First American Winery receives historical marker

Published 11:42 am Tuesday, July 4, 2023

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Jessamine County is home to the first-ever commercial winery in the United States. In June, the First Vineyard Winery, located at 5800 Sugar Creek Pike, received its historical marker.

In 2015, co-owners Bobbye Carpenter and Thomas Beall applied for the First Vineyard Winery to be registered in the National Registry of Historic Places. It was placed on the registry but did not receive a plaque. These bronze plaques can be found throughout Kentucky – next to Henry Clay’s estate, the Mary Todd Lincoln house and the Jessamine County Court House.

The plaques aren’t just granted to the historical sites by the country, though. The landowners must purchase them, and the cost ranges anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

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Thanks to a helping hand, the vineyard’s co-owners didn’t have to pay a dime.

“One of the ladies in the Kentucky Society of Daughters of the American Colonists was an old friend of Thomas. She’d heard all about us all these years, and so they helped us get the plaque. It was wonderful. I didn’t realize how much of a difference it made.” Carpenter said.

On the front and back of the plaque is the history of the vineyard’s origins – all found from Carpenter and Beall spending years of their lives researching the winery’s origins.

Beall bought the property in 1994.

Carpenter said he had no idea about it. He purchased the property and knew he was interested in excavating the area, but he didn’t know what he would find.

After working for the previous property owner, Beall asked if he could bring his four-wheeler to ride around his land. The owner said yes, and upon riding around the wooded river-side land, Beall drove into a wall. This was the wall surrounding the vineyard, but Beall didn’t know what it was yet.

“When we bought the vineyard, it was just trees, and there were some vines that had grown up in it, but we didn’t know why,” Carpenter said.

He was eventually able to buy the property. While researching and excavating to find what had been on this land, he used the property to sell canoe rides on the Kentucky River and horseback rides.

Using a book from his friends at Butler Winery in Indiana, Beall discovered a historical winery just off the big bend of the Kentucky River. Their next step was researching the property’s chain of title, and the two went back all the way to when the land was Virginia territory.

After four years, their research was complete. Carpenter and Beall found that the land they had cleared on the property was home to the first commercial winery in America, established by Swiss immigrant John James Dufour. It opened in 1799 and operated until 1809.

In the 2000s, thanks to the co-owners of the winery, it reopened after 200 years of closure. The two ordered around 40 propagated plants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that preserved the original plants used in the First Vineyard Winery in 1799. The plants were successful, and the vineyard has been up and running ever since.

Now, Carpenter says, even if the vineyard is one day lost again, being replaced by apartment complexes, this sign will permanently memorialize this land as the start of American wine.

“(The plaque) is absolutely beautiful. The ladies were the ones who raised the money, and they ordered and picked out the marker. I don’t think I would have done as well cause it is the most beautiful marker I’ve ever seen. It might just be because we finally have it here with all the research that we did, but it is absolutely beautiful, and we are so grateful to them,” he said.