Award-Winning Kentucky Wines
By: Gerald Dlubala
There are those who believe that award-winning wine couldn’t possibly come from a Kentucky winery. After all, Kentucky is known for bourbon and horses, right? The innovative, welcoming, award-winning gold medal folks at Up The Creek Winery would like to speak with you.
It started in the early 2000s when Up The Creek co-owner Greg Haddle began looking at property in Oregon to start a vineyard and winery in his retirement years. His brother, David, recommended he look closer to home, where his money would likely get twice the land. So, while looking at an old tobacco farm, Possum Hollow Farms, in Cumberland County, Kentucky, they both knew this was the place for their future vineyard and winery.
“It was just the feeling we got when we were there,” said Haddle. “It felt right. It felt like a place that takes all the stress away from your life and allows a person to enjoy nature as intended. Those feelings and the fact that the field layout was already somewhat parceled out due to its previous life as a tobacco farm made us believe it would work, so much so that it was the only offer we made on a property. It took about a year before we got a final contract, so the real work began in 2002.”
The old tobacco farm was tremendously overgrown, with weeds and brush topping out at 10 feet tall, so Haddle said that they first had to buy a tractor and a bush hog and start clearing the land. Gary lives on the second floor of a cabin he and others built on the property, while the lower level houses the winery.
“We started clearing the overgrown brush and weeds immediately in the fall of 2002 and planted the vineyard in spring 2003,” said Haddle. “It was a quick turnaround that was helped along with the property already being partitioned. When we initially started making wine, we relied on juice purchased from New York until our fields matured. Since then, we’ve used only Kentucky-grown products. Things we don’t grow ourselves, we get from local farms. For example, the blueberries used in our popular blueberry wine options come from a local farm maybe 12 miles from us. They’re certified organic berries, and when I need them, I can call and make an order, and the berries show up at our garage door ready to process. You can’t beat that.”
Delicious, Healthy Wine through Natural, on-the Fruit Fermentation
“It’s a real slow, healthy ferment,” said Haddle. “After the first two weeks of fermentation, we turn off all temperature controls and let the juices self-regulate, with nature taking over. We do nothing to hinder that process, letting our wine ferment on the fruit for over 90 days. In the case of our blueberries, after that 90-day natural fermentation, those blueberries are completely broken down and absorbed to provide an incredible tasting, healthier wine that is noticeably different from more traditionally fermented wines.”
“It’s just a noticeably different mouth feel you’ll experience,” said Lisa Thomas, Haddle’s assistant extraordinaire, handling everything from events to tastings through sales and beyond. “And fermenting our wine this way retains the best flavor and health benefits from the actual fruit.”
“And it works,” said Haddle. “Except for our blackberry wine, because blackberries tend to be a little less stable, all our fruit wines are fermented this way. We keep the juices intact with the fruit skins and seeds, and this method has won us Best Boutique Wine Gold Medals.”
“The naturally fermented fruit wines are all popular because they are exploding with flavor and health benefits, but our blueberry collections may be our most popular,” said Haddle. “We ferment in stainless steel tanks using oak chips. And because we are all sensitive to SO2 (sulfur dioxide), we keep its use to a bare minimum within the winery, which we believe makes a big and positive difference in our wines.”
The sweeter, liquored-up wines are generally the top sellers in Kentucky. Still, we provide wines for the different, more educated palates for the increasing number of tourists and visitors that come and stay for our great outdoor recreational opportunities. Our whites are generally semi-dry, as are our reds, which can lean towards dry. Our fruit-based wines are the sweeter ones.”
The vineyard has over 1,200 wine grapevines and 700 trellised blackberry and red raspberry bushes. The grape varietals include golden muscat, an American variety and hybrid varieties of chambourcin, seyval blanc, vignoles and marquette. Haddle and his team also produce popular wine grape and fruit blends that are only available on-premise, like their extremely popular Jalapeno Wave. All Up The Creek’s Kentucky wines display a tobacco barn on the label, signifying the winery’s farm and Commonwealth heritage.
History Provides a Bountiful Landscape
The property sits on a rock bed, so much so that there’s no drilling down available around the landscape. Haddle tells The Grapevine Magazine that the property was home to an ancient sea, entirely underwater and the resulting terroir is 335 acres of well-drained soil with dark slate, quartz-like rock, fossils, sea urchins and other shellfish and limestone. Kids love to walk the creek and discover relics from history, including fossils and geodes. Because of the natural hills and valleys associated with the landscape, Haddle estimates it would be about a seven-mile walk to get around the property navigating the ups and downs.
