Road Trip: Tennessee and Kentucky



By John ~ May 16th, 2008.

20080516_mountainvalley.jpgOur next stops on our road trip across these United States of America were Tennessee and Kentucky. We headed for Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and visited three Tennessee wineries, Mountain Valley Winery, Apple Barn Winery, and Smoky Mountain Winery. My opinion after these three visits is that Tennessee is not yet serious wine country. The only wines I could recommend (and barely at that) were Merlots using Washington State grapes. Everything else, using local grapes, was pretty weak in my opinion. There was an emphasis on sweet wines made from local area grapes and quite a few fruit wines. It is probably no coincidence that the preference is for sweet tea in restaurants as well.

The one unique thing we found on our Tennessee winery visits was at Smoky Mountain Winery where they served each taste of wine in a small plastic jigger, or church communion cup, rather than in a wine glass. I was able to taste several varietals I’d never had before, adding to my Wine Century Club list, even though they were not of notable quality: Niagara, Catawba, Muscadine, and Norton (called Cynthiana in Tennessee).

Heading on down the road to Kentucky, we toured three Kentucky wineries near Lexington. We were told that the first commercial winery in the United States originated in Kentucky in 1798. Later, the wine industry pretty much died in Kentucky before being revitalized mainly by tobacco growers who have switched their tobacco fields to grape vines. We wondered if we might get a hint of tobacco in some of the wines, but we did not.

As in Tennessee, I was able to taste several varietals in Kentucky that I’d never had before, including Chambourcin, St. Vincent, and Traminette. Chambourcin is a grape I wouldn’t mind trying again. Most of the wines we tasted were produced from Kentucky grown grapes, but there were a few made from out-of-state grapes which they were forthright in disclosing.

Our first stop was at Talon Winery and Vineyards. They have a beautiful, apparently well-funded operation, but only five acres of grapes currently in production. They had the best wine we tasted in Kentucky, a 2005 Talon Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, but it was a little pricey at $50. We also tasted their 2004 Talon Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2005 Talon Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2005 Talon Chambourcin, and the 2005 Talon Traminette. Talon sells wine in their tasting room, offers a wine club, and does ship out-of-state.

Our next stop was the Jean Farris Winery. They had a few good wines, but only one was a good value, the NV Jean Farris Marito Red (a blend of Chambourcin and St. Vincent). Other wines we tasted there were the NV Jean Ferris Tempest (a Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc blend), the NV Jean Ferris Syrah, the 2006 Jean Ferris Viognier, and the NV Jean Ferris Marito White (a blend of Vidal Blanc and Viognier).

20080516_chrismanmillvineyard.jpgOur third and final winery visit in Kentucky was at Chrisman Mill Vineyards near Nicholasville. They have been in business about ten years and sell primarily through their tasting room and a few local stores. They had the second best wine we tasted, a 2005 Chrisman Mill First Vineyard Reserve (a blend of Chambourcin and Cabernet Franc) which is a good value wine. We also tasted their 2005 Chrisman Mill Norton, the NV Chrisman Mill Vidal, the 2005 Chrisman Mill Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2006 Chrisman Mill Ensemble (Vidal Blanc).

In sum, from our limited sample, there appears to be more serious winemaking going on in Kentucky than in Tennessee. The wineries also seem to be working together well in promoting each other. It would be interesting to come back in ten years and see the progress in the wine industry in Kentucky.

Here’s a recap of the wines we tasted in Kentucky, in our order of preference. All prices given are winery/tasting room prices.

2005 Talon Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 3 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $50

2005 Chrisman Mill First Vineyard Reserve
Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $18

2004 Talon Cabernet Sauvignon
Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $22

2005 Talon Cabernet Sauvignon
Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $22

NV Jean Farris Marito Red
Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $14

2005 Chrisman Mill Norton
Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $18

NV Chrisman Mill Vidal
Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $11

NV Jean Ferris Syrah
Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 2 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $32

2005 Talon Chambourcin
Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 1 bang for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $20

NV Jean Ferris Tempest
Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 1 bang for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $35

2006 Jean Ferris Viognier
Quality: 3 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 1 bang for your buck (out of 5)
Price: $19

2005 Chrisman Mill Cabernet Sauvignon
Quality: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: NR (not recommended)
Price: $20

2006 Chrisman Mill Ensemble
Quality: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: NR (not recommended)
Price: $14

NV Jean Ferris Marito White
Quality: 2 stars (out of 5)
QPR: NR (not recommended)
Price: $13

