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Miletta Vista rebuilds, rises to national acclaim


The 2012 Miletta Vista Winery fire occurred June 23. A normal Nebraska grape harvest would have begun around August 10; however, because of the hot, dry conditions in Nebraska vineyards, harvest in 2012 began mid-July, a month early.

Immediately after the tragedy, I wish we could say we tried to think about harvest, but in reality, we were in shock and were concentrating on picking up the pieces. We remember how it seemed everyone’s question after the fire was, “Are you going to rebuild?” At the time, we weren’t looking to the future, but in the first week after the fire one of our employees said, “Mick, you know we can rebuild it.” That glimmer of hope must have resonated, because I remember thinking, “Yeah, why not?”

During the first three years, we experienced numerous emotional ties with the loss. However, today, the loss doesn’t muster the same raw emotion that it did.

We rebuilt bigger in just 345 days, believing that the less downtime we experienced, the faster the winery’s recovery would be. However, we took some time to make decisions, like choosing the right builder. We found out that we couldn’t rely on the insurance company to give us advice about cleanup and what we should save. We had to investigate a lot of it ourselves and also sought the advice of others who had been through similar experiences.


We strongly encourage every business owner to review their insurance coverages, both structure and personal property. Make sure you have enough cleanup coverage for getting rid of the rubble and the big machines required to do the work in the weeks after a tragedy.

Our insurance company was great throughout the ordeal in that we suffered a total loss. The investigation found accidental causes and they provided immediate pay-outs, assistance and encouragement to rebuild. What we didn’t realize, at the time, was that our insurance coverage was light and not all of our loss was covered. Being underinsured is an easy situation to find yourself in if you grow rapidly, as we did from 2007-2012.

Update your equipment list annually, including cost sheets, and keep your coverage realistic. Make sure your inventories are part of the coverage and make sure you’re paying for a catastrophic event. Don’t say, “It’ll never happen to me.” If you do, you’ll likely find yourself underinsured.

If you have economic development moneys available in your community, I would encourage you to see if they have rebuilding incentives available. If you’re a growing, viable part of the community, they will want you back up and running to continue the economic growth of the area. Always remember rebuilding costs go up, especially for a commercial structure. Government regulations often change, as do fire codes. This all means added costs.


It was worth the work to rebuild. It has taken us nearly three years to get here, but we can say we are glad we rebuilt. We believe we are well positioned for growth in Nebraska. We’ve established new goals, have a renewed vision and are excited for where Miletta Vista Winery is headed.

We recently made some scheduling changes, allowing us room for activities other than rushing into a harvest or rebuilding or re-staffing. At the end of the day, we enjoy what we’re doing. We enjoy our rural setting, the community we live in and we thoroughly enjoy making Nebraska wines.

Last November, our Brianna was awarded a Jefferson Cup, which is like the Olympics for U.S. wine competitions. Our 2013 Edelweiss and 2013 LaCrescent were both given Awards of Excellence (equivalent to Gold) at the same competition. This was very rewarding, especially with all we had gone through. These were our first “new winery” vintages.

In January, we sent the 2013 Brianna, 2014 Prairie Rose and 2014 LaCrescent to the Florida International Wine Competition. All were awarded Double Gold. So, we feel on track with our goal of making great wines and it helps in the emotional recovery process, as well.

Growth and rebuilding are challenging and at times all-consuming. At the end of the day, we reached a point where we needed to step back from that “all-consuming” project and enjoy life.

My wife Loretta’s son, Casey Ryan, and his family moved back to St. Paul in January 2013. Casey manages Miletta Vista’s wholesale accounts and has grown the retail outlets to near pre-fire levels. Casey and his wife Paula, have four young children and we really enjoy having Casey’s family close. It is a very refreshing change.

Adversity can make a person stronger if they let it. We have also found that people tend to have greater empathy for others going through hardships when they have had that experience. Today, we find ourselves reaching out to others a little bit more.

About the Author

Mick McDowell
Owner, Miletta Vista Winery
Mick is the winemaker and president of Miletta Vista Winery, Inc. in St. Paul. They recently took home Double Gold at the Florida International Wine Competition.

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