Meet Your Neighbor: Nini Edwards

When the tobacco industry started to be unsustainable in the early 2000s, the Edwards family turned to wine.

Nini Edwards is one of the owners at what is now Harkness Edwards Vineyards. Edwards grew up in Winchester on the 300-acre farm on Combs Ferry Road.

Her father is a self-taught winemaker, but following a lightning strike in 2013 that burned the winery to the ground, the Edwards family was unsure if they would ever continue to make wine.

But they did.

Nini, one of three Edwards sisters, returned to Winchester in 2016 to help the business get up and running at full speed. Now, a new winery is finally complete, and the vineyard continues to grow.

Nini manages the happenings at the Peach House, the vineyards’ official tasting room and event venue.

Winchester Sun: What made you decide to return to Winchester?

Nini Edwards: Well, honestly, it was my family. They needed help … it was after the fire that I came back. And we were regrouping. We were deciding if we wanted to move forward with this business … I helped get this business back on the ground and get it rolling and get the tasting room going.

WS: What is a misconception people may have about the vineyard?

NE: I’d say people don’t realize how many out-of-towners come to seek out Kentucky wine.

Probably about 80 percent of my wine tasters are from out of town. They’re traveling through, and they want to experience a Kentucky craft.

We have so many out-of-towners come through here seeking out Kentucky wine, and I think that’s cool. I think a lot of people wouldn’t think that because a lot of people they go to Napa to do something like that.

But that was a shock to me. I didn’t realize that the majority of my wine tasters were going to be from all over the country. And usually, they’re traveling through, they come off I-75, but the people love driving out here.

People love coming out and getting lost on this road … You feel like you are in the boonies … So they love coming out here and stumbling upon us. We’re all over Google. People still love the idea of at this quaint little tasting room, and in Kentucky. They love Kentucky wine.

I think I’ve had so much success with out-of-towners coming out here and buying Kentucky wine and then I’ll have repeat customers from out of town … For example, we have this one lady from Michigan. I don’t even know how she found us, but she loves our wine. She orders to ship it to Michigan all the time. And we have Florida, Georgia repeat customers.

I think that’s probably been, for me, the biggest misconception. I just thought Kentucky people would come out here to do something different in Kentucky when it’s gaining popularity nationwide.

WS: What makes the wine at Harkness Vineyards so special?

NE: I’d say what is unique is that we’re farmers first.

A lot of vineyards, though, yes, we have one grape that we buy in, but all of our wine comes from our farm.

We are all about agriculture first. So when we started this, we wanted to do something with the farm. We wanted to promote agriculture, agritourism.

We’re very big on growing the grapes and finding different grape varieties that grow here.

Our wines are unique, in general, because there are wines that people have never heard of … Grapes that are popular that we were one of the first to grow is a Cabernet Doré then Zinthia. Those are two great wines … And people have never heard anything. They’re dry wines, and people go bonkers.

Basically, what we’re trying to do is, we don’t want to be a little boutique winery and stay small. We want to create a movement of Kentucky wines and wines made with grapes that people can grow here in Kentucky.

We are unique in the sense that we’re trying to break the mold. We’re not trying to do what everybody else is trying to do. We’re trying to create something different.

WS: What is the process that goes into making a bottle of wine?

NE: Well, first, there’s the grape, and that’s a whole process within itself because we have to find something that grows well here.

We have to make sure it survives … So we nourish the vine every year and then every fall, we harvest.

Then those grapes we now take to our winery, and we process it.

When we process it, that’s a different process for each kind of wine. For example, when we make a white wine, we crush it to get the juice out and separate it from it skins, then we ferment it in a tank for however long it takes to ferment, and then there’s all sorts of mumbo-jumbo between then, but that’s the big thing. Then we label and bottle …

Without me going into full detail, that’s probably it. But then for example, with a rosé, it’s completely different … it’s a lengthy process for sure.

WS: What’s the best thing about your job?

NE: The people. I have met so many unique people from Winchester. You know, I grew up in Winchester, so I thought I knew everybody … but I knew nobody from Winchester … I’d met so many awesome people. And, like I said, so many awesome people from around the country, a few from around the world.

I would say everybody who comes in here has such a great attitude and an open mind and there have been people with different political views, different backgrounds. There has been a diverse array of people who have come through I’ve had the pleasure to meet and just being able to connect with them over wine and talk no matter what our religious, political, whatever beliefs are has been really cool.

WS: What was the last glass of wine you had?

NE: I had a glass of wine, and it was an orange one. That’s technical. I’ll try to explain.

When you when you have a bottle of dark red or something, it gets that pigment in that deep color from the skins. You age the juice on the skins. That’s how it gets that dark color.

When you process a white wine, you don’t age it on the skins. You completely remove the skins to get a nice, clear look.

Orange wine is a white wine and aged on its skins. So you get an orange color, but it’s not an orange flavor.

WS: What is your favorite wine?

NE: I would honestly have to say it’s not a type of grape but a dry rosé is my favorite … there are no limits to it.

You can drink it year round … and you can pair it with so many foods … There are so many different dry rosés out there, and it can be made out of hundreds of grapes.

WS: What are some delicious wine and food pairings?

NE: Let’s go with our wines … Norton, it is a dry red grape, and I would pair that with red meat, steak or any heavy meal …

Then we have our Big Red, and that is a soft sweet red, and I would pair that with something sweet like decadent chocolate. I would pair that with like white chocolate …

If you want to do dessert with Norton, that is good with creamy chocolate …

Then I would pair our Cabernet Doré with a cream-based sauce with anything. So if you had some creamy Alfredo, or if you had a like a creamy sauce with chicken, I would do that with our Cabernet Doré. I had that recently. And it was perfect because of its slight acidity with that creaminess.

WS: What does Harkness Edwards Vineyards add to the community?

NE: I can’t tell you how many out-of-towners come through here. I tell them all about Winchester, and I tell them about beer cheese. And I tell about all the cool things we have going on in it.

It brings so many out-of-towners to Winchester, and when they leave here, I send them right up into Winchester …

And I think it brings another element to Winchester.

People usually don’t think Winchester and think wine … But we are doing it. We are growing grapes successfully right here in Winchester …

We want to grow Winchester. We are “team Winchester” and bring people out here and support this town who has supported us after the fire.

Winchester supports so much in the community … I don’t think we realize how tight-knit our community is here until a tragedy happens.

And that opened our eyes as to how lucky we are to have this community.