I’ve often joked that Louisville’s effort to build bourbon tourism as a gigantic revenue source looks like a plan to turn Louisville into an urban version of the Napa Valley. 

Since the late 1800s, Napa has lured tourists to come visit wineries, learn about wine, taste the stuff and, not incidentally, spend time and money at local eateries, taverns and hotels. Who could blame our city government and business leaders for wanting to do something like that too, only with bourbon?

Great concept. But is it working? I wasn’t sure until I met Mark Joseph Carter, owner of California’s Carter Cellars at Envy Winery. Carter is a Napa wine maker who came to Kentucky to make bourbon, and he currently runs the Old Carter bourbon brand.

Carter, a native of Eureka, California and host of the highly regarded Carter House Inns there, got into the wine business around 20 years ago. Working with respected wine maker Nils Venge, he sourced grapes from top Napa Vineyards to blend a rich, strong, double-oaked and barrel-aged Carter Cellars wine that earned leading wine critic Robert Parker’s 100-point rating. That sent Carter Cellars wines into the popularity and price stratosphere.

“It’s been quite a journey,” he said. Along the way, he had made a Kentucky connection through the innkeepers’ trade. Traveling the country years ago as head of an innkeepers’ trade association, he met Chuck Dedman, then owner of Harrodsburg’s historic Beaumont Inn. 

“Chuck used to talk about how they once made a bourbon, Kentucky Owl. But the ...Read more