Couples looking for a romantic overnight getaway that includes wine tasting have a new option: bed-and-breakfast bungalow tents at Slattery Vintage Estates (SVE), about 30 miles east of Lincoln.
SVE is nestled in rolling hills north of U.S. Highway 34, about 2.5 miles west of Nehawka and 5 miles east of Weeping Water.
"People were telling us that because they had to drive so far out here, they wished they had a place to stay overnight," says Barb Slattery, co-owner. "We opened up to RVs and tents, but our customers wanted something more. Then last year my husband, Mike, showed me a picture of overnight tents at a winery in an outdoor magazine. I looked at those and said, "We could do that."
So the Slatterys ordered custom-built, 12- by 14-foot tents and pitched them on 12- by 20-foot decks built by a local carpenter. The additional 6 feet of decking provides a front porch overlooking the vineyards.
Barb furnished each tent with a full- or queen-size bed, antique dresser with mirror, lamp, rug, extra bedding, small table with chairs, and two porch chairs. Other amenities include a fan, heater, coffee maker, cups, plates, plastic ware, drinking water, deck of cards, clock radio with iPod hookup and towels.
She acquired the antiques from local dealers and auctions around the Midwest. Then she furnished each tent with a decorating theme: Swallow's Nest, Bluebird House, Duck Landing and Whippoorwill.
The Slatterys built two of the tents last summer and invited friends to stay overnight as a pilot study. The friends gave the thumbs-up, so the Slatterys built two more tents last spring and opened SVE's "Bed & Breakfast Bungalows" to the public in May.
Initially, bungalow guests used the bathroom in the wine-tasting room, located in the basement of the Slatterys' sprawling two-story home, which they had constructed in 2005. In mid-May, eco-friendly bathrooms were being constructed near the tents. Slattery says the bathrooms will include electric composting toilets that eliminate odors. On the other side of the tents, the Slatterys are constructing a solar-powered shower facility.
"The tents, bathroom and shower facilities are our number one project this year," Slattery says.
The wine-tasting room is a short walking distance from the tents. The trek includes scenic views of one-acre and two-acre vineyards, 10 acres of mowed lawn, a duck pond with waterfall, 20 acres of tillable farmland and about 140 acres of wooded rolling hills. The walk often includes a greeting from one or both of the Slatterys' dogs - Alfie, a Schnoodle, and Jack, a 15-year-old German wirehaired pointer who doesn't let arthritis slow him down.
The hills include "Monkey Mountain" across the road. Local legend has it that a monkey once escaped from a circus train and lived on the large, wooded hill many years ago, Slattery says.
Large rocks also grace the landscape around the Slattery home and vintage estates. When the builder dug the basement to pour the home's foundation in 2005, "He called and said he had good news and bad news," Slattery recalls. "He said the basement was half dug out, but it would cost us $3,000 more to excavate the rocks. We broke them up and moved them for landscaping. That's why I have arthritis in my hands and feet, and my husband has back trouble now."
A large courtyard with fountain - surrounded by flowers that Slattery plants herself - leads to the wine-tasting room. Up the hill from the courtyard is a large deck with an outdoor kitchen complete with a wood-fired pizza oven.
The Slatterys opened the wine-tasting room in January 2008. They sell more than 70 wines from 15 Nebraska wineries in addition to craft beers brewed in Nebraska.
"We're a vineyard and tasting room for Nebraska wines and craft beers and some non-Nebraska wines," Slattery says. "Our mission is to promote Nebraska products and bring them here. We're a small operation, and we use a lot of local products in our meals, too."
Daughter Sarah Slattery, who graduated in May from Metro Community College with a culinary arts and management degree, trains the kitchen help and cooks. This includes catering meals on and off the premises. For B&B Bungalow guests, Sarah offers add-ons such as foil dinners and s'mores for the campfire, and breakfast in the tasting room.
Barb, a former teacher at Creighton University in Omaha, pours the wine, visits with guests and manages the overall business. In the summer, she hires 14 part-time employees, up to 10 of which work during summer weekends when concerts are offered. The concert schedule has steadily grown from eight in 2008 to 31 in 2011, Slattery says.
When her husband, Mike, isn't working as an attorney in Plattsmouth, Neb., he does construction and landscaping at the winery. He also enjoys making wine as a hobby from grapes grown in the family's vineyards - "but it's not enough for the public yet," Barb says.
Nephew Alex manages the grounds crew and can be seen doing miscellaneous tasks, such as chopping and delivering wood to bungalow tent campers for the campfire.
The Slatterys' other daughter, Jessica, is pursuing a double master's degree in law and political science in Washington, D.C. Son Michael holds a law degree and resides in Kansas City, Mo.
In addition to offering wine tasting, bungalow tents and concerts, SVE hosts and caters events such as weddings and rehearsal dinners, bridal showers, and private parties for anniversaries, birthdays, class reunions and family reunions.
Barb and Mike founded the Scenic Weeping Water Valley Association, which promotes tourism to the southern Cass County, Weeping Water Valley area. Barb is also a board member for the Nebraska Winery & Grape Growers Association.