Grape Expectations

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By Ben Carlson

Armed with small pruning shears, sunglasses and a floppy hat, Logan Leet grabs a handful of grapes and snips the vine.

It’s a repetitive process — one that Leet and a dozen or so workers at Lover Leap Winery & Vineyards on Lanes Mill Road have performed countless times over the past several weeks as they harvest the ambrosia-like spheres that will eventually become a dizzying array of wines to please all palates.

It’s harvest time at Lovers Leap, and the first in Leet’s tenure as the winery’s new owner. He purchased it this fall from the Holder family.

The 30-acre vineyard is a panoramic spectacle that is a testament to the Holder family’s vision to turn a chunk of rural farmland into a grape-producing haven.

Leet said this year’s harvest will likely produce about 10,000 gallons of wine.

“We can make about 50,000 gallons at full capacity,” he said. “To do that, we’d have to purchase some grapes.”

Leet is the first to admit that when it comes to making wine he’s no expert. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t intimately familiar with the product.

“I’m a prolific consumer of wine, but have never been a winemaker,” Leet said. “I’m learning a lot as we go along.”

He and his wife Pam, however, are experts in marketing. Logan has spent a career in real estate, buying and selling homes he has fixed up. Pam is a marketing executive with TwoCan Marketing Group in Lexington.

Making the wine, Logan said, is something they are leaving to an expert.

“We have a winemaker, Ben O’Daniel, who owns Jean-Farris, a small winery and bistro in Lexington,” Logan said. “He makes very good wine … about as good as it gets in Kentucky. He’s a third-generation wine maker, and his dad has a winery in Kentucky as well.”

From vine to bottle

Most folks in Anderson County have plenty of knowledge when it comes to distilling spirits, given the area’s bourbon connection to Wild Turkey and Four Roses.

Making wine isn’t all that different, Logan said.

“There’s not a lot of difference, except for the actual distilling process,” he said. “It’s a little simpler for wine.”

After picking the grapes, they are carted to the winery where they are crushed to extract the juice. Yeast is added to the juice, which allows it to ferment and turn the sugars in the juice into alcohol. “Then you have wine,” Leet said.

But unlike bourbon, which has to be distilled for years or even a decade, most wines are available within a year.

“You do get to turn it around a little faster,” Logan said. “Red wines are about two years out and are aged in an oak barrel. For the white wines, most will come out in the spring.”

Different grapes,

different wines

As anyone who has stood in a store and surveyed the vast array of wines will attest, there is no shortage of choices.

The same is true at Lovers Leap. Just in the past several weeks, the harvest has included grapes that will produce Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Riesling, Vidal Blanc, Tramminette and Cynthiana, just to name a few.

“We grow a bunch of different grapes,” Logan said last Wednesday afternoon. “Today, we are picking for the Cabernet Sauvignon. Yesterday, it was for Cabernet Franc. We have already harvested Chardonnay, Riesling and Vidal Blanc.”

Another grape harvested at Lovers Leap is Cynthiana.

“That’s sort of a native grape,” Logan said. “It has been grown here for centuries. Most people make it as Cynthiana [wine], but it’s also well known in the Midwest as Norton.”

While the bulk of Lovers Leap’s grapes are grown on site, the winery does some purchasing and selling with other vineyards, Logan said.

“We wholesale some and buy some, but mostly from others in Kentucky,” he said.

Another source is grown in Anderson County by Joey Sloan, whose vineyard sits along Frankfort Road between Nineveh Road and Highway 151.

New owner, new plan

Although the Leets’ purchase of the winery just took place, the thinking behind it has been going on for some time.

Logan and Pam have lived in the Lovers Leap area — the tony section of Lanes Mill Road dotted with beautiful log homes — for about six years.

“I had been primarily in real estate, buying and selling properties,” Logan said. “Everything I had was full or had been sold and with the market getting questionable, I didn’t want to get caught in the middle. So, I looked for something else to do.”

The Leets had their eye on the winery and, when the Holders decided to sell, jumped at the opportunity.

“It was never good timing until this year,” he said. “It just worked out that way.”

Logan said the Holders built a fine winery and did a terrific job maintaining its most important asset: the vines.

“They are as good a bunch of vines as you’ll find in Kentucky,” he said.

“But we plan to do a lot more promotion of the winery, update the facilities and be more friendly toward having weddings and corporate meetings. That’s something that hasn’t been maximized.”

E-mail Ben Carlson at bcarlson@theandersonnews.com.