Old 502 Winery: Urban Winery in Bourbon Country
No city in the Midwest supports locally made beverages like Louisville Kentucky. There are at least one hundred establishments pouring local spirits in downtown Louisville, but there’s only one tasting room in town that pours local wine, Old 502 Winery. (502 is the area code for Louisville.)
“We love being a part of downtown; there is a lot of action here,” says Old 502 owner and winemaker Logan Leet.
Leet’s winery and tasting room is just off Main Street and near attractions like the Louisville Slugger Museum and the Muhammad Ali Center. Leet caters to what he calls “the cool tourist thing,” but he’s also trying to get more locals interested in wine. Kentucky ranks 46th in the country for per capita wine consumption and is last in the Midwest.
One way to get Kentuckians interested in wine is to associate fermented grape juice with distilled spirits. Not surprisingly, Old 502’s best selling wine is called Bourbon Barrel Red. The tagline on the wine label- “Worth a Shot”- is a clever double entendre aimed at drinkers who support the brown variety of local beverage, but don’t know much about wine.
Bourbon Barrel Red is aged briefly in bourbon barrels, including barrels from Louisville based Kelvin Cooperage. Thankfully, the wine does not taste anything like Bourbon. The whiskey barrels give this Chambourcin based wine some charred oak flavor, but the wood is not overpowering.
Leet has been making wine for over five years, including three and one half years at Lovers Leap Winery in Lawrenceburg, which his family sold in 2012.
‘We can make local wine sellable by making it accessible for everyone,” Leet said. “I have a definite customer in mind when I make wine. We’re not super serious; we like to have fun here.”
A Lexington native, Leet takes his craft seriously as evidenced by a Gold Medal at the 2014 Finger Lakes Wine Competition. Old 502’s Finger Lakes Gold Medal winner also has a tongue in cheek name: Bore Dough (“Made in Louisville, Spelled Accordingly.”)
To make Bore Dough, Leet blends hybrid and vinifera grapes, a technique he applies for both whites and reds. Bore Dough contains Kentucky grown Chambourcin, but it’s mostly imported Cab Sauv with a spattering of Cab Franc, Merlot and Malbec.
Leet thinks blending is an essential part of hybrid winemaking. Although Malbec is a small part of Bore Dough, it’s not until Leet added a little Malbec that the wine ‘really started to turn the corner.” According to Leet, adding Malbec resulted in a finished product that is “less oaky more fruit forward.”
Old 502 also makes a Chambourcin Rose, but the winery can’t consistently get Kentucky grown Chambourcin. ‘I love Chambourcin from Kentucky,” Leet says. “We’re adding a little more local fruit every year in Kentucky, but we need more grape growers.”
Leet is on the Kentucky Wine and Grape Council, a state funded agency that promotes Kentucky grapes and wine. Currently there are 560 acres of wine grapes under cultivation in Kentucky. Wine grapes have been growing commercially in the Commonwealth since the late 1700’s, but the Kentucky wine industry has always been overshadowed by Kentucky’s world-famous distilled spirits.
In addition to Chambourcin, Leet says other wine grapes that grow well in Kentucky are Vignoles and Vidal blanc. Old 502 introduced a Vidal blanc wine last year called White Noise. The fruit used to make this wine comes from a grower in Georgetown Kentucky.
Vidal grows well in Kentucky and Leet said it might be the most widely planted grape in the Bluegrass state. He blends Vidal with Riesling to add complexity and to enhance floral aromas. Like most Old 502 wines, White Noise has a modest amount of residual sugar, generally in the 1% to 3% range.
“Vidal, like most hybrids, needs a little residual sugar to balance the acidity,” Leet said.
Leet and his outreach director, Eric Gurevich, are very active with event marketing in Louisville. Old 502’s first effort to take their wine and their message public was at the Lexington farmer’s market.
“The light bulb first went off for me in Lexington,” Leets says. “If we can get people to just taste our wines, they like them and will usually make a purchase.”
Today, Old 502 is involved with just about every public event in Louisville, including a sponsorship as the “Official Wine of the Kentucky Derby.”
Old 502 is currently making about 8,000 cases of wine a year in downtown Louisville, with 25% growth projected over the next year. While Leet is clearly having fun with his winery, he also thinks Midwest wineries need to be operated as serious businesses.
‘The first rule of sustainability for any winery is that it’s sustainable for the owner,” he concluded.
Old 502 wines are sold in Louisville metro area including southern Indiana. Costco and Kroger stock Old 502 and it’s the house wine at BoomBozz, a regional pizza chain. You can also find Old 502 at Vines and Canines on Frankfort Road.
No city in the Midwest supports locally made beverages like Louisville Kentucky. I think Kansas City would be a match.