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Scott Jagow: For decades, Kentucky’s farm land was all about one crop: tobacco. But a lot of small farmers have decided to turn their tobacco fields over to a vice of a different sort. From Louisville, Gabe Bullard reports.
Gabe Bullard: At Felice Vineyard in downtown Louisville, Jeff Tatman makes wine. He used to grow tobacco.
Jeff Tatman: The last year I raised tobacco, and the prices were better then than they are right now. I made about 50 cents net per hour of my time involved.
Tatman stopped growing tobacco in the 90’s, and many other farmers quit after 2004, when the federal government cut subsidies. Now, former tobacco growers are turning to a new, more profitable crop: wine grapes.
The University of Kentucky is offering farmers technical assistance to turn their fields into vineyards. And although the numbers aren’t huge, total acreage devoted to grapes is expected to hit 1,400 by 2015 — more than double the current amount.
One of the early wine pioneers was Jerry Kushner:
Jerry Kushner: This is our operation — you see this, 26, 27 acres of grapes.
Kentucky’s climate is well-suited for growing grapes, but Kushner and other local vintners have found consumers are skeptical of wine from a state better known for coal and horses. Kushner recalled one time a restaurant buyer took a bottle of his wine to the West coast.
Kushner: He took some of the wine out to California to have some people taste it out there, and they loved it because it was a blind tasting. And then when he showed them it came from Kentucky they said, “Well, the wine was good, but it didn’t come from Kentucky.” So Kentucky has a tremendous image problem.
Tyler Colman: There is a lot of snobbery in wine.
Tyler Colman teaches wine appreciation classes at New York University. He says good wine should overcome a few snobs.
Colman: If the quality is there in the glass, that should be enough to carry the day. In the case of Kentucky, if the wine’s half as good as the bourbon, they’ll be doing just fine.
But for Kentucky winemakers to sell their wares in other states, they need to go through a distributor — something new, and small wineries may not be able to afford. Selling it at home is a problem, too — 54 of Kentucky’s 120 counties are dry.
In Louisville, I’m Gabe Bullard for Marketplace.
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