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From Barnyard to Vineyard

Carrollton's Georgievs find
lucrative venture in growing grapes,
making wine, as do other local farmers

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

CARROLLTON, Ky. (Sept. 2002) – For Vicky and Krasi Georgiev, growing grapes is more of an art form than arduous labor. The Carrollton, Ky., couple has turned their romantic dream of owning their own vineyard into a reality with River Valley Winery.
“I can’t see us doing anything else,” said Vicky.
“Love is the main thing,” said Krasi, explaining why they have put so much time and effort into this entrepreneurial business.
Vicky is a Carrollton native, while Krasi is from Bulgaria. It was during the couple’s honeymoon near the Black Sea that they seriously began gathering information on the grape growing process.
The entire culture of Bulgaria is proud of its wine, said Vicky. Since the 13th century, the people of Bulgaria have been growing grapes, tending vines and cultivating exquisite tastes that would become recognized worldwide.
“Every family has a vineyard; every family has wine,” said Krasi. “It’s like an ocean; you never see the end.”

Vicky, Krasi Georgiev

Krasi and Vicky
Georgiev of Carrollton

The couple researched the art of growing grapes and making wines long before they actually planted their first grapevines. They have worked closely with the state Agricultural Development Board, following the state’s guidelines for establishing a winery.
Krasi advises anyone considering the business to “work with an agricultural agent or someone with experience.”
Many different factors work together to produce a quality grape for a quality wine. A suitable climate, a location that receives plenty of sunlight, warmth, adequate air circulation between the vines, freedom from frost and well-drained soil must be considered before instituting a profitable vineyard.
Two basic decisions that must be made when starting a winery are site selection and market consideration, according to David Loney, president of the Kentucky Vineyard Society and a member of the Grape Industry Advisory Committee and the Kentucky Horticulture Council.
If a commercial vineyard is being planned, growers must decide which grape variety (or cultivar) to grow and what market is in need of that variety.
Growing grapes is a slow process, said Krasi. The first two years are the hardest and very labor intensive, said Vicky.
The couple hand-planted their 41/2 acres of grapes and stuck to a rigid spray schedule to nurture their vines. “Every vine has a different personality, like kids,” said Vicky. She has recently added bee keeping to her endless list of duties to produce her own variety of honey wine for future sale.
What wine they have produced so far will be offered for sale in September and October at the Music in the Park series at the Butler Turpin House at Gen. Butler State Resort Park in Carrollton. This month’s Music in the Park is set for Sept. 7 and Sept. 28.
Vicky saw this music series as an opportunity to offer their product not only to local customers but also to people from outside the state of Kentucky.
“We want to promote Carroll County,” she said. Thus, they have created wine bottle labels that illustrate the point where the Kentucky and Ohio rivers meet in Carrollton.
When Krasi first came to Kentucky he was struck with the perfect conditions the state afforded for the winery business. But his idea was not really an innovative one for the area because the winery industry had flourished in central Kentucky for years before it was destroyed by Prohibition.
The first commercial vineyard in the United States was located in Jessamine County, Ky. It was started by Switzerland County, Ind., native John James Dufour. Dufour organized the Kentucky Vineyard Society with 100 shareholders who planted five acres with 35 different species of grapes.
But due to a sickness that spread among the grapes, Dufour failed in his efforts. He then moved across the Ohio River near Vevay, Ind., attempting winemaking again in an area that became known as “The Rhineland of America.”
Like Dufour, Krasi said he and his wife encountered difficulties, made mistakes and constantly “learn as we go.” Vicky has been inspired by Madison Vineyards in Madison, Ind., because they run a business similar to what her idea of what a winery should be.
Madison Vineyards owner Steve Palmer said he has collected a library of material and attended countless classes at Ohio State and Purdue universities to learn as much as he could about the industry.
Palmer’s wife, Sandy, gave him a wine-making kit for their first Christmas together in 1971. Four years later, they planted their first grapes.
“Our biggest obstacle was financing,” he said. “We had to purchase land and equipment.” The Palmers converted a former cattle farm into the present Madison Vineyards.
But unlike Palmer, Chuck Smith of Smith-Berry Gallery and Winery in New Castle, Ky., already owned his farm and had previously grown tobacco there. Like many other farmers searching for an alternative tobacco crop, Smith pumped his Phase I Tobacco Settlement money back into his farm to jump-start his winery.
Smith said that while grape growing is labor intensive on the front end, it is easier than raising tobacco. He added that the “ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control Board) has been helpful with the process.”
“There really is no replacement for tobacco,” Loney said. “This is an alternative for some people. Wineries are good companions for rural development. When supplemented with tourism, they open a full potential for new challenges and opportunities.”
Like the Georgievs and the Palmers, Smith has spent his share of time researching the industry. He visited vineyards in California and Missouri to observe the fundamentals of a successful winery business.
Smith’s plan is to get more local farmers to grow grapes, so that juice will not have to be shipped in to him from out of state, which in turn aides the local economy.
Loney said that in time, Kentucky’s vineyards would improve in quality and characteristics. Expertise is what is needed most to guide those individuals wishing to establish vineyards and wineries.
The same soil that produces world famous racehorses, bourbon and tobacco will make a truly unique wine. The industry is still “looking for this signature group,” he said.

• To contact Loney at the Kentucky Vineyard Society, call (606) 763-6120.

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