Kentucky Derby Region
Broad Run Vineyards - Thank goodness that we found one winery open on a Sunday when we visited central Kentucky...and that was this Louisville winery. Most Kentucky counties prohibit the sale of alcohol on Sundays, but not the Louisville area, so we were very pleased that we could make one Sunday visit on a long-weekend wine getaway. I'm glad that we could only visit one winery this particular day, because the sit-down tastings at Broad Run are very relaxed and take an extra-long time.
It was a beautiful Labor Day weekend and we had a very nice drive to Louisville from our B&B. We arrived mid-afternoon and there were only a handful of cars in the parking lot. We entered the tasting room building, which was very large. The tasting counter seemed so small in comparison to the rest of the room. There were approximately 8 or 9 seats at the counter and the rest of the room was empty...with the exception of a table or two here and there. I got the impression the biggest portion of this room was mainly used for events and gatherings. The woman behind the counter immediately greeted and asked one woman to scoot down a seat so we could sit at the only two vacant seats that were beside each other. She announced that when someone new arrived...the tasting started over. I wasn't sure if she was serious...but the people beside us were only on their second sample and didn't seem to mind beginning again with us.
We sampled almost all of the 18 wines available for sampling at Broad Run. It was a totally relaxed tasting and no one was rushed through their samples. I know we sat there for almost an hour tasting wine and partaking in the cheese, crackers, and other various munchies that were made available. Our hostess (who I believe was the winemaker's wife) was super friendly and her wonderful attitude and knowledge of the wines really added to the whole experience. At one point the winemaker, Jerry Kushner, came in from outside and gave everyone some Gewurztraminer grapes to sample that were fresh off the vine.
The winemaker here certainly knows what he's doing, and I very much enjoyed all of the wines that we sampled. I will mention a few that seemed to stand out above the rest: I thought the 2002 Gewurztraminer was wonderful - it exhibited such a sweet floral aroma. I found the 2004 Chambourcin to be fantastic - a very mellow, easy-drinking wine. The 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon - this rare Cabernet aged in stainless steel was surprisingly tasty. I also loved the Rosette - a semi-sweet red with 3% residual sugar that wasn't syrupy sweet and was quite delicious.
Since it was our only stop of the day, we decided to stay and enjoy a glass of wine. We could see the railings of a deck through the windows, and we asked our hostess if we could buy a glass and drink it on the deck. She said they didn't have any tables and chairs set up outside at the moment (which I thought was odd being Labor Day weekend - the weather had been wonderful for several months) but she was glad to accommodate us and helped us set-up a spot out outdoors where we could sit down. The view of the vineyards on the hillside was lovely from the back deck, and I wondered why they didn't encourage more people to spend time outside by keeping tables and chairs up at all times. I think it is something their customers would take advantage of if they saw there was seating outside.
When we were done with our wine, we came back inside to make a few purchases to take home. It was near closing time and we chatted with the winemaker and his wife for a few moments before being treated to a tour of Broad Run's winemaking facilities. They have a huge area in the basement for production and storage and we were given the grand tour. The most interesting thing we found out was that the owners have kept two cases of every wine they have ever produced. I found that pretty remarkable and wondered if any other winemakers did the same thing.
I was very pleased with our visit to Broad Run Vineyards. I especially enjoyed the ultra-relaxed sit-down tasting experience. I was also impressed with the quality of their wines. Though I did personally appreciate some more than others...I thought everything they offered was fantastic. If you're in the mood for some wine tasting in the Louisville area (especially on a Sunday), I highly recommend a visit to Broad Run. Favorites: 2004 Chambourcin and Rosette.
Horseshoe Bend Vineyards - This Willisburg, Kentucky farm winery has had a few things to contend with over the years. The vines were planted 10 years ago and for several years the grapes were sold to another Kentucky winery. After awhile, the owners decided start producing their own wine, but the winery is located in a dry county and they couldn't sell their wine on-site. They took this issue to the voters hoping to get an exemption to sell wine directly from the winery...but the issue was defeated and they had to wait three years before attempting to put it on the ballot again. The issue came up for a second vote, and this time it passed. The owners were finally able to offers tastings and sell their wares on-site.
Another issue the winery has to contend with right now is the location of their current tasting room - their kitchen. I can't blame them for not building a separate tasting room not knowing if the voters would ever allow them to sell wine on premises. When the issue passed, they opened up their home to the public for tastings and they allow visitors to sit on their deck to enjoy a glass of their Kentucky made wine. This problem will soon resolve itself, because a separate tasting room is now in the planning stages and the owners will regain the privacy of their home.
