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Kentucky's Forgotten Wine Heritage



America’s commercial wine industry was born in Kentucky in 1798 when the Marquis de Lafayette’s winemaker, Jean-Jacques Dufour, set out into the new nation to find suitable land for growing grapes. He arrived at the “Athens of the West” – Lexington – and made the acquaintance of Henry Clay. Backed with money from several prominent statesmen, including Clay, Dufour formed the Kentucky Vineyard Society and bought 600 acres on the Kentucky River, in what’s now Jessamine County. Dufour planted what he called the “First Vineyard” and, in 1803, his first vintage went to an appreciative Thomas Jefferson.

Overcoming crop damage from the Civil War, as well as vine diseases, by the mid 1800's Kentucky had become the nation’s third largest grape and wine producer. However, Prohibition put Kentucky's grape and wine industry out of business and many Kentucky farmers turned their acreage over to the production of tobacco.

Kentucky passed legislation in 1976 allowing wineries to operate, and tobacco settlement funds have provided Kentucky farmers the opportunity to once again explore grapes as a cash crop. The grape and wine industry has seen tremendous growth in the past ten years, with grapevine acreage growing from 67 acres in 1999 to an estimated 500 acres today. In just five years, the number of Kentucky wineries has matured from 15 to more than 50, and is still growing.

Timeline

1796

General LaFayette, a French revolutionary soldier, returned to America with his personal Swiss winemaker Jacque Dufour and traveled throughout the colonies of the new United States. Dufour later settled in the "Great Bend of the Kentucky River" in Fayette County, and sent for his family in Switzerland to join him. He planted the first commercial vineyard in 1799 with European vinifera vines which were soon killed out from the cold winters and the diseases of the humid summers. In 1826 they completely abandoned the project. The small Swiss community resettled on the northern banks of the Ohio, in Indiana and founded a town which was called Vevay after their home town in Switzerland. This area later became known as the "Rineland of America".

1798

Kentucky was the site of the first commercial vineyard in America. Jacque DuFour started the Kentucky Vineyard Society to develop the grape and wine interest in Kentucky.

1848

The Trappist Monks of France established a vineyard at the Gethsemani Monastery near Bardstown until about 1948

1860

According to Federal Census records, 136,000 gallons of wine was produced in Logan, Washington, Boyle and 27 other counties. Kentucky was recorded as the third largest wine producing state in America.

1920 - 1933

Prohibition was enacted and the wine industry came to a stop. People began using the quicker yielding corn for their whiskeys, and the vineyards were never replanted because of the difficulty in cultivating.

1950

Willy Schwerin of Alexandria Ky established a successful vineyard of European vinifera, French Hybrid, and North American varieties. Grapes were sold to an Ohio Winery.

1979

Carlton and Ann Colcord planted a 20 acre, French Hybrid vineyard on Cain Ridge near Pairs, KY. They started the Cain Run Winery with a couple of professional wine makers, making wine in the French nouveau style. Unfortunately, their efforts were short lived mostly due to restrictive wine marketing laws, and Kentucky's unfamiliarity to dry wines.

1990

Springhill Vineyards was planted by Eddie O'Daniel in Springfield, KY and became a bonded winery called Springhill Winery.