The first, Baker-Bird Winery, personifies the state’s rich grape-growing and wine-producing history. Set on 300 fertile acres along the Ohio River, it’s the oldest commercial estate winery with its original land in America and one of only 22 wineries – of about 6,000 in the country – on the National Historic Register.
In 1797, the first commercial vineyard in the U.S. was planted in Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region. German immigrants from the great wine area of Baden flocked to the Ohio River Valley in the mid-1800s and established “America’s Rhineland,” including the Abraham Baker wine cellar, which is now Baker-Bird Winery. By the late 1800s Kentucky had become the country’s third-largest grape and wine-producing state.
“Not a lot of people realize what an important role Kentucky played in the country’s wine business historically,” says owner Dinah Bird. “Our 1850s records show that about half of the wine consumed in America came from Augusta.”
These days, her winery boasts 12,000 s.f. of meeting space for up to 200 people, including Baker’s historic, hand-dug wine cellar – great for multimedia presentations. The space also includes double parlors and breakout rooms in the 1850s house, and there’s the tasting room, for sampling award-winning bourbon-barrel wines.
Historic tours feature learning about the winemaking process then and now, viewing the estate’s original vineyards, rolling a barrel in the cellar and corking a bottle with your own message inside. At Wine is Wonderful University, Bird teaches guests how to use all five senses in drinking and appreciating wine and what character to look for while tasting. She even rewards “students” with a completion certificate.
Baker-Bird is open year round on Saturdays, Sundays and by appointment.
Bird also owns a second business that goes hand-in-hand with the other two. Perched on a hill 400 feet above the Ohio River, Hawk Wood Hall is a seven-bedroom, French Tudor home built as a bed and breakfast. With a property buyout, the B&B can easily host a corporate retreat only seven miles from the winery. As a meeting spot, the house can accommodate up to 30 people in a spacious room and up to 100 on a large patio and porches that overlook the river.
The B&B is surrounded by acres and acres of timberland and farms, and bedrooms have luscious views of nature.
“It’s wonderfully quiet,” says Bird. “Our most popular spot is the back porch with rockers overlooking the river. Our biggest problem is that no one wants to leave!”
She adds that Hawk Wood will be right on the Northern Kentucky Bourbon Trail, due to open in January 2018.
The third business, also on the Ohio, offers playtime for corporate types and groups of any age, heavenly spa services for girlfriend getaways – and guys’ retreats – plus a “we-do-it-all” locale for weddings.
Just a mile from the winery, Potato Hill Farm is an 1850s-era farmstead tucked in a private, 86-acre “holler.” Owners Celine and Ron Quinn began restoring the property in 2005, creating a comfy balance between old-fashioned and upcycled with modern amenities. Over 18 months, Ron and a few neighbors transformed the barn, retaining its hand-hewn beams and vintage wood and metal, while hauling creek rock for its floor and adding a “donkey bar” (read on). The destination opened for business in 2010 with sustainability as its byword.
Both Quinns bring experience from years of teaching to create customized team building. Games that focus on goals of cooperation through strategy and/or competition include Ron’s custom-made box hockey and giant Jenga, i.e. wood stacked crosswise from which a participant must remove a piece without tumbling the stack; tether ball; croquet; giant checkers; and balloon-tower building.
With views of hayfields, meadows and a creek, the gorgeous event barn can seat up to 75 for a corporate function (there’s wireless access throughout) or a wedding, complete with catering, music, changing rooms and a trolley to accommodations.
As a retreat, Celine, herself a yoga practitioner, offers a “farmhouse spa.” Participants revel in relaxing massages, chill on the riverview porch, sip icy cucumber water, then nibble on a delicious healthy salad and quiche made with farm-laid eggs.
In addition, three donkeys reside in the barn. All are available for treks, i.e. hiking with a donkey; picnics, accompanying a donkey to a creekside lunch on a table with white linen, fine china, and live Irish fiddle ditties; and donkey therapy.
“I’m not a psychotherapist, the donkeys are,” Celine affirms. “They’re ancient souls that have carried everyone’s burdens over time. They understand. It’s so nice when they nuzzle you.”
The clever, flop-eared animals can even ring a bell for a carrot treat.
If you can tear yourself away from this beautiful spot, the town of Augusta is but a short, three-mile bike ride or car jaunt away. Here you can hear about the town’s part in the Civil War, stroll along the Ohio, grab a burger at the Corner Café, and hop aboard the Jenny Ann, one of the river’s oldest operating ferries. Vehicles pay only $5 one way, while pedestrians ride free.
Katherine Tandy Brown is a correspondent for The Lane Report. She can be reached at [email protected]