The vineyards are sloped to the south or face straight up the valley line for maximum sun exposure. There’s always a battle with the various vineyard pests over the grapes and berries, but it’s part of the job for the Up The Creek core group, including Gary, David, Lisa and Hailey. David manages the operation, including spraying and fertilizing schedules. Everyone pitches in to help with the crop and canopy management, including the extensive pruning, mowing and weeding needed to keep the vineyards manicured. The group manages to stay ahead of the pests by regularly picking the berries before the animals make quick work of them and netting all their grapevines to reduce product loss.
Experiencing Award Winning Kentucky Wine
Up The Creek has regular open hours on Friday and Saturday from 10 AM to 6 PM, but Haddle says anyone can call and arrange a visit on other days. In many instances, especially with groups or events, that’s preferred so the visitors can get the full attention and unique experience with the staff.
“The tasting room is a welcoming 1950-style, converted, three-bedroom house,” said Thomas. “It’s small, so big groups are either urged or known to call ahead. We may be outside at the picnic table for a tasting or inside at a table made by Gary. Our vineyards are well-manicured, so visitors can even stop by to go into the vineyard or fruit fields and have a picnic or relaxing break. Visitors are welcome to grab sandwiches at the nearby Amish store or stop in to grab a bottle or two and some snacks and navigate our drivable vineyard to find that perfect spot that speaks to them and have a picnic, relax and leave all of their stresses behind for a bit. We encourage a healthy mental break from our crazy world, and you will forget the world when you get here,” said Thomas. “It’s my happy place, for sure.”
The personal experience you get at Up The Creek Winery is unmatched. Vineyard and winery tours are available, including self-guided walks when weather permits. And if you should be lucky enough to be there and see a staff member walk around with a mason jar, you need to thank your lucky stars and prepare yourself for a possible first taste of one of their new creations. Yes, it really happens, said Thomas, and as their regular customers can attest to. If you know, you know, and you should be excited.
Up The Creek Winery is known to be so picturesque and peaceful that the local creative community, including painters and master gardeners, holds classes and outings on the property. You may see some of the paintings displayed throughout the winery and tasting room on consignment from the artists.
The winery is host to hayrides throughout the vineyard and farm and also offers a beautiful backdrop for events. In addition to her many duties at the winery, Thomas is a private chef for a local farm-to-table restaurant, able to construct memorable dishes and snacks for any parties or events held on the property. And visitors may even be treated to a fish fry should they be lucky enough to visit on a good fishing day for Haddle.
In the Works
“We are always trying new combinations and blends,” said Haddle. “For example, last year, we harvested our chambourcin grapes and were backlogged, so we were trying to devise a way to use some of the grapes. While brushing my teeth one morning, I thought about gathering the ripest chambourcin grapes with the best red raspberries, then mashing them all together with juice using a potato masher.”
“The result is a delicious, unique blend, and tastings are a success, so our new Rebel Red will likely be released around Christmas to help folks get their Christmas spirit on,” said Thomas. “But while we experiment, we always remember that it’s all about keeping the health benefits of wine intact. That principle is a main part of our product offerings”.
“We’re a little guy in Kentucky’s big scheme of horses and bourbon,” said Thomas. “But we did help pass a law that allows small, boutique wineries like ours to be able to deliver our products ourselves without the need for a distributor because, let’s face it, a distributor isn’t willing to waste their time and energy working for a small, craft winery like ours. Additionally, we’ve discussed coming out with a brandy. Southern Kentucky Distillery is on the horizon as a new distillery in our area, and we may partner with them on something, but of course, that could be five years away. At any rate, we’ll keep doing what we do and enjoy the fact that our beautiful little part of Kentucky is starting to get the recognition that we always knew it deserved.”
Success and happiness come in many forms, and by doing what he loves while being surrounded by his family and friends, Haddle is a happy person.
“Happiness is personal, so I don’t base it solely on the money,” said Haddle. This business can bring self-happiness and self-reward, but at the same time, it takes a special person to stick with it. But no one should give up on their dream. Our vineyards and winery are so beautiful, and I love that we are taking responsibility for the land and property while creating products that make other people happy. Being a vineyard owner means more than just making great award-winning wine. We take care of this beautiful land by being responsible gardeners and respectful stewards of our natural resources while keeping the property, landscape, and entire area a beautiful, happy place. Doing this with family and friends allows for a lot of extra personal attention to detail, providing a hometown feel and experience that simply cannot be matched at the larger commercial wineries.”
For more information or to schedule a visit:
Up The Creek Winery
930 Norris Branch Road
Burkesville, Kentucky 42717
Open Fridays and Saturdays from
10:00 AM until 6:00 PM or by appointment