California may hold the name-recognition award as a top-quality wine state, but our own Commonwealth is steadily rebuilding its reputation as a "sweet spot" climate for producing beautiful vineyards that result in award-winning wines.
A leisurely drive along Kentucky's highways can be tastefully punctuated with a stop at one of the dozens of wineries and vineyards across the Commonwealth. Our famous hospitality can be enjoyed at many of the tasting rooms and vineyards. We've highlighted one from each region, but feel free to explore. Log on to www.kentuckywine.com for a complete listing and directions.
Elk Creek Vineyards
150 Highway 330, Owenton
To say Elk Creek Vineyards is a quaint little winery would be like saying Kentuckians don't know much about basketball. Known as the largest winery in the Commonwealth, Elk Creek presides over the hills of northern Kentucky in Owenton, a short drive from Lexington, Louisville and Cincinnati.
Established in 2003, the winery has grown exponentially into a destination getaway that easily could occupy several days with wine tastings, excellent dining, massages, cooking classes, art appreciation, live entertainment, day spa services and hunt club activities.
But it's the wine that has given Elk Creek its claim to fame. For nearly a decade, the vineyard's rolling hills have produced quality grapes resulting in award-winning wines bottled on site.
The winery has racked up silver, bronze and gold medals in wine competitions across the United States, including the Kentucky Wine Competition, the American Wine Competition, Kentucky Derby Festival and the 2008 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
The current favorites among Elk Creek fans are the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2007 Estate Cabernet Franc, the 2007 Merlot and the Kentucky Blue Box Wines, which are available in seven varietals.
All these can be sampled at the Tasting Room. Visitors do not need an appointment for some tours and tastings. The more involved tours do require an appointment.
CCC Trail Vineyard and Winery
3805 CCC Trail, Morehead
Eastern Kentucky's hills and climate have yielded award-winning wines from this 5_-acre vineyard set across a ridgeline at a 1,200-foot elevation. Jim and Darlene Ross are the proud new owners of the vineyard and winery, taking the reins from George Plage and Sonata Bohen, who started the small farm at the beginning of the new millennium. Plage and Bohen's toil, experimentation and innovations over the years produced several national award-winning wines, such as the Rowan Red 2006, Red Fox of 2006 and the Golden Harvest.
Jim Ross has continued the farm's bold innovation by introducing two non-grape wines to the list. Thanks to an abundance of blackberries on the acres surrounding the vineyard, a fine blackberry wine is being handcrafted on the property.
The vineyard's rich garden soil is also producing heirloom tomatoes, which will be used in a Rosstica tomato wine slated for release around Christmas 2011.
CCC Trail Vineyard's harvest of wines can be experienced not only at the vineyard's tasting room, but also at the Pendleton Art Center in Ashland, 75 minutes east of the winery. In addition, the Rosses' other venture, Journey's End Lodge, serves their wines and provides Southern hospitality with 16 guest rooms. The lodge, which is located only 30 minutes from the winery, is next door to Rudy's Ranch equestrian center and an 18-hole golf course.
The region is home to another Kentucky gem: Cave Run Lake. This mountain lake is famous for fishing and boating, and the surrounding areas provide plenty of activities. The Rosses' also operate a 75-foot luxury houseboat that is available for lake excursions and entertaining.
Central Kentucky/Bluegrass Region
Jean Farris Winery and Bistro
6825 Old Richmond Road, Lexington
A stroll along the hills and rows of vineyards in this central Kentucky vineyard is, needless to say, a romantic venture. Maybe it's because this established Kentucky vineyard got its start when a girl named Jean Farris and a boy named Ben O'Daniel met on a weeklong wine tasting tour of Missouri. They married a year later and embarked on an adventure of a lifetime-cultivating Kentucky land to produce an exceptional vineyard, making international award-winning wines, and opening a critically acclaimed bistro.
The O'Daniels' passion for their craft has resulted in such varietals as the 2004 Tempest Reserve, which earned the Critics Gold in the Critics Challenge International Wine Competition in 2008; and the 2005 Tempest, 2006 Petite Syrah and 2007 Pinot Noir, which each earned silver medals at the 2008 American Wine Society competition.
The bistro has earned some acclaim of its own, including OpenTable.com's Diner's Choice Winner of 2010 and the Best of Lexington's 2008 Best Restaurant accolades.
The restaurant and winery are open Tuesday-Sunday.
Brooks Hill Winery
2746 Brooks Hill Road, Brooks
Affectionately known as "the little winery up the hill," Brooks Hill Winery is the realization of a lifelong dream for Mike Hatzell. He and his wife, Karen, opened the doors to their winery and vineyard in September 2007. Since then, their wines have won more than a dozen medals in competitions across the country.
Their most decorated vintage, the Cabernet Sauvignon, is sold out for the year. But other wines are still available when you come to visit the winery, which is a 20-minute drive from Louisville, just off Interstate 65.
The Hatzells love for visitors to enjoy their wines on the patio, pavilion or in the air-conditioned tasting room. Guests also can stroll the vineyard and enjoy the view while tasting several varietals of wines.
The winery has created the traditional reds and whites, and fruit wines such as strawberry, cranberry and blackberry wine, also are available.
Up for an adventurous tasting? Don't leave without trying the Winter White and Chocolate Razz dessert wines.
â€”By Jackie Hollenkamp Bentley
This article appears in the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games Kentucky Guidebook, published by Kentucky Monthly.
Did you like what you read here? Subscribe to Kentucky Monthly