Throwback Thursday – Kentucky, Birthplace of America’s Wine Industry

Throwback Thursday this week tells the story of wine in Kentucky. Believe it or not, America’s commercial wine industry was actually born in Kentucky in 1798. The Commonwealth was one of the top wine producing states in the country for nearly a century before Prohibition. 

Kentucky’s wine history begins when Switzerland-born John James DuFour ventured West to our new country. He made it to Lexington, called the “Athens of the West,” and made friends with Henry Clay, founding the Kentucky Vineyard Society. With 600 acres of land along the Kentucky River in modern Jessamine County, America’s “First Vineyard” was born. By 1803, its bottles were being sent all over the country, and even to President Thomas Jefferson. 

By the late 19th century, Kentucky was the third largest wine and grape producing state in America. But the wine business all but stopped during the Prohibition era, and many grape farmers turned to tobacco instead. But, Kentucky’s 1976 legislation allowed wineries to operate again, even providing tobacco settlement funds for farmers to return to the wine industry. Now, Kentucky has 65 wineries and the industry is on the move. 

There are several wineries nearby in southcentral Kentucky, like Smiths Grove’s Bluegrass Vineyard, Rockfield’s Traveler’s Cellar Winery, Alvaton’s Reid’s Livery Winery, Auburn’s Carriage House Vineyard, and Franklin’s Crocker Farm Winery. All of these and more can be found on the Kentucky Proud website’s winery page, including a full list of all wineries across the Commonwealth. Site visitors can also learn more about Kentucky grape varieties and wine tasting. We plan to share more on the histories of our local wineries soon.