Matrot Castle

(Frank) Around Kansas today is in Topeka, Kansas and we’re at one of the 
great curiosities in Topeka. It’s called Matrot Castle. This is the 
entrance to it. It’s been here since 1883, but tell you what, let’s go meet 
Jerry Wittmer and he can tell us more about the castle. 
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(Frank) Good morning, Jerry. (Male) How are you this morning? (Frank) 
Hi. Well tell us a little bit about Seraphin Matrot and where he was from 
and why he came to Kansas and built this castle. (Male) Matrot is from 
France. He had a winery and a vineyard in France and, but he’d been 
sentenced with the guillotine and he we aren’t sure as to why, but he was accused  
of being a part of the communist party and in any event, when his wife 
went back supposedly, she was stoned to death, so apparently it was pretty 
serious. Then he came to the United States and he was so paranoid that he 
didn’t stop on the east coast and he came to Kansas to hide in this valley. 
I think he thought this valley could save him, but even so, he was so 
paranoid. In the attic, he had four windows facing all directions and they 
were big enough that you could shoot a gun in case they caught up with him 
and then in the wine cellar downstairs, he had a tunnel that went clear down 
to the creek that he could escape through if they caught up with him. We have 
the original front door, but if you had the key, it wouldn’t work. You had to 
slide the whole casing up to find the real keyhole. He was really paranoid. 
We acquired the castle almost ten years ago and we’ve had to completely 
redo the interior and the exterior. Our events, we have Halloween parties 
and weddings and things like that. (Frank) Okay, we’re going to take a 
break and when we come back, we’ll continue our conversation with 
Jerry Wittmer, the owner of Castle Matrot. 
(Frank) Well let me ask you, because as you know, there’s been 
rumor for a very, very long time that the castle is haunted. Can you 
confirm or say, No, it’s all hogwash, or what? (Male) Well when we bought 
it, we had our legal residence in Florida, so I bought it mainly as a 
place to live, you know, when I got back to Kansas,. So we hired a 
contractor and the contractor was, you know, faming and renovating it and, 
so, I came back from Florida, maybe ten o’clock at night, you know, and 
there weren’t any lights, but I thought we ought to be having the lights 
on at night so someone doesn’t break in. The next morning I came 
down at eight o’clock, I was going to meet the contractor, so I pulled up and 
he was standing there at the front door and he couldn’t understand what was 
going on and he said, I know I turned these lights off last night, but 
both chandeliers were lit, so we had a few incidences like that, but 
nothing that’s really affected our operation. (Frank) All right, okay. Well 
because also, as I understand, of course, we’re in what would be called, I 
guess, the living room in the lower level and, of course, behind us is an 
alcove and at one time, up above us is Seraphin’s bedroom and there was 
a pulley device that went clear down to the basement to the wine cellar 
so we could get wine and take it up to the bedroom, is that true? (Male) 
We have a very unique wine cellar downstairs that I’ll show you later. 
The turrets go all the way, all four floors, including the attic and under 
this one on the right there’s a hole. Now the other turret, it comes 
to a point with bricks. This one has a hole, so there were, or history 
reports that, he sat there in a rocker and he lowered or pulled up his wine 
at night. (Frank) Okay, and then where did the ghost rumor get started? 
Correct me if I’m wrong, but did he actually die in the castle in the bedroom?
(Male) They had a simple ceremony for him and then they realized that the 
only way in and out of that bedroom was the spiral staircase, which we’ll show 
you, and they couldn’t get the casket out, so they had to take the window out of 
the second floor and hoist him out. (Frank) So when you have the Halloween 
parties, do you put like a casket hanging out of the window up there? Okay, 
we’re going to take a break and when we come back, we’ll continue our 
conversation with Jerry Wittmer, the owner of Castle Matrot. 
(Frank) Wwe’re back and so much for the history. Now when you come 
visit Castle Matrot, which you can by appointment, you can find out a lot 
more of the history of the castle, but now is now and you’ve done a 
tremendous amount of renovation, not only to the castle, but to the grounds 
itself and I know you have kind of a forest behind the castle, so tell us a 
little bit about what you’ve done here. (Male) Well inside the castle, here 
on the first floor, this is living room and then the other side, that was 
his kitchen. It was a replica of half of his castle he had in France. He 
wanted to build the other half, but then he died in 1898. Someday it’s our 
plan is to build the other half and we actually have the winery there, the 
new addition. The upstairs, you can see that there’s a strip of wood where 
you couldn’t see where the bedrooms were divided and outside, we have twenty 
acres. Originally we bought the half-acre and then later, we bought the rest of 
the twenty acres. He had a vineyard and the grounds were grown up with a lot 
of vines. We had started cleaning it out and then we realized that some of those 
were grape vines, so we left one and we have a hundred year old plot and at 
Halloween, we fill it with grapes. These kids get in and stomp the grapes, but 
the grapes that we saved, we hoped they’d produce, but we hope to someday 
graft the grapes or get them produced. As far as a wine cellar, there’s a 
lot of history to that too. It’s really neat. It’s a brick with a round ceiling and 
even the turrets are brick, but they said that he used Indians to put in the bricks. 
