By Torie Temple

You can learn about the wineries participating in WineFest and sample various wines. 

Horses, rolling hills, and bluegrass have long been symbols for our great state, but lost in history is the story of how Kentucky became the third largest grape and wine producer in the nation. This hidden part of our past isn’t lost with Ann Karsner, owner of Horseshoe Bend Winery, who learned of Kentucky’s history of growing grapes as she planted her own in 1997. Sometimes it takes looking back to grow a future.

As Ann came to learn, winemaking in Kentucky can be traced back to maker Jean-Jacques Dufour, who started a journey in 1798 to find suitable land to grow grapes in the newly formed United States. In Lexington, Jean-Jacques met Henry Clay, who along with other prominent statesmen formed the Kentucky Vineyard Society and bought 600 acres on the Kentucky River in what is now Jessamine County. This is where the first vineyard was planted in Kentucky. The state overcame crop damage from the Civil War and by the late 1800s became the nation’s third largest grape and wine producer. Eventually, Prohibition put Kentucky’s grape and wine industry out of business, and farmers turned their land over to the production of tobacco. (source)

Ann can lead wine enthusiasts down the path of her own history at Horseshoe Bend. “We bought the property in 1987, planted grapes in 1997, and then got our license in 2003,” she says. “Our first commercial line was with the 2004 harvest. In 2009, we opened a tasting room. Since Washington County was dry, we had to wait until after the election to add a tasting room onto the property.”

If wine pairing is a concern for your Derby party this year, Ann can simply direct you to a glance at the labels on Horseshoe Bend’s bottles. “We do a lot of European-style wines that are crafted to go with food,” she says. “On the back of our labels, there is a guide on what would go well with that particular wine thanks to my son, Greg Karsner. For example, our riesling pairs well with mango honey and glazed chicken. Our red jester, which is wonderful with spaghetti, also pairs with black and blue burgers, blackened pork sliders, and jalapeno-topped chicken with pepperjack cheese.”

Ann also suggests you not limit yourself to these pairings. The perfect combination is up to the discretion of each individual. “Taste the wine in advance of your party,” she recommends. “See what you think it will go with and get advice from different wine stores. I have had sommeliers suggest a certain pairing that I didn’t care for, so don’t feel you have to stick with any certain combination. Everyone has their own opinion.”

Horseshoe Bend will have a booth at this year’s Kentucky Derby Festival WineFest, which will be held on the Belvedere on Tuesday and Wednesday during the first week of May. Attendees will have a chance to learn about the many vineyards in Kentucky and meet the Karsner family and sample the vineyard’s wine. “During WineFest, the community will be able to taste a whole bunch of different styles of wines to see what they may prefer,” Ann says. “You will find sweet wines, dry wines, and some sangria.

“There is no concrete recipe to winemaking. It is up to the discretion of the winemaker to play with the different parts of the recipe and give it their own individual stamp. That’s why we say it is crafted. Everybody who owns small boutique wineries in Kentucky is crafting their own individual style. This is what you will find at WineFest.”

If you cannot make it to WineFest this year, you can visit Horseshoe Bend Winery in Willisburg, Kentucky, about an hour from Louisville. “We are open seven days a week and there is no need to call for an appointment, especially beginning April 1st through November 1st,” Ann says. “I am here from 11am to 5pm every weekday and 11am to 7pm on the weekends.”

Visit here to learn more about the wines and recipes for pairings, and stop by its booth at WineFest for a taste of Kentucky’s history. Today’s Woman will be there too — Stop and see us at our booth!