12 Mile – Oakland Schoolhouse 2016 harvest of Cayuga grapes.
This past weekend was the 10th Annual Herbst Tour of Camp Springs Kentucky. Camp Springs is a not-so-well-known historical gem in Northern Kentucky. Founded in the 1840s by German, Swiss, and Austrian immigrants, its hills are nestled with German vernacular fieldstone houses built before the Civil War and unique to our area and the country. Most of the residents there today are fourth and later generation descendants of the original founders.
Rhinelanders who immigrated to Camp Springs grew grapes on the hillsides, making their own wine, and supplying the large Cincinnati winehouses of Nicholas Longworth, which made Sparkling Catawba wine. Other Cincinnati hillside communities – with German immigrants – of Sweet Wine, Columbia-Tusculum, California, Delhi, and Lick Run, also supplied grapes to Longworth. After phyloxera blight killed off many of the vines during the Civil War, and after Nicholas Longworth died in 1863, the local wine industry fell apart. The Longworth Winehouses were converted into a brewery and then a cottonseed oil factory. Many of the Camp Springs wine producers converted their farms to tobacco and livestock or dairy farms.
Fast forward 150 years, and now winemaking is coming back to the region. Three families are bringing back the centuries old heritage of winemaking to the hills of Camp Springs. At this year’s Herbst tour, a third family of Sandy and Steve Scott, is starting their winery, in a 1913 two room schoolhouse called the 12 Mile – Oakland School. Steve’s father Walter, was actually a student there. With help from the University of Kentucky Agriculture Department, the Scotts have planted several acres of what are called Cayuga grapes. This is a grape that is very tolerant of the up and down temperatures of our finicky weather region. The grape is a hybrid of Schuler and Seyvant blanc grapes, developed in the Finger Lakes region of New York. It produces Riesling type flavors and good acid, balance, and aroma.
They’ve also planted a new red hybrid, the Noiret, also developed in the Finger Lakes region by Cornell University, which is also tolerant of the up and down temperatures of the region. One of the grapes that it stems from is the Catawba grape, which was the main grape grown in our region back in wine producing days. Wines made from the Noiret have overtones of green and black pepper, along with fruity notes of raspberry, blackberry, and even some mint. They also have a good tannin structure, with the absence of any hybrid aromas. The other cool thing about Noiret is that it is suitable for making Port. Imagine a Camp Springs Kentucky port – maybe call it Steinbauer – German for stone mason, after the area’s heritage. How great would that be?
The Scotts have harvested their first round of Cayuga grapes and sold to Seven Wells, another Kentucky winery just down the road in Grant’s Lick. With the next harvest, they hope to make into their own wines. Once they renovate the schoolhouse, they plan to add on a full kitchen off the back of the structure to serve food and handle receptions. In talking with Sandy on the tour, they’d like to come up with a specific brand or style of wine indicative of the area that they came promote as a Camp Springs Wine Region. I think it makes brilliant sense.
The other two wineries are Camp Springs Winery, opened in 2009, and Stonebrook Winery, opened in 2005. Camp Springs Winery make Cab Franc, Vidal Blanc, Chambourcin, and Merlot varieties. They also have a kitchen that provide Saturday dinners by a Midwest Culinary Institute chef, Carlye Hopper, which are supposed to be out of this world. Stonebrook is operated by the Walter family who renovated an 1890 farmhouse owned by the Kool family, for their tasting facility. Their operation focuses on the vidal blanc and cab franc varieties only.
I think Camp Springs is sitting on a gold mine of opportunity in creating a Campbell County wine region. They have a unique opportunity to offer heritage tourism, winetasting, and a unique culinary experience in a beautiful setting only minutes from Cincinnati. Connect it to Nicholas Longworth and some themed events and it makes a great destination spot for adventure, heritage, and foodie travelers.
Now if they can come up with an historic wine variety to produce, or a signature Germanic dish they can promote, I think they are guaranteed to bring in a lot of business.