial and accounting offices, while Schneider’s pay from home-construction contractor jobs went directly into the winery. Schneider said the couple had invested about $200,000 in the business. 

On Labor Day 2012, Railway Winery opened to the public. The couple had developed 10 different blends of wine from 15 varieties of grapes, as well as peaches, blackberries, cherries and plums grown on 6 acres of the vineyard, and they were beginning to expand. 

“We knew the area flooded occasionally,” Schneider said. “But it went almost 8 feet higher than anyone had ever seen it.” 

On the morning of Aug. 8, Schneider found the roads between the couple’s home in Holiday Island and the winery unnavigable, so he asked Beaver neighbor Roger Walden to have a look at their vineyard. 

“He called me and asked me if I was sitting down,” Schneider said. “He said, ‘There’s nothing left. Absolutely nothing left.’” 

Carroll County was one of a cluster of Arkansas counties to suffer heavy damage in the deluge. According to data from the National Weather Service, Carroll County, the half-dozen Arkansas counties surrounding it and much of south-central Missouri received six times the area’s average rainfall from July 14 to Monday. 

The couple said they couldn’t afford flood insurance on the business because of the winery’s location in a flood plain and in an unincorporated area of Carroll County. Although county-subsidized flood insurance was on the 2008 ballot in Carroll County, voters defeated the issue, Carroll County Judge Sam Barr said. 

“A lot of individuals were worried about extra mandates the government might put on them to do this,” Barr said. He estimated that the floods had caused about $500,000 in damage throughout the county. 

On Friday, Gov. Mike Beebe declared six flooded counties, including Carroll County, disaster areas. 

Kell-Schneider said she hopes the declaration will help them qualify for an emergency loan through the Small Business Administration. 

Schneider plans to salvage any viable grapevines and then rebuild the trestles and find a new location for the production facility. Meanwhile, Schneider and Kell-Schneider are receiving support from the close-knit community of winemakers in Northwest Arkansas. 

Doug Hausler, owner of Keels Creek Winery in Eureka Springs, has offered Schneider both manufacturing and retail space for Railway wines in his own winery. 

“The why is real easy,” Hausler said. “Greg’s been a friend for quite some time. We’d like to see many wineries throughout Northwest Arkansas, and we jumped at the chance to help them out.” 

Hausler said grapes in Northwest Arkansas are typically harvested from early August to late September. If Schneider isn’t able to harvest grapes from the Railway vineyard this year, there are three other vineyard operations, including Keels Creek, from which he could purchase grapes to make Railway wines.

“If he doesn’t get into that [August-September] window, he wouldn’t be able to use local grapes until next year,” Hausler said. “For a small business, that would be a disaster.”

Earlier this month, the Arkansas Grape Growers Association established a recovery fund for Railway Winery at Cornerstone Bank in Eureka Springs. Hausler is the treasurer for the group, which has contributed to the fund.

“We’re going to try and get some wine going and raise some money,” Schneider said. “We put our entire retirement into the winery, so we want to get it back on its feet as fast as possible so we’ll have a retirement. It’s just going to take some time.”

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Originally published Aug. 18, 2013 in the Northwest Edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Last modified onTuesday, 12 January 2016 00:19
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