He didn’t pay them with money. He paid them with wine, so we think it’s quite 
amazing that those bricks are still standing, but it is kind of unique. (Frank) Well 
let me ask you, the wine cellar now is in operation because Davenport Winery 
out of Lawrence currently leases that and runs that, is that correct? (Male) Yes. 
We’re leasing it out. It takes, you know, several years for your grapes to be 
producing. We have a thousand grapes that we planted and someday we hope 
to actually, you know, produce a wine here, but in the meantime, they’re open 
on Saturdays. (Frank) Okay, we’re going down into the wine cellar. Don’t let 
that frighten you because after all, it’s called a wine cellar because it’s a cellar, 
so don’t be afraid of that . Come down a few steps because the adventure you’re 
going to find here is going to be something you’ll really enjoy. 
(Frank) We’re back and we’re back in the wine cellar at Matrot Castle in 
Topeka, Kansas and with us is Josh Bryant who is a wine maker with 
Davenport Winery in Eudora, but this is also their Tasting Room in Topeka. 
Welcome. So tell us about some of the wines that are here in the Tasting 
Room, the wine cellar at Matrot Castle. (Male) Okay. The Matrot outlet is 
basically an outlet for Davenport Winery. We are one hundred percent Kansas 
grown. Every weekend I’ll bring up some of our wine from Eudora. Now the 
wine that I have here for you today is Blue’s Man. It’s made from Norton. 
Since we’re one hundred percent Kansas grown, we are limited to what we can 
grow or what goes into these bottles, if you’d like to try it.  (Frank) Absolutely. 
While I’m doing this, tell us about the Norton grape. (Male) Okay. The Norton 
grape is one of the oldest French-American hybrids. It was created in the 1800’s 
by a man named Dr. Norton. After his wife passed away, he spent the remainder 
of his life creating, in his opinion, the perfect American hybrid. So I’ll have you 
go ahead and try it. Some of the characteristics of Norton are spicy, fruity if it’s 
young, but it still can pick up some earthy tones with age. This is Blue’s Man. A
ll of our wines are one hundred percent Kansas grown, which means they were 
grown right here in Kansas. (Frank) Okay. Must add a little footnote here, before 
Prohibition, Kansas was the fourth leading state in the country in wine making, 
so it’s good to see it coming back. (Male) That’s true.  Kansas enacted 
Prohibition in 1880, took effect in 1881. Twenty years later, 1901 was the last 
year that the state of Kansas took census information on how many grapes were 
grown here in the state. There were a little over five thousand acres that the 
government knew about being grown in 1901. (Frank) So you guys started 
making wine again when? (Male) The state of Kansas made it legal to have a 
farm winery in 1985. Davenport Winery became a commercial winery in 1997, 
started growing grapes in 1992, but fruit has been being grown out there 
for a little over fifty years. Greg took it over from his grandfather and, 
so, originally it was a peach, pear, and apple pick-your-own orchard. 
(Frank) Well another footnote is that the farm is actually named the Jenny 
Wren Farm, but what we’ll do is we’re going to do a story on the Davenport 
Winery itself later on, so we’ll talk more about that. So tell us then, the 
wine tasting is when here at the Matrot Tasting Room? (Male) Okay. Every 
Saturday eleven to seven, we offer free wine tastings, so what you 
basically do is anytime between eleven and seven, you can come on down 
these stairs and it looks a little creepy sometimes because it’s an old 
castle, but come downstairs. What you do is come up to the bar and we’ll 
basically just sit here and let you try some wines. I’ll visit with you 
about the wines that you try and basically we’ll try to find something that 
you really enjoy. (Frank) Okay. So now there is also a Matrot label, is 
that correct? (Male) There is. (Frank) Okay, and is it oh, I see it right 
here, of course, alright, pay attention, Frank, and then, but in addition 
to the Norton, you have like how many different varieties of wine?    
(Male) We make forty different wines currently. (Frank) Okay, so don’t be 
afraid to come and taste wine. Wine is a lot of fun and there are a lot of 
wine snobs, but you don’t have to be one and you don’t have to become a 
wine snob. Just enjoy it. If you like it, then buy it. (Male) Or at least come 
try it. (Frank) Try it. (Male) So I’m going to twist your arm and taste one 
more. (Frank) Okay. (Male) This is peach wine. Now it’s really important 
when you talk about fruit wines is that they’re not cut with other fruits 
or water. This is one hundred percent peach. (Frank) Oh, boy. (Male) It’ll 
taste like you bit into a fresh peach. This is a dessert style. It also 
makes a really fun smoothie. So you can get a bag of peaches, throw it in 
the blender, dump a bottle of this in on top, you’ve got breakfast.  
(Frank) That’s good. Okay, the Davenport Wine Tasting Room at Matrot 
Castle, just between Huntoon Hill and the other hill in Topeka, Kansas and 
again, remind us of the hours. (Male) Saturday’s eleven until seven. 
(Frank) Come taste it. You’ll love it. 
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