Most people would never think of Kentucky as being a good source of wine. However, a winemaker named Jean Jacques Dufour in 1798 planted the first commercial vineyard in the small town of Nicholasville Kentucky and in 1860 Kentucky was known as the third largest producers of wine. Of course this all came to a grinding stop when prohibition hit.
Today with special agriculture business grants and other government incentives the winemaking industry in Kentucky has been revitalized. There are new vineyards popping up all over the place and now Kentucky has almost a thousand acres of grape planted ground with 50 registered wineries.
It is central Kentucky that boosts the most used soil for grape growing. Some say that the soil in the bluegrass is likened to that to the soils in France. Kentucky was once covered with sea water and thus it is rich in limestone from the deposits of the fossils of shell fish. Though the soil is good the climate is not.
Kentucky's climate is considered to be in a medium zone, the summers are warm and the winters are cool. The weather in Kentucky is highly influenced by the Gulf of Mexico and thus it gets an average of 50 inches of rain per year.
Alas, the weather is a changing! For the past ten years Kentucky has been in a moderate to severe drought and vineyards have to be hand watered to keep the vines from dying.
The weather in Kentucky changes quickly and they have had problems with spring frosts, ice storms and days of cold, all taking a toll on the grape crop. So why do people want to grow grapes in Kentucky? Well because when they do grow and the weather is good then the harvest is of great grapes and better wine.
One of the problems that Kentucky has faced is that the State does not have any guidance on what to grow, how to grow it or anything. People were simply guessing or going by what their gut told them. This was finally addressed in 2005 when the state hired a viticulturist and enologist.
There is a debate on varieties to plant in Kentucky and with the whole industry being quite new, there is lack of good history and data. Some want a certain variety others want a different one. The ones that follow along with the recommendations of the state will get grants and cost help. The ones that go there own way will have to do so on their own.
So what grapes are being grown in Kentucky?
- Vidal Blanc
- Marechal Foch
No matter what grape is grown it is suggested that the vines be on grafted rootstock. Because of the abundance of disease and bugs in Kentucky it is practically unheard of to try and grow organically here. The hot muggy summers give rise to black rot, powdery and downy mildews, phomopsis leaf and cane spot disease. The insects they deal with are Japanese beetles, grape cane gall maker, grape berry moths and grape flea beetles. Then of course there are the animals such as, raccoon, possums and deer.
Grape growing in Kentucky is alive and well and anyone who takes on this task shows real commitment and passion for persevering through tough times and countless challenges. It is because of this character and the land that two can come together and bring to wine drinkers everywhere a great wine. So give Kentucky wine a chance, they just might surprise you!