The employees at this Kansas winery make it special. Here’s why.


BIG COUPLE – Wine made in Kansas is already an anomaly. But add to the mix the cultivation of special grapes, blackberries and other fruits and teach horticultural and winemaking techniques to people with intellectual disabilities, so that they can produce a strong and tasty drink that people all over the country appreciate.

In a small vineyard, tucked away just outside of Great Bend, a special crop of workers, with guidance, grow fruit, ferment it, and bottle the liquid.

Rosewood Winery providing skills for workers with special needs

Rosewood Winery employs people with special needs to work on their vineyard at almost every stage of the operation.

In addition to working with grapes, they work with horses, assemble and finish furniture, make soap and lotions, print and package products, help with flowers and vegetables, and do farm chores.

Jim Wonsetler caps a bottle of wine with Amy Wigren, left, at Rosewood Winery just outside Great Bend.

“We want to provide lots of choices,” said Eric Hammond, ranch manager for Rosewood Services. “We find different niches for different people.”

According to Hammond, it is the only winery in the country designed to provide employment opportunities for people with developmental disabilities.

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For more than two decades, Hammond and his wife Tammy Hammond, founder and executive director of Rosewood Services, have worked to find jobs for people with special needs. This non-profit company serves as a beacon for many people in Kansas, hoping to create a beautiful and ethical atmosphere for their employees.

“Each location has a different quality,” said Anna Hammond, daughter of Eric and Tammy Hammond and director of business development for Rosewood Services. “We determine what they (workers) want to work towards. They have to work towards the next step or the next level. “

Daily process in the cellar

Anna and Eric Hammond stand in the gardens outside Rosewood Winery in Barton County.

Every day, the workers are picked up in a van and taken to their place of work, whether it is the vineyard, the cellar, the stable, the furniture workshop or the printing press.

“I’m just a versatile guy,” said Jim Wonsetler, who works across all areas of the business. “I do a bit of everything.”

Because the winery is an educational institution, the wine is made and processed in small batches, so that the workers are able to learn specific skills. It also helps with quality control.

“Everything is run on purpose,” said Eric Hammond.

The location also maintains its own vehicles, lawn mowers and recycling areas. Each staff member can choose the area in which they feel most competent. Once he learns how to repair or operate the equipment, he can find paid employment outside of Rosewood.

“We consider it more inclusive for people with developmental disabilities,” said Eric Hammond. “The hard part isn’t coming up with concepts; it’s making them work and doing them well.”

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To beautify each location, bronzes are purchased and placed throughout the park and special attention is paid to visual aesthetics and cleanliness. The Hammonds like to call the vineyard, greenhouses and stable “the elegance of the ranch”.

“We made sure that (Rosewood Services) was of high quality,” said Eric Hammond. “We want our customers to be represented by quality.”

With residents moving to Great Bend from Hutchinson, Hays and Salina, Eric Hammond said, the job is available to anyone in the state moving.

“Other agencies see they have to raise the bar,” said Michael Dawes, who works in public relations for Rosewood Services. Dawes saw first-hand, along with a close family member, what the organization does to help inspire and empower lifetimes, using dignity as a role model.

The vineyard at Rosewood Winery in Barton County, Kansas.

“There is a whole workforce of opportunities out there,” he said. “They are able to find what matches their passion.”

With over 180 employees, the company is run with supervisors at each site, serving as mentors. One day a week, many workers may receive therapeutic riding services. There is also a well-equipped dining room for lunch.

In addition to the winery and ranch, Rosewood Services operates a wine cellar, furniture store, printing house and bargain bin store in downtown Great Bend. They sell the products that their employees make by hand at each of their sites.

The Rosewood Wine Cellar sells rosewood wines, jellies, soaps, and lotions, all made by people with special needs, on Lakin Street in Great Bend, Kansas.

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Rosewood’s plan is to treat each person with respect and to help them explore many options for living in safe, nurturing and nurturing environments.

“Whenever we can work with the community to improve the lives of people with developmental disabilities, we do it,” said Eric Hammond. “We consider it (being a great place to work) our success for everything we make.”

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