LAWRENCEBURG — Many people think the combination of Central Kentucky's lush landscape and the art of wine making is a match made in heaven. So for a Valentine's Day-themed article, where better to visit than a local winery whose slogan is "Passion, bottled." It's a story that contains references to romance, acts of love and first crushes. Reader discretion is advised.
"I would challenge anyone to find a more beautiful vineyard in Kentucky," says Pam Leet, who's undeniably biased but could still be right. She and her husband, Logan, bought Lovers Leap Vineyards and Winery in Anderson County 2½ years ago. The former sales rep (Pam) and furniture dealer (Logan) have found, after several ventures, an ideal niche where passion and profession are one.
With a name like Lovers Leap, it's not surprising that the coming weekend is their busiest of the winter season. Their Valentine's extravaganza features wine tastings, buffets of chocolate and cheese, homemade pizza, and entertainment, both musical and basketball.
"Valentine's Day is about friends," says Pam Leet. Say what?
"We get singles, groups, couples of all ages." It's part of their series "Reds, Whites and Woo" that runs every weekend in February.
Leaps of fate: The Leets' story has had its share of romance. They met 30 years ago when Pam was a sales rep and Logan, whose family went way back in the local furniture business, was a client — and her first crush, adds Pam.
Soon the relationship became much more than business. "We realized we loved working together, but furniture retail wasn't our passion," says Pam.
About 16 years ago, somewhat on a whim, they became the owners of Brand House at Rose Hill on North Limestone. Within a few years, they'd turned it into an award-winning bed-and-breakfast.
The Leets were meeting people from everywhere. "It was the first time that tourism and hospitality entered our world," says Pam Leet.
But the 24/7 aspect of the work set them dreaming of a getaway. When they found a property high above the Kentucky River and across the fence from Lovers Leap Vineyards, it was love at first sight. They sold Rose Hill in 2002 and spent the next few years tending to other ventures.
In 2008, the vineyard, started in 1994 by Ann and Jerry Holder, went on the market. After getting the support of their grown children — "This is going to be your inheritance so you have to say yes or no now" — the Leets took the plunge.
A family affair: The operation, says Pam Leet, has turned into a total family effort. Though she's usually focused on marketing, last fall she worked the harvest, from sunup to sundown with family and friends all around.
"It was an extraordinary experience. Sometime in the morning you reach a zenlike, meditative state," she said. At the end of the day, the grapes were put in the press. A first crush in the vineyard, as in life, can be pretty exhilarating, says Leet.
At the outset, Logan Leet had no intention of being the wine maker. But taking over what is essentially a great big chemistry lab, he has become passionate about testing, tasting and reading.
"It's a constant learning curve," he says. The Leets, along with other Kentucky winegrowers, are bringing home medals from national competitions as they learn which grapes grow best in Kentucky's soil and climate.
Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer declared last year that wine lovers everywhere "are discovering what we already know: Kentucky's wine industry is back."
Back from what? From Prohibition, which shut down business in what was once the third-largest wine-producing state in the nation.
"We might be Napa today if it weren't for Prohibition," says Pam Leet. There are many who say the state has the potential to develop a similarly popular tourist destination.
Lovers Leap is doing its part to promote that cause, with this month's events and others throughout the year. An essential part of their day-to-day operations is providing hospitality to visitors, just as it was at the B&B.
"People have told us this is the best last stop on the Bourbon Trail," says Jennifer Cowden, the Leets' daughter-in-law, one of several family members who work there.
Full vineyard press: Lovers Leap grows 10 different grapes and produces about a dozen wines, from a Riesling to a Cynthiana, which is made from the oldest cultivated American grape and one that's well suited to Kentucky's hot-summer, cold-winter climate.
Out in the fields last week, the pruning was already under way on the hardy variety. A wine interestingly christened Sloppy Seconds Red is gaining on the Riesling as their most popular variety.
"It's Logan's brainchild," says Pam, a blend of several varietals that are given a second chance at life as a moderately priced, easy-to-drink red.
After taking over an operation that came with two employees and a lot of under-used capacity, the Leets now have 14 full- or part-time employees and are on target this year to reach the state's 50,000-gallon allowable limit, the equivalent of 20,000 cases.
Most of their wines are sold locally in stores and restaurants, but one Concord wine whose sweetness "lingers seductively on the palate," is only sold at the winery: If you're looking for Amoré, you'll have to go to Lovers Leap.