The roots of the Baker-Bird Winery in Bracken County go back to the 1850s, and its wine cellar played a crucial role in the Battle of Augusta in 1862. It is the oldest commercial estate winery in the nation. Dr. Dinah Bird, owner of the winery, said they have the largest and oldest wine cellar open to the public in America.
The stone walls are about 14 feet tall and 3 feet thick. Bird said eyewitness records from the Battle of Augusta show that women and children were sent to the wine cellar for safety when Morgan’s Raiders came to town. The grape harvest was under way when the battle occurred on Sept. 27, 1862. “The soldiers wrote back that they were so hungry that before they charged they were actually in the vineyards eating the grapes,” Bird said.
The wine cellar, 40 feet wide and 40 feet tall, was hand dug 90 feet into the side of a hill, Bird said. “If it was all full of wine barrels, it would hold over 5,000 wine barrels, which would be about 1.6, 1.7 million bottles of wine,” Bird said. “And since making wine, or fermenting, generates a lot of heat, then the cellar is perfect for the refrigeration of that area,” Bird said.
Although the winery produced wines in the 1850s, a fungus in the vineyards stopped production in the 1860s and ‘70s, Bird said. “And of course tobacco took over this area as an agricultural product,” she said.
Bird had studied winemaking, and when she learned the A. Baker Winery was for sale back in 2002, she purchased it and decided to save the winery and begin growing grapes and selling wine again. “Our logo was a bird. The bird is a robin. In the wine business, we call them grape thieves,” she said. “They’re very good at scarfing up those grapes, and that’s exactly what we want to do to make wine.”
Almost all of Bird-Baker’s wines use Kentucky-grown grapes, Bird said. “We use a lot of French-American hybrids,” she said. The first time she saw one of her wines on a store shelf, she felt proud. “It’s just like any achievement you’ve worked hard for,” she said. “Then that’s a great sensation you get. Like, wow, I did it! It can happen.”
This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2207, which originally aired on November 19, 2016. Watch the full episode.