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Purple Toad Winery known for sweet wines

December 24, 2018
Chocolate Harbor is a strong port-style wine fermented with cocoa, created by Purple Toad Winery, located in Paducah, Kentucky.

PADUCAH, Ky. — Purple Toad Winery in Paducah, Kentucky, has gained a great following among Tri-State sweet wine lovers.

Tasters enjoy the winery’s clever flavors such as Black and Bruised (blackberry and Concord grape); Strawberry Lemonade and Chocolate Harbor (a strong port-style wine fermented with cocoa).

“I tell everybody, ‘We’re like a virus,’” said winemaker Allen Dossey, who owns Purple Toad with his wife, June. “Once we’re in a town, the taste for our wine grows and spreads from person to person.”

You’ll find Purple Toad wine at most of our local liquor and larger grocery stores. You’ve seen it — the one with the big Brazilian tree frog on the label. And yes, Dossey is perfectly aware the frog is not a toad.

“I have biology teachers come in here and inform me that it is a frog on the label and not a toad,” he said. “The name Purple Toad comes from the time when people would stomp in the vats of grapes so they would have purple toes, and if you look at the frog on the label, it has purple toes. That label sells the wine the first time somebody buys it. The second time is because of the product.”

The wine does sell. Purple Toad is the largest and most award-winning winery in Kentucky and is now available in five states with two more upcoming.

June Dossey grew up in Paducah and Allen in Cave City, Kentucky. Allen worked in insurance and business, but a trip to Napa Valley about 20 years ago turned the couple’s minds to wine.

They were slowly buying back some of June’s family lands near Paducah and decided to plant grapes to harvest and sell to other wineries. Then stocks crashed in 2008, and they decided to invest in building a winery rather than invest in the market.

“We opened on a Wednesday in 2009,” said Allen Dossey. “We hadn’t advertised, picked a weekday, thought it would be an easy slow day to learn everything. We had a line out the door and into the parking lot, and we ran out of wine. We only had about 25 cases bottled, and we sold all of it. We were here filling bottles until midnight that night, so we could open the next day. So that’s how we started.”

The first two years Dossey only sold Purple Toad wines on premises. Even then, they couldn’t make it quickly enough. Eventually, he quit his day job and moved into the wine-making business full time.

Purple toad offers 43 wines, most of them semi-sweet, sweet and very sweet dessert wines. The flavors are unique, most incorporating fruit or fruit juices. It’s real fruit, too, grown in Kentucky or imported from growing regions around the country. Some wines also have a touch of natural flavoring.

The reason Purple Toad concentrates on sweet wines is simple. They are what people in the Midwest like to drink.

“We make wine for the taste buds of the majority of people,” said Dossey. “Winemakers and some wine drinkers have eccentric taste buds; they’ll look for flavors like leather or tobacco, and if you go for that fine. But as a winemaker in the Midwest, making only those dry wines limits your market share.”

Concord grape wines are some of Purple Toad’s best sellers.

“We went to 30 or 40 wineries in Illinois and Kentucky and at essentially every winery, the Concord was the number one seller,” said Dosssey. “We found our blend with the Black and Bruised, and it outsells everything.”

Paducah Blue is a basic concord wine. Blue chocolate is fermented with cocoa and tastes exactly like a grape tootsie roll. Java Blue contains real coffee. Blue Cranberry combines concord and cranberries. Black and Bruised is an exception, containing blackberry and Concord wines.

The word “black” denotes blackberry wine. You’ll find black peach, black strawberry, blackberry lemon, black honey and others. The Tropical Sangria contains juices of guava, pineapple, papaya, mango and chardonnay grapes.

“You have to have a balance when you blend flavors,” said Dossey. “You don’t want one ingredient to outshine another. When we first started the tropical, we had apple and banana in it, but they lost themselves.”

The list goes on. Purple Toad offers watermelon wines made with watermelon juice brought from California, some blended with lemon. Strawberry banana wine, or blueberry, red apple, peach, even pumpkin spice.

Since the label “Port” is restricted specifically to certain wines made in Portugal, Dossey uses the name “Harbor” to connote his stronger, fortified port-like wines with a higher alcohol content. The Paducah Harbor is made with 100 percent blackberries and contains 18 percent alcohol.

“It’s expensive to make fruit wine with real fruit like this,” said Dossey. “You have to have capital up front to buy the fruit; our blackberries are more expensive than buying Napa grape juice. A couple months ago, we ordered $200,000 worth of blackberries, and we spend a couple million dollars every year on fruit. At first, people told me that consumers wouldn’t spend over $10 on a bottle of sweet wine, but we proved them wrong on that because using real fruit makes such a difference in the taste. Everywhere we went in Louisville, in Indianapolis, the stores said that the Black and Bruised wouldn’t sell. And it’s our best seller in both of those cities.”

Purple Toad does offer a few dry wines as well. They grow a number of French Vinifera grapes on the property and make a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and a Bourbon-barrel aged Cab.

The quality of Purple Toad’s wines has not gone unnoticed in the winemaking community. The winery has won hundreds of awards, including Dossey’s Winemaker of the Year at the Indy International Wine Competition in Indianapolis in May of 2017.

For those who enjoy visiting wineries, Purple Toad is worth the two-hour drive. It’s closer to home than Oliver Winery in Bloomington, Indiana, and about the same distance as Huber Winery near Louisville . . . and if you haven’t been to Paducah, you’re missing out on an amazing city for art, shopping and dining.

In the Purple Toad tasting room, you may sample and purchase all 43 varieties of wine, many of which are not available in Evansville. They’re a great Christmas gift too.

Purple Toad wine is served at Franklin Street Pizza Factory and can be found at most liquor stores and larger grocery stores.

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