We map-out all of our driving directions online...but we could not get exact directions to this winery and printed the directions from their website. Horseshoe Bend is located a good ways down a very narrow gravel road. We were hoping we wouldn't meet anyone along the road because there were a few places where it would be impossible for one car to pull over and let the other one through. The directions we printed said to turn into the drive just past the cattle chute. We're both city people and neither of us knew what a cattle chute was. We ended up turning into the first drive we came across after we started seeing grapevines. We ended up at the right place...the winery and home of the owners.
We parked and tried to determine which of the two entrances we should use, since there was no sign pointing to the tasting room. We chose the wrong one and ended up entering the main door to their house. Our hostess came from the kitchen to greet us and told us not to worry about using the wrong door. She said that she was just packing up an order for some customers that were getting ready to leave and she would be right with us. We followed her to the kitchen and chatted for a few minutes with the two men that had just finished their tasting - who had nothing but praise for the wine they had just sampled. They were hoping for a quick tour before leaving and our hostess invited us to go too before we started sampling. The winemaking process takes place in the basement and the winemaker was hard at work. After a quick tour of the facilities, we went back upstairs to taste some wine.
They had six wines available for sampling: Chardonnay, Cabernet, Rose of Cabernet, Vidal Blanc, Cardinal and Goldenrod. The Cardinal (a dessert wine made from the Norton grape) and the Goldenrod (a dessert wine made from Vidal Blanc) were available only for sampling - they haven't been officially released for purchase yet. I did find one wine that I thoroughly enjoyed - the Rose of Cabernet. It is made from the Cabernet Franc grape and I absolutely loved the citrus and berry flavors it exhibited. It started out like a red and finished like a white - I thought it was quite delicious.
We had plenty of time to spare before checking into our B&B, and we decided to stay for a glass of wine on the deck. Our hostess asked if we would like some cheese cubes with our wine...and we told her that would be great since we hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast. We took our and wine cheese out to the one table on the small deck and took in the lovely view while we sipped our wine. There are gorgeous views in every direction from this little winery. Half-way through our wine, our hostess came outside carrying a small plate with bread and spreads on it. She said she was fixing herself a snack and brought us a little something more to eat since it had been several hours since we had a meal. I thought it was so nice of her to do this out of the goodness of her heart...and what she brought us was so yummy. We were very grateful.
I thought the wines at this little Kentucky winery were fantastic. They told us of plans to build a new tasting facility now that they are able to sell on premises. Though I love finding these wineries off the beaten path, I'm hoping it is built on another part of their property and will be slightly more convenient to visitors. I'm anxious to see what this new winery has in store for the future. Favorite: Rose of Cabernet.
Smith-Berry Vineyard and Winery - You wouldn't suspect the small town of New Castle, Kentucky to harbor a wonderful little winery such as Smith-Berry - but it does. They are a cattle and tobacco farm that has expanded into grape-growing, and they're doing a great job. With the "Berry" in the name, Gary originally thought we were visiting a fruit winery, but the Smith-Berry name comes from the owners - winemaker Chuck Smith and his wife's family name of Berry.
It was our first stop of the day, and we arrived promptly at 11:00 a.m. on a Saturday - one hour after the tasting room opened. Vintner Chuck Smith was manning the counter at this early hour. A neighbor had stopped by to purchase a bottle of wine for the weekend and was just leaving as we were entering. Upon his departure, we had the winemaker to ourselves for awhile...which is an experience I always enjoy. He was super friendly and as first-time visitors, he was anxious for us to sample his wines. We sampled 13 wines in all - including the three reserve wines not usually available for tasting. He told us we just happened to be in luck because he had a bottle of each of his reserves open that day.
Although all the wines were excellent - I did prefer the dry reds at Smith Berry. They were absolutely fantastic. I really loved the Norton. A few weeks before visiting Smith-Berry I visited central Virginia where Norton seems to be king - and this winery's Norton is better than any I had sampled on my recent trip to Virginia. I also enjoyed the Chambourcin very much. It's done in a semi-dry style and has just the right touch of sweetness to bring out the flavor of the grape. As for the reserves - I found them all spectacular. Both the 30- Month and Burley Reserve were so smooth and mellow....and all I can say for the Vintner's Reserve is "Wow". We got to sample this wine even though it was sold out - and I can understand why they couldn't keep in on the shelves for long.
As we were finishing sampling the dry wines, one of the winemaker's daughters came to relieve him of his tasting room duties so he could go about his daily routine. She poured the last four samples of the sweeter wines for us. Two worth mentioning are the semi-sweet Vidal Blanc, which I thought was unique with its cotton candy/circus peanut flavors. The Bluegrass Blush was also very tasty and unique - a blend of white, red and blueberry.
