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Nicholasville Winery Certified as the First Commercial Vineyard in U.S.

Placement On National Register Secures Kentucky’s Place In Winemaking History

LEXINGTON, KY (May 26, 2016) – First Vineyard & Winery in Jessamine County, Kentucky has been certified by the U.S Department of the Interior as the first commercial vineyard and winery in the U.S. Incorporated 216 years ago, the impressive certification places the winery on the National Register of Historic Places, signifying its incredible importance to U.S. history.

The achievement of this recognition is due to the painstaking research of Tom Beall, amateur historian and owner of First Vineyard & Winery. Beall, who purchased the property in 1994 without knowing of its massive historical significance, pieced together an impressively detailed history of the somewhat unexpected birthplace of the wine industry in the U.S. for presentation of the application. “What an honor to be a steward for this place, to share this story,” said Beall, “what a thrill to help put Kentucky on the map for wine.”

The story of First Vineyard & Winery began in Switzerland in the late 1700’s with a vinedresser named John James Dufour. By the end of 18th century there had been many previous attempts at cultivating grapes and establishing a commercially viable winery in the United States.  Due in large part to the attempted use of imported grape vines, none had succeeded. Dufour heard of the lack of wine industry in the U.S. from French soldiers who had served in the Revolutionary War, and departed Europe for America in 1796 with the hope of carrying on the family business in the new country.

Dufour traveled throughout the eastern U.S. assessing land and opportunities for the industry here, eventually settling on a tract of land perched atop a steep hill above the Big Bend of the Kentucky River. The southern facing slope, humidity from the river, soil makeup topography, and the location right across from Quantico, a large shipping port on the Kentucky River, made this tract of land the ideal spot for establishing the wine industry in the U.S.  

In the spring of 1799 Dufour established First Vineyard which he so named on Nov. 5, 1798.  With an eye towards making the industry a reality, the Kentucky Vineyard Society, the parent company of the vineyard, was incorporated on Nov. 21, 1799, making it the first business incorporated by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The Vineyard, and Dufour’s eventual success was not without the support of some of history’s biggest names. Famed explorer Daniel Boone originally surveyed the 633-acre tract of land obtained by the Society, and Founding Father Patrick Henry signed the deed to the property. Shareholders in the society such as Henry Clay, Congressman John Brown, and Gov. James Garrard, were men who now not only had a hand in shaping the wine industry in the U.S., but also had a hand in shaping the country itself.

While struggles and setbacks marked the first years of the vineyard, Dufour’s recognition that only the Cape and Madeira grapes would  flourish here eventually led to their successful cultivation and the birth of the U.S. wine industry. In 1803 Dufour and stockholders of the Kentucky Vineyard Society enjoyed the first fruits of their labor and toasted to the first successful commercial production of wine in the U.S. In the years following Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were given casks of the vintage in celebration of the burgeoning industry. In 1806 John James Dufour left the U.S. and entrusted First Vineyard to his brother John Francis Dufour. The success of the endeavor came to an abrupt end in 1809 when a killing freeze destroyed the grape crop. However, thanks to Dufour’s generosity in supplying vines to other early vineyards, the Cape grape continued to contribute to winemaking in the U.S. for years after.

Honoring Dufour and his hand in winemaking in America through research and recognition was not enough for Beall. He has painstakingly restored the vines on  the original terraces put in place by Dufour.  The vineyard has under cultivation several varieties of grapes including the Cape grape.  The winery currently offers a selection of varieties and vintages, which are sold under the label of J.J. Dufour in honor of the trailblazing vintner. Oenophiles and history buffs alike are invited to visit the vineyard, which sits below the brow of a hill just over the Kentucky River in this beautiful, rural part of the state and perhaps take advantage of the Bed and Breakfast also on the property.