2005 Talon Traminette
Quality: 1.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: NR (not recommended)
Price: $13.50


Filed under: American Wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, Kentucky Wine, Lesser Known Varietals, Red Wine, Shiraz/Syrah, Tennessee Wine, Viognier, White Wine, Wine Travel, Wines NOT To Buy (1 & 2 Star), Wines Over $25, Wines Under $15, Wines Under $20, Wines Under $25

Reader's Comments

  1. Emmett | February 8th, 2009 at 8:39 am

    I’m curious about how you chose the wineries you visited in Tennessee. My experiences only include Washington & Tennessee wineries, but I have been very impressed with some of the Tennessee Wines. I agree with your comments about the the 3 the Tennessee Wineries you visited, but they are not the wineries I would have recommended to you. If you come through Tennessee again consider visting the Chateau Ross in Springfield Tennesee; their Chateau Ross Meadow Lark Merlot is the best I ever drank from any winery any where. Chateau Ross has won competitions against similar sized wineries in Napa Valley. Long Hollow Winery in Goodlettsville produces my all time favorite Blackberry. Chestnut Hill Winery, in Crossville Tennessee, has a chearfull wine called Renegade Red that I enjoy and at $6 a bottle it’s better than many $18 bottles of wine. There are several award winning wineries in Tennessee that I look forward to trying. Our wine industry was almost destroyed by prohibition and it’s only resently started to recover. Restrictive laws that forbid internet sales & limit distribution have kept us from growing the way many Tennesseans would like. But we are getting there, don’t count us out yet.

  2. John | February 12th, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    Emmett,
    In answer to your question, we were visitng friends in Knoxville, and they were kind enough to guide us to the wineries that we visited. I’ll add your suggestions to my list for a future visit. Thanks your you comments.
    John

  3. Traci | May 7th, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    It seems that you were short changed by the selected wineries when you were visiting. While the Great Smoky Mountains are a beauty to behold, like Emmett, the wineries your host directed you to are not establishments which I would have chosen. Specifically, I would have invited you to try the Muscadine or the Davenport Red at Stonehouse Winery on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee, near Crossville. The wineries in Gatlinburg are not to be completely discounted, however, they are not representative of the entire state. There are many family run wineries across the state (and the South) who grow their grapes with great pride and quality. In my travels around the country, I make a point to stop at the small “mom & pop” places to see what they have to offer. I have found that bigger is not necessarily better, nor is the quantity they produce of better quality in the wine world. That philosophy is precisely how I found discovered the wine club of which I am a member in the Lake County region of California. I must add that although I receive my club selections regularly, I still pick up the red from Stonehouse any time I am in the area because it is just that good! The South is not just “sweet tea,” and I sincerely hope your next visit will include a better bouquet of all that we have to offer. Happy travels to you!

  4. John | May 7th, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    Traci,
    Thanks for your recommendation of the Stonehouse Winery. I’ll add this one to my list for a future visit.

  5. Chris | November 17th, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    As a native Tennessean, now in Washington, I echo some of the other commenters. Mainly that Gatlinburg is not the best place to find the best of what the state has to offer. In wines or anything else, IMO.

    Stonehaus makes some nice whites too. Other Tennessee wineries I’ve liked include Beans Creek near Manchester and Beachaven in Clarksville. Of the local grapes, Chambourcin in TN is similar to KY and makes a nice dry red table wine when in the right hands.

    Rumor has it some decent whiskeys are made near Lynchburg, too.

  6. John | November 17th, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    Thanks for your comments, Chris. I’ll keep your suggestions in mind the next time I’m in that area.

  7. Faye | September 30th, 2012 at 8:21 am

    I found your blog extremely interesting, since I am actively promoting Kentucky wines. My book A Wine Lover’s Odyssey Across Kentucky was released in July and is available through my website kentuckywinelover.com and on-line at Amazon.

    I would agree with your assessment of the Kentucky wine industry. The state is definitely making good wine and has improved since your visit. We did find at least one winery that you would enjoy in Tennessee if you return. Chateau Ross(recommended by another post), just north or Nashville, produces many dry reds that you would enjoy.

    If you don’t mind, I would like to put a link to your blog on my site.

    Faye

  8. John | September 30th, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Faye,
    Thanks for your nice comments. Glad to hear Kentucky wines are continuing to improve. And, yes, feel free to put a link to our site from your blog.
    John

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