Daily wine drinking improves Kentucky farms' health

Vines at Lovers' Leap WineryThe friend I have had longest told me what he saw in New Zealand last year: After school, children rode the bus home and ran the distance to their houses, shucking school clothes as they went. Within moments they came back outside, dressed for work, heading for the family vineyard. My friend and I lived a Kentucky version of that New Zealand scene as we grew up, coming home after school to change clothes and do farm chores with animals, crops, gardens, fences, and machinery. I could never have imagined, then, that Kentucky children might one day have work to do in their families' vineyards.

Now I imagine it often. I see vineyards and wineries as ways more Kentucky farm families can make a living from their land. The rest of us can help. Our job is to buy, drink moderately, and enjoy.

Some of us have a bit of untangling to do first. Kentuckians have grown grapes and made wine since at least the late 1700s. In the 1900s, though, many of us became convinced that wine was just another four-letter word for 'evil.'

I wondered about this, growing up in a sweet Baptist church. I gradually learned from family and friends about the ravages of alcoholism and drinking to excess, but the pastors and the congregation united in classifying drinking alcohol of any kind, in any amount, as sin. At the same time, we worshipped the One who changed water to wine so the joy at a wedding celebration could continue, and learned of other positive references to wine throughout the Bible.

Like drinking wine, dancing is one of those activities many churches condemn even though people dance without censure in the Bible. Long-term views about right and wrong do change in places similar to Kentucky. Mark Oppenheimer recently described for The New York Times the first official dance ever to take place at John Brown University, an evangelical Christian college in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.

Explaining why some colleges are changing their views on dancing, Oppenheimer wrote, 'The Bible doesn't say you can't dance. For that matter, it doesn't say that you can't drink or can't smoke. The rules against these vices are what evangelicals call ''prudential'' rather than scriptural: they don't have the force of commandment, but you follow them just to be careful. '

Prudential. The Latin ancestors of this word include 'provide,' the root of which means 'to see ahead.'

Our untangling work may progress if we look ahead to what might happen if many of us begin drinking Kentucky wine in moderation. The benefits may include improvements in our own health, stronger rural economies, and more income and respect for farm families. That sounds prudential to me.

If even half of the approximately 2.8 million Kentuckians over the age of 21 begin drinking the suggested 2.5 ounces of wine a day, and buy their wine from Kentucky producers, the wineries' annual profits could grow by more than $250 million. (The figures assume a modest $2/bottle profit for the winemakers.)

Beyond the social and economic benefits, let us not shortchange the pleasures wine brings. We Kentuckians may suspect that pleasure is bad for us, but the evidence points in a different direction.

We know about the Italian and French commitment to pleasure at the table, boosted by drinking wine with one or two meals a day. Although there is some alcoholism in both countries, moderate wine drinking is the rule, and does not seem to harm the national health. People living in Italy and France have years more life expectancy than we have, according to international entities like the Central Intelligence Agency (yes, THAT one) and the European Health Expectancy Monitoring Unit.

You can increase your pleasure and put the new prudence into practice by visiting Kentucky's wineries (google their names to get maps). The Liquor Barn in Hamburg place also offers an excellent Kentucky wine section.

Here are three of my favorite wines and vineyards:

- Fayette County: Jean Farris Winery, Gewürztraminer, a luscious, flowery white. - Woodford County: Equus Run Vineyards, Claret, a balanced, medium-bodied dry red. - Pulaski County: Sinking Valley Winery, Blackberry, Blueberry or Strawberry, all sumptuous.