In the grand scheme of things, the Kentucky Wine and Vine Festival is a relatively new event. It’s rooted, however, in a tradition that dates back more than two hundred years, as the first commercial winery in the United States was started in Jessamine County in 1799 by John James Dufour.
That significant piece of American winemaking history gives organizers hope the event they describe as “a celebration of Kentucky vineyards and all things involving Kentucky’s wine industry” is here to stay.
But, according to co-chair Jeff McDanald, the real key to any future success for the festival won’t be an insistence to lean on the merits of Nicholasville’s significant place in winemaking lore or to stick to the plan that has allowed the event to survive its first decade. It will be the festival’s willingness and ability to evolve.
That’s why the event is significantly different from the first McDanald was involved with eight years ago, though the core mission is the same. It’s also why McDanald and Tonya Coleman, director of Nicholasville Now, the non-profit historic preservation and revitalization organization in charge of the event, have spent the past few weeks happily scrambling to get the last details in place as the two-day festival’s May 18 start date approaches.
“I think it’s a real bright spot,” said McDanald, a West Virginia native who moved to Jessamine County 17 years ago. “I like shining a light on downtown Nicholasville and trying to make the downtown vibrant. I do get a lot of pleasure from it.”
Eleven wineries have signed up to participate this year, including local wineries Chrisman Mill Vineyards and Prodigy Winery, Elk Creek, and Talon Winery and Vineyard.
Organizers are hopeful for up to 2,500 people to attend the event, an increase from 2011’s estimated attendance of 2,000. McDanald will be the first to credit any spike in attendance to the stars of the show –– the wines –– but he’s also quick to point out the significance of the perpetual polishing job it’s receiving.
The event is no longer a three-day affair as it was during its first few editions, with the cookouts, golf scrambles and cooking demonstrations that were held earlier in the event having been eliminated. Other activities have been integrated into the program, such as a Friday bus tour to area wineries. This year it starts at Kentucky Bank in Nicholasville before departing to Elk Creek in Owenton, where guests will have lunch in addition to a tour and wine tastings. It will then proceed to Capital Cellars in Frankfort followed by a visit to Prodigy in Versailles before returning to Nicholasville.
The focus of the event has also been aimed at downtown Nicholasville, where the majority of the events now take place. In previous years, the festival was spread out across different venues. Being contained in the downtown Nicholasville area will not only be more convenient for festival attendees to participate in more of the event, it will also shine an otherwise unavailable spotlight on downtown Nicholasville’s other offerings.
“Staying completely downtown will not only allow access to festival, but to also allow visitors to remain within close proximity to everything else downtown Nicholasville has,” Coleman said. “It’s really gotten our partners and sponsors excited.”
Geography and scheduling haven’t been the only changes.
Throughout the event’s eight-year run, everything has been altered from the types of food served to the music that is played and how it’s presented. There has also been a theme added to this year’s Wine Gala, that being Women of Wine. It’s the first time a theme has been incorporated into that activity and, after a post mortum of the festival following the event, it could be a mainstay going forward.
Or not. As McDanald said, the search for what works and what doesn’t by the event’s organizers will be as much a part of the festival as merlot and chardonnay.
“We’ve made a concentrated effort to be in a continual state of improvement,” McDanald said. “We’re always trying to upgrade.”
Wine & Vine Festival
Noon – 7 p.m. May 19
Downtown Nicholasville, Ky.