In 1797, Jean Jacques Dufour, a Swiss winemaker, established the first vineyard society in the United States when he started a commercial vineyard in Jessamine County, Kentucky. By the 19th century, Kentucky wineries produced more than 50 percent of the nation’s grape harvest and wine yield.
Nicholas Longworth(1783-1863), a banker, as well as founder of the Longworth family in Ohio, believed the geographical region around Cincinnati, Ohio would be an ideal location for grape cultivation, and established viticulture in the hills of the Ohio River Valley Region. The catawba grape, a red American grape variety used for wine as well as juice, jams and jellies, played an important role in the early history of American wine. After experimenting with over 40 different varieties, the catawba would be used to produce Longworth’s popular sparkling wine. Using the traditional method in making Champagne, with the native Catawba grape, Longworth’s sparkling wine received numerous press accolades. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published a poem dedicated to the beverage titled Ode to Catawba Wine.
The popularity of Longsworth’s wine encouraged a flurry of plantings along the Ohio River Valley, and Northern Kentucky became a major producer. German immigrants flocked to settle in the region, drawn to the rolling hillsides along the Ohio River which reminded them of their native country in topography, soil and temperature. They contributed to the production of premium wine in Augusta, Kentucky, and helped to construct impressive wine cellars in the hills along the river. German immigrants like Robert Ruf, Henry Stahl, Mathias Darfinger, as well as Joseph Conrad, Joseph, Michael and George Schweitzer left Baden Germany to settle in Augusta, Kentucky, and helped to construct this impressive wine cellar for Abraham Baker Jr.
On September 28, 1862, it would be used as a safe haven during the American Civil War Battle of Augusta, Kentucky. By the 1870s, the Baker Winery would contribute to Bracken County’s reputation, as the nations leading producer of wine. Its stone cellar became known as one of the finest in the country. Unfortunately, after several wet summers, the production of wine declined when a fungus killed the region’s vineyards, and tobacco became the crop of choice for most Kentucky farmers. Prohibition brought everything to a sudden halt in 1920.
In 2003, Dinah Bird bought the property. The historic Abraham Baker wine cellar was restored and newly named in the German tradition. In 2007, the structure was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It has also been recognized on the Civil War Heritage Trail, and Network to Freedom Trail.
Available at the museum are Award-Winning Wines in the original pressing room. Take the tour and enjoy your ultimate wine experience in an historic setting. All proceeds from the sale of wine goes to restore this historic landmark as well as help support Kentucky farm families.