Slide Through
the
Grapevine
story by KAETLYN JEFFRIES photos by EMMA BAYENS

Reid’s Livery Winery lies deep in the heart of Alvaton surrounded by lush, green landscapes. Sounds of chicken calls, panting dogs who’ve grown tired in the warm midday sun and the faint melody of wind chimes fill the air.

Rex Reid sits on his front porch, white siding and a green rooftop framing his property, and reflects on the journey of his business as a small farm winemaker. Rex takes himself back to 25 years ago when he, then a blacksmith, and his wife of 36 years, Diane Reid, then a horse trainer, wanted to get involved in the community and began growing fruit on their farm to sell at the local market.

After a crop of bad berries, Rex was inspired to start making the fermented beverage that has led him to the business he runs today. With no prior experience in winemaking, Rex went to Barnes & Noble to find a book that would teach him all there was to know about wine.

To begin a winery, he had to start small and experiment with the processes of home winemaking, slowly collecting the necessary equipment over time. He started out with a one-gallon, plastic fermenting jug, a staple for beginners. Eventually upgrading to a blue plastic food grade bin which he now uses as storage, Rex has a much larger industrial vat that holds his products.

Rex Reid, owner of Reid’s Livery Winery in Alvaton leans into the developing container of elderberry juice, listening for the bubbling sound that indicates when the wine is ready to be bottled. Reid, alongside his wife and two volunteers, packaged the developed wine in two hours.

Getting a liquor license was the first of many things he needed to do to share his spirits with the community. This task was far from easy due to Warren County being a moist county, meaning some cities could sell alcohol, but many towns like Alvaton didn’t permit the sale and distribution. But Rex sought change.

“I was calling people and knocking on everyone’s door to sign a petition so the county would hold a vote,” Rex said.

This wasn’t the only obstacle he and Diane faced. The ability to sell on Sunday would also affect his business. Rex remained persistent in calling customers, neighbors and magistrates so he could sell wine seven days a week.

“Every time a customer would arrive on Sunday, I would have to deny them,” Rex said. “Then I would call up the magistrate and tell him that I lost another sale.”

Rex’s determination paid off. As of 2012, his wine can be sold both on his farm and at the farmer’s market any day he chooses.

A Reid’s Livery Winery sign hangs over the entrance to the winemaking room at the Reid’s home in Alvaton. Medals won at the 2008 Kentucky State Fair also hung and showcased winnings from eight categories.

The 2008 Kentucky State Fair was Rex’s debut as a commercial wine seller. He won first place and years later has medaled over 200 times in many competitions, including his two-time champion wine, Diamonds and Lace, at the Finger Lakes International Wine and Spirits Competition held in Rochester, New York.

Gazing proudly at the awards hanging over the entrance to the building that stores the wine, Rex said going commercial is something he never thought he would do but is happy he made that decision.

“He never met a competition he couldn’t win,” Diane said.

Diane runs operations behind the counter at the Community Farmers Market of Bowling Green, offering tastings of their latest creations.

Christy Raines reached into a fully grown vine of grapes to check their progress before picking the bunch. The Raines hoped to transition their vineyard into an attraction for visitors similar to Reid’s Livery Winery. They hoped to add pumpkins in the fall and Christmas trees in the winter.

His wine label is made with 80% or more local fruits, unless it’s a special variety that comes from out of state. Anything not grown directly on the farm grows at Kentucky Hilltop Vineyards in Allen County, just a 20-minute drive away.

“To be considered Kentucky Proud, at least 20% of the juice needs to be locally sourced,” Chris Raines, owner of Kentucky Hilltop said. Specially sourced varieties such as the Diamond grape, a favorite of Rex’s, hails from Buffalo, New York.

Raines said a wine can only be as good as the grapes you make it with, so winemakers must source well. His farm contains 48 rows filled with 26 varieties of grapes.

The farm, which Raines and his wife happened to stumble upon on Craigslist one day, has just made it through its first year of harvest under their ownership. They hope to run a winery of their own someday and are learning all they can from the Reids.

“Rex is a trailblazer,” Raines said.

Christy Raines, his wife, said the grapes aren’t what you would find at your local supermarket, rather they’re unique and make the wines produced by them just as special.

Once the grapes are harvested, and the wine is tested and cooled, it’s ready for bottling. Four people is all it takes to transform over a year of labor and time into the final product.

“We have a couple girls that come in to help us out, but it’s just us,” Rex said.

“We’re like a machine and get the bottling done within a day.”

The filled bottles are sold both at the Community Farmers Market and the farm where they are made and showcase months of time and dedication.

The arrival of COVID-19 hit at the peak of the winery’s most successful season, and like many other businesses, forced the Reid’s to shut their doors temporarily. With people hesitant to go out, the reopening of the farmers market was crucial in helping sellers get back on their feet.

With the proper precautions put in place, Diane said the market started back with only four vendors selling, including Reid’s Livery Winery. Many customers have remained loyal through the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Chris Raines picks grapes from one of 48 rows at his vineyard. Raines, his wife, and volunteers from the local church do a majority of the labor at their vineyard.

“Buying our wine was a comfort for some folks looking to pass the time,” she said.

Full-time farmer and community organizer Michelle Howell says Reid’s wine sampling is a favorite for many customers at the market.

“Our goals were to help small businesses expand,” Howell said.

Erika Brady, a professor of folklore studies at WKU, rarely misses a week at the market and said she visits nearly every Saturday.

When she visits Diane, Brady enjoys a glass of elderberry wine and chats about her week. Brady has made many friends at the market and appreciates the range of vendors and their high standard goods.

“A glass of elderberry, blueberry or cranberry wine from Reid’s truly tastes of the fruit,” Brady said. “For me, it’s a great way to end my work week and begin my weekend.”

Reid’s Livery Winery continues to succeed anywhere the wine takes them. What started as a hobby has transformed Rex and Diane’s small farm into an inviting tourist attraction for locals and visitors alike.

Bottled wine from Reid’s Livery Winery sits packaged and ready to be sold at the Bowling Green Community Farmers Market. Diane Reid, co-owner of the winery, worked as the face of the business at the local market every Saturday and Tuesday.
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