Kentucky breeds some of the finest racehorses on Earth and produces most of the world’s bourbon but experiencing the best of the Bluegrass State’s two most famous industries means traveling between Louisville, Lexington and Bardstown.
At least, it did until the recent opening of Hermitage Farm, the new 683-acre tourism attraction in Goshen owned by Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown, founders of the art-centric 21C Museum Hotels. Now, visitors can get their horses and bourbon all in one place, with a side of contemporary art.
A thoroughbred tour is a good way to kick off the day. In a verdant pasture, mares nurture playful, chestnut colts that could Run for the Roses some day in the Kentucky Derby. The farm has a long history of producing racing royalty. Actual royalty, horse-loving Queen Elizabeth II visited in 1986 when the farm was owned by renowned thoroughbred breeder Warner Jones Jr. who bred more than 100 stakes winners, including the 1953 Kentucky Derby winner Dark Star.
Racing isn’t the only equestrian sport celebrated here. Carriage driving, a competitive form of harness horse driving, is Wilson’s passion. The Carriage Gallery features carriages he drove to victory in numerous competitions and offers a captivating video that explains the sport.
My Old Kentucky Home
An 1830 Federal-style farmhouse at the heart of the property reflects the farm’s rustic charm, at least on the outside. Inside, quaint turns avant-garde thanks to the owners’ eye-catching contemporary art interspersed among the antiques, a house of funky opposites. The paintings practically jump off the walls, daring viewers to look away. A Daliesque blur of a man glares from above the sofa.
“We enjoy helping young artists,” Wilson said. “We don’t buy for investment, but very often something becomes valuable. We bought Kehinde Wiley long before he painted Obama’s portrait.”
The house is available to rent, but tours are available when it isn’t occupied.
Wet Your Whistle
Sample “America’s native spirit” at a $25 bourbon tasting that will likely include popular brands like Maker’s Mark and Woodford Reserve, or take it to the next level with the $50 Bourbon Tasting Experience that offers a flight of five rare, pricey bourbons.
True connoisseurs peruse the Bourbon Library for rare and vintage options, including gems like a 1970 Old Fitzgerald in a collectible wildlife bottle. Practically every bourbon on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which runs through several cities, is right here.
You’ll want to stay for dinner. Get cozy in one of the repurposed horse stalls at Barn8, a true farm-to-table restaurant, and prepare to be wowed by executive chef Alison Settle.
Settle describes her culinary style as “classic but eclectic.” She could make the Southern classics in her sleep, but you’re just as likely to find kimchi jjigae (Korean stew with pork) on the ever-changing, seasonal menu as chicken and dumplings. Either way, you can count on locally sourced meat and vegetables. Pork and bison come from nearby Woodland Farm, also owned by Wilson and Brown.
Nobody needs coaxing to eat their vegetables. Parsnips, tomatoes, radishes and beets are always served at the peak of freshness, and sometimes lucky diners get unusual heirloom varieties not found in local grocery stores.
A customer favorite is grilled baby carrots, not to be confused with baby-cut carrots, those slickly packaged healthy snacks that are really nothing but fully-grown, machine-cut carrots. Settle’s dish is made with tender, whole carrots harvested before reaching maturity. She grills them to bring out the sweetness, drizzles them with Thai curry sauce, then dresses them up with tufts of dill and candied walnuts for a piquant but sweet side dish.
While Settle whole-heartedly embraces the farm-to-table concept, she admits it presents some challenges.
“Sometimes we get a whole lot of something or a little, tiny amount, and we have to figure out how to make it work,” Settle said. “For instance, we might get a whole lot of tomatoes or just enough fennel for two days of service.”
But she has a couple of big perks many chefs would envy. A climate-controlled greenhouse and a partnership with an on-site horticulturalist that helps her create seasonal menus.
Visitors tour this palace of produce and the surrounding garden plots to learn about sustainable environmental growing practices.
After dinner, take a stroll along the new 1,500-foot-long Art Walk, a nod to the owners’ devotion to contemporary art. Curated by artist Ricardo Rivera, the site-specific sound-and-light installations simultaneously highlight and transform the beauty of the natural landscape.
The main reason Wilson and Brown purchased this historic property was to protect it from development. The farm is their legacy, a gift to Kentucky, and you should never look a gift horse in the mouth.
10500 W. Highway 42, Goshen, Kentucky. 502-398-9289, www.hermitagefarm.com