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Shelby County - Wine country?

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By The Staff

Will growing grapes replace cultivating tobacco and fermenting wine take the place of curing leaf?

Probably not anytime soon, but the owners of Talon Winery in Lexington have bought land and plan to open a second location here - on Gordon Lane just south of I-64. And at least one local resident plans to open his own winery.

Representatives of Shelby County government, business, farm organizations and tourism toured the Talon Winery in southern Fayette County Friday. Talon owners Charlie Tackett and Harriett Allen told the group they plan to put in a second vineyard and winery on 17 acres they recently bought. The land is off Ky. 55 South across from Breighton Industrial Park.

Tackett said the couple had searched for suitable land for a second location all over the state.

"As soon as we saw it, I knew that was it," Tackett said. "And it was for sale."

Tackett and Allen said they plan to build a facility here similar to their Lexington winery, though the processing of the wine will remain in Lexington, at least for the first several years of operation.

The winery here will have about five acres of grapes. Tackett and Allen plan to convert an existing house on the property into a wine tasting room. Talon will also put in a walking trail around an existing 3-acre lake and set up areas for weddings.

"We're a very popular place for weddings," Allen said. "We've had as many as four a day."

Talon also plans to feature locally made products and possible include local art in the retail space.

Allen said the winery is a popular stopping off place for tourists. Talon had over 50,000 visitors in its first year-and-a-half of operation, she said. Most buy a bottle of wine or two for friends and relatives, she said.

"I think Talon at Shelby County can be one of the nicest wineries," Allen said. "People can get off the interstate and feel like they're out in the country. It will be a very nice stop for people."

One hurdle the winery will have to overcome is winning a special election vote that will allow the sale of wine at the facility (See box), but the owners are confident voters will give them the green light Dec. 11.

"We've already gathered all of the signatures {for placement on the ballot} and almost everyone was positive," Tackett said. "Only one or two said they absolutely do not want a winery."

County officials, including Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger, said they believe a winery would be an asset to the county.

"I'm proud you have chosen Shelby County," Rothenburger told Allen and Tackett Friday.

Magistrate Mike Whitehouse, who represents the district where Talon will be located, said the winery "will be good for the county."

Growing grapes

Allen said the first grape vines will not be planted on the Talon property until 2009. Vines start producing in quantity by the second or third year, but wineries typically wait three to four years or more before they start selling wine.

Insurance agent Ferenc Vegh also has plans for a local winery, and he may get a year's jump on Talon. Vegh has ordered 3,500 vines he and his partner, Lisa Davis, will plant on 5.2 acres on Hempridge Road in March, 2008.

Vegh will plant 2700 Traminette vines and 800 vignoles, white grapes bred to tolerate Kentucky's high humidity. He plans to blend the two varieties to produce a single white wine.

"We just want to produce one or two wines initially and do those well," Vegh said. "We may add more varieties later."

Vegh and Davis plan to turn a Victorian-style farmhouse on the property into a wine-tasting room. Unlike the Talon Winery, which ferments wine in steel vats, Vegh and Davis will ferment wine in large barrels in an underground room.

Vegh said it will be about five years before wine is available to sell. Meanwhile he is planting turf grass and ordering posts and wire for the trellises to tie up the vines.

Vegh is following in a centuries-old winemaking family tradition. His family is from Hungary where an uncle still tends a winery that has been in the family for more than a thousand years.

Special election for winery Dec. 11

State law allows wineries to sell by the bottle and drink if 25 percent of the voters in a precinct sign a petition to put the measure on the ballot and a majority of voters approve the measure in a special election. Talon Winery owners have already gathered enough signatures.

By law, the special election must be held at least 30 days before or after a general election, so it could not be on the Nov. 6 ballot. County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger set Dec. 11 as the date for voters in precinct to approve or disapprove allowing the winery.

Only voters in precinct A102 are eligible to vote in the election. The election will be held at Shelby County Fire Station 2, 1000 Taylorsville Road. The polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Shelby County Clerk Sue Carole Perry said 916 voters are eligible to vote in the special election. She expects voter turnout to be low.

"The last time we had a special election in the county - in Persimmon Ridge - turnout was very low," Perry said.