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Spotlight on Nicholasville: First Vineyard Winery reclaims its historic past

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Posted at 5:05 PM, Sep 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-08 09:45:55-04

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. (LEX 18) — It's a historic treasure that was hidden from the public for more than 100 years.

Most people don't know that America's wine industry first began in Jessamine County in the late 1700s. The First Vineyard Winery was re-discovered and is now again a commercial vineyard.

That didn't happen easily... the owners had to work hard to prove its history before getting the vines growing and the wine flowing again.

"It's like having a child," said Tom Beall, owner of First Vineyard Winery. "We've raised it from conception, all the way through to maturity, and we're pretty proud of it."

"I think you can see the beauty of what he started here, and that makes you feel wonderful," said Bobbye Carpenter with First Vineyard Winery.

"He" is Swiss immigrant John James Dufour.

With backing from some of the statesmen of the day, Secretary of State Henry Clay, Treasury Secretary George Bibb, and a land survey by Daniel Boone, Dufour started the first commercial winery in the United States.

"Somebody else actually discovered it was here and told me about it," said Beall. "Then what we had to do... we had to prove it was here."

Beginning in the late 1990s, Beall first used this land for a canoe livery and then trail riding, but when he found out its historical significance, he set out to restore it to its original purpose... a commercial winery and vineyard.

"I thought it was important to put it back," he said. "And it was pretty easy, in a way, because the terraces were still here."

Easy to conceive... a little harder to execute.

"The clearing and the planting... it was awful at first because we did it all ourselves along with some relatives and friends," said Carpenter.

It's proof that hard work pays off. The winery now produces more than a dozen varieties.

"We have sweet whites, sweet reds and dry, we have fruit wine... so everybody can find something they like when they come here," said Carpenter.

The winery John James Dufour started did not survive his return to Switzerland and a hard late-spring freeze. But thanks to Tommy and Bobbye, First Vineyard Winery is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

First Vineyard Winery is open Friday to Sunday from 1:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. each week. They will be open from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. starting in November.

If you want to contact First Vineyard Winery, the number on their website isn't working right now. Bobbye Carpenter's cell phone number is (859) 948-4208.