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Exploring Kentucky | Wining in Western Kentucky

Area vineyards offer plenty of reasons to linger for a while

By Katherine Tandy Brown

The Farmer and Frenchman Vineyard and Winery in Henderson.
The Farmer and Frenchman Vineyard and Winery in Henderson.

Lest you think the title is a misprint that should be “winning” and this month’s column is about basketball in the Purchase District, let me set you straight. Though those 1952 Cuba Cubs – the underdog team from Graves County that defeated the big boys, Louisville Manual, for the state championship – were amazing, we’re talking about wine in Kentucky’s western waterlands.

Currently, the Kentucky Grape and Wine Council lists seven wineries in that area, some well-established, some new, all worth a visit for sampling the commonwealth’s burgeoning wine industry, which has quite a history. After all, back in the 1800s, Kentucky was a leading grape-producing state, established the first commercial vineyard and first vineyard society in the nation in 1799 (Thomas Jefferson was a patron), and made its first wine in 1803.

Western Kentucky’s longest-established facility is Paducah-based Purple Toad Winery, and it can’t seem to stop winning awards! Just last June at the Indy International Wine Competition at Purdue University, owner Allen Dossey was named Winemaker of the Year.

“That’s like an Academy Award in the wine business,” says Dossey. “I was speechless, and that’s unusual for me.”

In addition, the winery brought home 16 medals, the most of any competitor at the event, which attracted more than 2,000 entries from 11 countries and 40 states.

Kentucky’s largest winemaker, Purple Toad produced more than 50,000 gallons in 2017. A new 20,000-s.f. processing room has just been completed to replace its cramped 2,500-s.f. space and by summertime, distribution should cover five states. Currently offering 37 wines, Purple Toad – its logo is a Costa Rican tree frog with red eyes and purple, grape-stomping toes – is known for fruit wines.

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“We try to make our fruit wine taste just like the fruit,” Dossey says. “If my wine says blackberry, it’s like you ate a fresh blackberry off the vine.”

Long-term plans include an upscale winery with eating, banquet, wedding and event space.

Located in Union County near Morganfield, White Buck Vineyard & Winery planted its vines in 2009 and opened to the public in 2012. Owner Allen White named the winery after his dad, “Buck” White, a lifelong farmer who has helped grow the business. In his day, Allen was a high-school wrestler, and members of Union County’s wrestling team, which won its 13th state championship in 2017, help to plant and harvest. As a nod, White Buck produces a “Wrestler’s Red” in sweet and semi-sweet varieties.

“A focus for our business is supporting the arts,” explains White Buck Manager Elaine Martin. “We begin each year with Sip into Spring, an evening of live music, storytelling, tastings, tours and heavy hors d’oeuvres to benefit our local grade-school dance programs.”

Be sure to put it on your 2019 calendar, and plan your own event for up to 250 people at White Buck on a patio overlooking the vineyards.

Another small-farm operation, Farmer and Frenchman Vineyard and Winery (F&F) in Henderson, opened in 2015 and is owned by Henderson County native Katy Groves-Mussat and her Parisian husband, Hubert Mussat. Here, guests can learn how grapes are grown and wine is made, relax on a sunny patio, sample Kentucky wines comingled with French imports, and dine on local vineyard-to-table cuisine that includes scrumptious handmade pizza.

A five-acre lawn holds scads of guests for a reception. The property features a charming, converted 1,800-s.f. tobacco barn with crystal chandeliers and a patio with luscious views, while a promenade offers a covered space for up to 50. Weddings are a specialty.

In case you over-sip, you can stay the night at the F&F bed and breakfast inn.

Also in Henderson County, Boucherie Vineyards & Winery in Spottsville has offered tastings and individual tours since its opening in 2013.

“We have outside event space for weddings and receptions for 10 to 350 people on our patio or in a 30-by-50 event tent,” says Brandy Boucherie, whose parents, Johnny and Martha, are the owners.

Catch the Brew Crew Comedy Tour on May 19 at Boucherie and an art festival on June 9. Check its website for live music dates.

No doubt you’re familiar with the annual Fancy Farm Picnic, where aspiring and dyed-in-the-wool politicians hold sway. But did you know that if you want a break from political speeches, you can chill on the wraparound porch at Fancy Farm Vineyard & Winery?

In 2011, owner/operator Tom Curtsinger defied expert advice and planted one acre of European varietal grapes, which have now flourished into six. His winery opened to the public in 2016 and seasonal property and winery tours are free, as are tastings.

“Tom teaches people how to taste wine,” says winery rep Robbie Felker. “Some folks say they don’t like dry wine but change their minds when he shows them the right way to taste.”   

Here you can help pick the grapes and stomp ‘em, a la Lucy and Ethel. Family friendly, the vineyard features Fancy Fest, a July Fourth weekend of live music.

Open seasonally, Eddy Grove Vineyard & Bistro in Princeton has award-wining wines, a private event space and farm-to-table meals. Bourbon burgers, anyone?

Though most wineries don’t require reservations, except for groups, be sure to call ahead and let them know you’re planning a visit.

If you’re a fan of Kentucky wine and craft beer, the Kentucky Grape and Wine Council and the Kentucky Guild of Brewers have partnered to create an app, Drink Ky, available for iPhone and Android devices at your app store.

Katherine Tandy Brown is a correspondent for The Lane Report. She can be reached at [email protected]