We had a wonderful morning visit to Smith-Berry Winery. I was very impressed with the wines they produce...especially the dry reds. It was much too early for us to take advantage of it - but there was a charming little patio outside the tasting room for visitors to stay and enjoy a glass of wine. The winemaker was so hospitable and friendly...it was a great start to our day. Favorite: Norton.
Springhill Winery - WOW! Most wineries are visited just for the wine - but this Bloomfield, Kentucky winery offers so much more. A visit to Springhill is the total wine experience. Not only do they make exceptional wine - but there is a bed and breakfast on-site run by Eddie and Carolyn O'Daniel, Springhill's winemaker and his charming wife. Wine tasting, vineyard views from your room, chatting with the owners over a scrumptious breakfast...no wine traveler could ask for a better experience.
We booked our stay here on this trip and arrived on a Saturday afternoon. The winery has a great location just off the Blue Grass Parkway, so we had convenient access to the roads we would need when visiting other area wineries. The B&B sits on a hill and it looks so inviting from the highway. We pulled into the drive and saw that the tasting room was just behind the B&B. I was surprised that it was so close, so we parked the car and decided to do a little wine tasting before checking in.
When we entered the tasting room, we found the O'Daniels working behind the counter...which seems to be the norm. The room was nicely decorated and very appealing. Someone was at the cash register making a purchase, so we wandered around the room for a bit checking out their selection of gift items and the variety of wines they produce. I was very excited to see both a Beaujolais and a Mead, neither of which we come across very often. When we were finished browsing, we took a seat at the tasting counter where we were treated to a sampling of Springhill's 14 wines with winemaker Eddie O'Daniel as our host.
I found several clear favorites during our sampling. The newly released Chardonnay aged in Kentucky oak was very unique. It had an amber hue and flavors of ripe apple. The Bordeaux was very full bodied and bursting with berry flavors. I loved the Beaujolais and found it very mellow with flavors of raspberry, black cherry and oak - I really enjoyed the lingering taste that stayed with me after each sip. The Riesling was very citrusy and crisp - done in a semi-sweet style. The Sweet Scarlet had a wonderfully powerful aroma and vibrant flavors. I really enjoyed the Kentucky Rose which had a great floral flavors and just the right touch of sweetness. One of Gary's favorites was the Harvest Mead - made with wild honey, it wasn't as heavy as some Meads I have tasted in the past and I found it very drinkable. My very favorite was the last wine we sampled, which wasn't even on the tasting sheet. I absolutely loved Springhill's Old Tawny Port. I am going to go all out and say this is the best Port I have sampled on our travels. Full of caramel flavor with hints of nuts, this wine brought a huge smile to my face. We were able to snag one bottle - but quantities are very limited. You'll more than likely have to ask to taste this wonderful Kentucky Port.
After our tasting we checked into our rooms - the Pinot Noir Suite and the Beaujolais Suite. Our rooms had their own private staircase off the dining room, as they used to be the slave quarters of this historic plantation house. Our rooms were very private and we each had our own bedroom, sitting room and we shared one bathroom in the middle. I loved my room (the Beaujolais Suite). It was very feminine - decorated with dark pink and florals. The vineyard views from the windows are perfect for wine travelers like us. I felt so comfortable and right at home every time I stepped inside. Each morning coffee was waiting outside our doors. Everything was just delightful.
A country breakfast is served each morning in the dining room. The biscuits and gravy were wonderful and I especially enjoyed the Freedom Toast with bourbon syrup. The owners will sit down to breakfast with you and tell stories of the inn's haunted past. Although I tried not to think about it, Gary and I did have one encounter while sipping wine one evening on the patio. We were the only people outside, but yet we heard a girl pass behind me and say a couple of words - but we're not sure what she said. I immediately got goose bumps when I heard her and said to Gary, "Did you hear that"? When he replied, "That little girl? She said two words, but I'm not sure what she said" - I was kind of freaked-out because that's exactly what I had heard. I was sure we had just experienced one of the girls that used to live on the plantation.
A visit to the Springhill Winery and Plantation Bed & Breakfast is the perfect getaway for wine enthusiasts. The on-site winery produces exceptional wines and there are also several other wineries only a short drive away. First-class accommodations are available at the historic B&B and you'll be able to spend quality time with the owners receiving an in-depth look at the winery itself and learning about the history of winemaking in Kentucky. As an added bonus, you may also have a brush with a paranormal experience from the past. A stay here comes with our highest recommendation. Favorites: Old Tawny Port, Kentucky Rose and Beaujolais.