For most people thinking about farming in Kentucky, crops such as corn or tobacco and animals like cattle, pigs and chickens come to mind.
Billy and Peggy Davis, however, started thinking a little differently when they decided to begin farming their land off of Hardin Road, north of Leitchfield.
The Davises bought their land and built their house and lake on the flattest part of the farm - the only place most traditional farmers would bother starting a crop. Next, Peggy, who grew up farming, and Billy, who got the itch to try his hand at it for the first time, realized they had to think outside of the box for a way to utilize the property that would fit both the land and their own tastes.
Having visited a number of vineyards, the couple, who was looking for something unique, got excited about the idea of growing grapes.
“We studied for a long time,” Peggy laughed, adding that they also invited an agriculture expert familiar with grape-growing out to take a look and give an opinion.The verdict was that their farm was perfect for a vineyard, with its natural drainage, winds and sunlight. The Davises could not have been happier.
In addition to being a great fit for the couple, Billy added that a vineyard is “great for the community, great for agritourism.”
And so, the idea of Arbor Stone Vineyards was born.
The first part of their journey was not to run out and plant, but to learn everything they could about their chosen crop, since neither of them had worked with grapes before.
“She knows more about it than I do,” Billy said of his wife, though both of them devoted a great deal of time to learning about their new project.
When the time to plant finally came, the pair had to contend with some nasty weather that held off planting for a while.
It took the Davises and three others lending a hand planting for five days straight, “from the time the sun came up to the time the sun went down” to get the 800 vines planted, Peggy said.
They chose four varieties of grapes to begin with - two hybrid and two venifera, a common European grape. While the vinifera is the preferred type of grape for the wineries the Davises will eventually sell to, the hybrid type grows better in Kentucky, so the Couple covered all their bases by planting two of each.
Of the four varieties of grape, they have planted two whites, chardonal and albarino; and two reds, cabernet franc and chambourcin. The white grapes will eventually make white wines, and the red grapes, red wines.
The root stock was planted in mid-may of 2011, so the vineyard is technically in it’s second growing season and awaiting its first harvest in the fall of next year.
Since the root stock was planted, the process has been “more labor-intensive than we thought,” Peggy admitted.
Billy added that grapes are a “year-round crop,” requiring a good deal of work throughout the year.
The couple said they spend a good amount of time pruning (about ninety percent of each year’s new growth must be pruned back), mounding and keeping to the strict spray schedule, which requires all of the plants to be sprayed every seven to 10 days from spring until fall.
In order to take their time getting used to the big job of being grape-tenders, the Davises decided not to plant any new vines this year, but to take the time to get to know all they can and just experience the first full year of caring for the ones they already have.
When the Davises finally do reap the fruit of all of their labor next fall, they expect their three acres of vineyard to yield about six tons of grapes.
The grapes will be sold to wineries which will then, in turn, create about 120 gallons of wine per ton of grapes.
This means that approximately 720 gallons of wine will come from just one harvest at Arbor Stone Vineyards.
In addition to their main product – the grapes – the couple also hopes to grow a tradition here in Grayson County. They have held two fall festivals so far, and would like to continue on with the fun and help “spark some interest in the grapes,” Peggy said.
Their festival comes equipped with a gorgeous view of the rolling vineyard and surrounding land and some great music.
“We’ve had some phenomenal artists,” Billy said of Dan Hardin and Suitcase to Vegas, who have played at the vineyard over the past two years.
“We don’t want the typical southern rock, we want something artsy, folksy, bluesy.”
Everyone is welcome to bring a blanket and a picnic and head to the event each fall. “Come sit and visit,” Peggy invited.
Future plans for the vineyard are developing as well. The addition of table grapes to the vineyard is something they would like to do at some point, and they also plan to add to the wine grape crop, Billy said.
He added that since their current three acres is “a full-time job,” the couple, who both work at Davis Insurance Agency, may eventually hire a couple of employees to tend the grapes.
While the idea of growing grapes may at first seem like a novel one for central Kentucky farmers, Billy pointed out that prior to the prohibition, Kentucky was the number two grape-producing state in the country.
The Davises are excited about their new venture, which is both an age-old tradition and, at the same time, a wonderful new experience.