IN A STATE THAT’S WORLD-RENOWNED for its bourbon, it would be easy for wine to simply throw in the towel, or in this case, the fermentation tank. But there is strength in grapes, and Kentucky’s 60-plus wineries are as varied as the vintners behind the labels—many of whom are crafting award-winning wines. This month we visit a handful of Kentucky’s wineries.
“Kentucky’s wineries offer unique and exciting experiences for visitors and residents alike,” says Tyler Madison, creative marketing manager with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Office of Agricultural Marketing. “Wineries in Kentucky are truly family businesses, and one of the best parts of any visit is being able to talk directly with the winemaker, grape grower and tasting room manager—and sometimes all three of these roles are the same person.”
The following wineries, each a Kentucky Proud member, offer a distinctively delicious wine experience:
Baker-Bird Winery & Distillery, Augusta
Owner/winemaker: Dinah Bird
As America’s oldest (and largest) wine cellar, Baker-Bird has the additional distinction of being the only winery in the country to survive a Civil War battle—the Battle of Augusta in 1862. It is also on the National Register of Historic Places for its architecture and historic vineyard land. The distillery, added in 2018, is one of the oldest documented bourbon-distilling sites in the area.
But back to the winery. Baker-Bird bottles 400 cases of wine annually, co-oping with Kentucky farmers for a variety of grapes, and many of its wines are international award winners. The tasting room is tucked within a circa 1850 wine pressing room, so history radiates from every square inch of this place.
The Wine Cellar hosts brunch and special dinners on occasion and always has cheese plates and picnic packs available for visitors to purchase with their wine. A guided history tour covers 1850s winemaking practices and a bourbon presentation is also offered.
Brianza Gardens and Winery, Verona
Owner/winemaker: Tony Parnigoni
This Italian-flavored winery grows Noiret, Vignoles, Marquette and Aromella grapes on 4.5 acres, bottling 2,500 cases a year. Food service includes local cheeses, sausage and crackers, plus a variety of food truck delectables.
The tasting room offers indoor and outdoor seating, with live music performed on Saturdays and Sundays. Lush gardens and the surrounding rolling hills provide a breathtaking backdrop for weddings.
“We have a gorgeous park-style setting, exceptional award-winning wines, vacation lodging and friendly staff,” says Parnigoni.
Echo Valley Winery & Vineyard, Flemingsburg
Owners: David and Sue Watson
Winemaker: David Watson
Established: Vineyard 2005; Winery 2014
Of the 12,000 or so bottles of wine sold here, a whopping 10,000 of them are of Rodeo Girl, a crowd-pleasing award winner described as “sweet, bright and full of flavor.”
The Watsons grow Chambourcin, Norton, Seyval Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Muscadine, Chardonel, Concord and Traminette grapes on 5 acres of land in Fleming County.
“It’s one of the only wineries in the northeastern region of Kentucky and it paved the way for alcohol sales in a previously dry county,” says David Watson.
The on-site restaurant serves everything from a taco fries appetizer spiced with jalapeno to a Drippy Beef sandwich to a grilled 14-oz ribeye. Guests can stay overnight in the two pristine tiny homes, rented through Airbnb under the names The Chardonel and The Concord.
Equus Run Vineyards, Midway
Owner/winemaker: Cynthia Bohn
If you want some headliner entertainment with your wine, find your way to this 38-acre hidden treasure. The family- and pet-friendly winery— one of the state’s oldest—has hosted the likes of Wynonna Judd, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Juice Newton on its stage. A Tunes in the Vines series featuring local music keeps things hopping on Sundays, and, mid-May through October, events include Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre, a Foodie Series and marquee-name concerts at the stone-terraced amphitheater.
“We see ourselves as a tourist destination that happens to serve wine,” says Bohn.
Equus Run’s 8 acres of grapes (supplemented with local growers’ Estate
grapes) produce a menu of whites, rosés and reds, from sweet to dry. It includes Bella Rosso dessert wine, the crisp Summer White and Equestrian Merlot—fitting for a winery located in Kentucky horse country. Nibbles for purchase include prepackaged cheese, meat and crackers. Across the street, Saddlestone Cottage, rented through Airbnb and VRBO, provides a front porch view of the winery.
Fancy Farm Vineyard and Winery, Fancy Farm
Owner/winemaker: Tom Curtsinger
Established: Vineyard 2011; Winery 2016
Kentucky’s westernmost winery is also its largest in terms of vineyards growing 100 percent vinifera (European) grapes. Fancy Farm grows 6 acres of grapes, producing about 5,000 bottles, including its bestselling “country wine,” Old Red Barn, noted as an ideal sipper for “meals, front porches and shade trees.”
“Our soil types and microclimate allow us to grow grapes that cannot thrive anywhere else in the state,” says Curtsinger. “People can taste and drink wines here that aren’t produced anywhere else in Kentucky.”
Entertainment includes trivia nights and performances by local musicians, a spring and fall Girls Day Out and an early December Christmas Bazaar. Additionally, the winery welcomes small businesses and vendors throughout the year to showcase their products or services.
Traveler’s Cellar Winery, Rockfield
Owners: Derrick and Deserea Huff
Winemaker: Derrick Huff
Semper fi could be Traveler’s Cellar’s winemaking motto. The globetrotting couple—a retired infantry Marine who served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and a former commercial real estate appraiser—fell in love with the winemaking process in California and learned their skills from winemakers in far-flung regions including Eger in Hungary, Yamanashi Prefecture in Japan and the Greek island of Crete. They are always faithful to issues of quality, limiting their wines to 14 to ensure each one produced receives undivided attention.
“Among many of our unique creations are a sweet tea wine made from real tea, lemons and golden raisins,” says Derrick Huff. “We have also produced a Tepache, a traditional Mexican-style spiced pineapple wine, and offer the whole range of white and red wines, from bone dry to lusciously sweet.”
Food offerings include prepackaged salads, seared tuna and small charcuterie preparations. Entertainment ranges from opera nights, live music/food truck events, stand-up comedy tours and outdoor movies to sunset yoga classes, paint and sip events, murder mystery dinners and farm-to-table charity benefits.
“We are settled on 5 cozy acres, which allows us to host outdoor events,” says Huff.
KATHY WITT is an award-winning travel and lifestyle writer based in Northern Kentucky and the author of Secret Cincinnati and The Secret of the Belles.