Department of Tourism
'Barrel Tasting' Spotlights Central Kentucky Wineries
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Becoming a right of spring in the bluegrass, 11 Central Kentucky wineries are banding together this weekend to host an annual tasting event that benefits the site where Lexington was founded.
Saturday’s barrel tasting at each participating winery comes as wineries throughout the state say the number of visitors to their tasting rooms and wine-making facilities continue to grow. Visitors are drawn to experience the uniqueness of each winery and can sample the diverse products of an emerging agricultural enterprise with roots that stretch back to Kentucky’s earliest days.
A benefit for McConnell Springs Park (http://www.mcconnellsprings.org), the wineries are each within about an hour’s drive of Lexington. Barrel tastings are one-ounce samples of pre-released wines in its final stages before the finished product is bottled. Tasters can start at any of the participating wineries, each of which welcome visitors with a distinct experience.
Although many of Kentucky’s 50 wineries are concentrated in the bluegrass region, commercial wine-making is taking root from the hills of eastern Kentucky to northern Kentucky to the western reaches of the state. A University of Kentucky survey found 125 commercial vineyards cultivating about 435 acres of grapes around the state, up from 40 acres just a decade ago.
Grape growing was one of the earliest agricultural enterprises brought by Europeans to Kentucky, with the Kentucky Vineyard Society established in 1798 by a French-born settler named Jean-Jacques Dufour. Kentucky’s climate is well-suited for growing a variety of grapes. Commercial grape growing continued in Kentucky until the Civil War brought it to a temporary halt and then Prohibition in the 1920s led to uprooting all the vines.
But as the wine industry reemerges as a force in Kentucky agriculture, grape-growers and wine-makers are also capitalizing on the appeal of their wineries to city dwellers and out-of-state visitors.
“Seventy-five percent of our visitors come from outside our area,” said Dennis Walters, owner of Stone Brook Winery in Melbourne and president of the Kentucky Grape and Wine Council. “People from all over the world come through our tasting room,” Walters said, though he notes that most of his visitors are regional. “Area folks often bring visiting friends or relatives from other parts of the country or the world to see our facility.”
Quantifying the extent of wine-related tourism in Kentucky is difficult, since most wineries don’t keep formal visitor records other than guest books, which not all visitors sign. “Most wineries are just too busy to capture this data,” said Tom Cottrell, state enologist with the University of Kentucky Agricultural Extension Service. “Also, since the wineries are all competing against each other, they tend to keep their cards close to their vests.”
Saturday, participants will have the chance to test their palates to see if they pick up on the final characteristics of each wine and to discuss the soon-to-be-released sample. Each location will also have its tasting rooms open for regular tastings of their released wines. (A separate charge for regular tastings may apply.)
Participating wineries are: Black Barn Winery-Ashwood Cellars, Chrisman Mill Vineyards, Elk Creek Vineyards, Equus Run Vineyards, Horseshoe Bend Vineyard & Winery, Jean Farris Winery & Bistro, Long Lick Farm Winery, Lovers Leap Winery & Vineyards, Springhill Winery & Plantation, Talon Winery & Vineyards, and Wildside Winery & Vineyards.
The Barrel Tasting for McConnell Springs will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Partakers may travel to as many as they wish for $20.
Participants must be at least 21 years old and are asked to drink and drive responsibly. Event organizers said they don’t expect impaired drivers to be a problem since most partakers will not visit more than five vineyards during the six hour event. Maps and brochures of each winery will be available at the McConnell Springs registration table at each winery. Tour buses are not permitted.
McConnell Springs is a 26-acre historical and environmental education center and natural area that is the founding site of Lexington. For more information about the event, contact www.mcconnellsprings.org or call (859) 272-0682. For more information about vineyards and wineries in Kentucky log on to www.kentuckywine.com.
The Kentucky Department of Travel, an agency of the Tourism, Arts & Heritage Cabinet, exists to promote The Commonwealth as a travel destination, generate revenue and create jobs for Kentucky’s economy.