When people think of Kentucky, wine isn’t usually the first thing to come to mind. It’s no wonder: bourbon whiskey captures most of the attention. Kentucky produces 95 percent of the bourbon in the world and is home to some world-renowned distilleries that make exceptional whiskey.
However, Kentucky also boasts some excellent wineries with award-winning wines and beautiful views of the state’s hill country. Check out two of the best wineries in the Blue Grass State below.
Purple Toad Winery
The largest winery in the state, Purple Toad Winery is located in Paducah in the western part of Kentucky. The winery was established by June and Allen Dossey, who felt inspired to plant a vineyard after visiting Napa Valley. They planted 2,500 vines, including Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir. They eventually decided to take the next step and open a winery.
Today, Purple Toad Winery produces a variety of wines with grapes not only from Kentucky but also from California, Oregon, Washington, and New York. The winery has garnered a number of awards over the years, including numerous gold medals at the Kentucky Commonwealth Commercial Wine Competition.
In 2016, the winery took home the gold medal for the Black Strawberry, a sweet wine that blends its Blackberry and Strawberry wines, as well as for its Chocolate Strawberry. The winery’s other fruit wines include Blackberry Lemon and Black Peach, which blends peach and blackberry.
Those interested in dry wines can also find plenty of options, including the Bourbon Barrel Aged Cabernet Sauvignon, which has a pleasant whiskey finish. The winery also makes a Cabernet Franc with Kentucky-grown grapes. Aged slightly in toast French oak barrels, this dry wine features a bit of a raspberry finish.
Purple Toad Winery is open daily and offers free tours led by a knowledgeable bartender. Those who can’t visit the winery can find its wines in liquor stores not only in Kentucky but also in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Tennessee.
Equus Run Vineyards
Located in Midway near Lexington, Equus Run Vineyards stands out as a winery in the middle of horse country. With historic stone fences and thoroughbred horse farms nearby, the winery was named a “Must See Hidden Treasure of the US” by CNN Travel.
The winery is operated by winemaker Cynthia Bohn, who started the winery in 1998 after a 31-year career with IBM. Equus Run Vineyards welcomes wine lovers to visit the estate for a self-guided tour of the beautiful vineyard. Visitors can view the different types of grapes and learn about the various trellis techniques used to protect the grapes.
Further, visitors can enjoy a variety of activities on the estate. These include fishing, walking in the promenade gardens, practicing their swing on the golf putting green, or kayaking on South Elkhorn Creek.
The winery also offers private tours for groups of 10 or more. This gives visitors a closer look at the viticulture and winemaking processes and includes a private wine tasting. In addition, Equus Run Vineyards operates a Picnic Program for groups of 10 or more. Groups can choose their gourmet picnic box lunch, in addition to sampling six wines. Guests can enjoy the variety of wines on the tasting room patio, in the gazebo, or on the bar veranda patio.
Equus Run Vineyards’ wines include the Cab Blanc de Noir, a sweet rosé that is similar to a White Zinfandel. This unique wine features aromas of citrus and cantaloupe and flavors of cherry, watermelon, and strawberries. Another white wine made at Equus Run Vineyards is the 2016 Chardonnay. Awarded a silver medal in 2016, this wine has flavors of fresh green apple and pear.
Red wine lovers can try the winery’s Zinfandel, which features notes of black cherry, currant, and blackberry. Further, Equus Run Vineyards makes a Merlot with aromas of dark berries and crème de cassis as well as fruit and vanilla bean flavors. Finally, the winery’s newest addition is the Bella Rosa, a Port-style dessert wine.
In addition to hosting individuals for tastings, Equus Run Vineyards invites guests to visit for the Tunes in the Vines series. For 20 years, the vineyard has hosted this Sunday afternoon event, which allows guests to enjoy live performances of local musicians at the Event Barn. Guests can sample the wines and even enjoy a picnic as they enjoy the music.
Purple Toad Winery and Equus Run Vineyards offer a great introduction into Kentucky’s beautiful, yet little-known wine country. Despite not being in a typical wine climate, these wineries produce excellent wines that you may find rival some of your favorites from more well-known vineyards. Before visiting, be sure to check the following websites for updates on the latest vintages released as well as information on tastings and events: purpletoadwinery.com and www.equusrunvineyards.com.