Saturday, November 29, 2008

Butler Winery Case Sale

Amy Butler at Bulter Winery asked that I announce that in celebration of the winery's 25th anniversary, Butler is having an open house and case sale on Saturday, December 6th and Sunday, December 7th. This will be held at all three locations (Intown Bloomington, the winery itself, and Chesterton). Sales of up to 30% off, depending on varietal. You must buy at least a case, mix or match, to take advantage of this sale.

The sale pamphlet can be found here. This a great chance to get many of Butler's wines for under $10! I would recommend the Chambourcin, as well as the Black Currant if you are in the mood for a fruit wine with a (slight) twist.

However, if you can't make it this weekend, you can still obtain the special price by stopping in and placing your order no later than Sunday, December 14. You can also place your order and have it shipped to you, if you have already completed all the requirement of Indiana's unconstitutional wine shipping statute.

When you are stopping by, make sure you check out the new cellar addition and the other improvements at the winery. If you go, take some pics, and I will post them here.

Any Indiana winery that makes it to 25 years is to be celebrated. Cheers!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Turtle Run Happenings

Due to traveling, Turtle Run Winery owner Jim Pfeiffer didn’t receive my email asking for holiday wine recommendations in time to post. However, he did want everyone to know about two new releases from his vineyard. How could I refuse someone who is not only owner of Turtle Run, but also the “Chief Bottle Washer?”

Jim is a self-described “blend-o-holic.” He’ll blend varietals that can stand on their own until he finds the perfect combination to put in the bottle, proving that sometimes the sum is greater than the parts. For instance, in Max’s Small Batch Red ($15.00), Cab Franc makes up 50% of the blend. Jim told me he previously sold plenty of Cab Franc on its own. (I believe it: Cab Franc is one of my favorites, and I wish it got more respect solo.) However, Jim experimented and eventually settled on adding 33% Zinfandel and 17% Syrah to finish. An excellent blend that highlights the positive attributes of all three varietals and it is selling well.

Speaking of Syrah, Turtle Run just released Turtle Run's latest vintage ($15.00). Already barrel aged for nearly a year, Jim notes the bouquet of blackberry and blueberry, a bit of pepper and a finish of butter. Lots of Indiana wineries are making good Syrah lately, and I can’t wait to taste this one.

Speaking of trends, Jim is ahead of the curve on another trend in Indiana wine: port. His third vintage of port, Pop’s Port ($25.00) is a six grape blend with a lot of depth. Jim says, “I simply wouldn’t know how to string the Christmas lights without a glass of Pop’s Port in hand.” I adore port, and am glad so many wineries are blending it.

I have not visited the grounds of Turtle Run yet, but I have tasted their wines before. Good things are happening at this vineyard.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Holiday Wine Recommendations

This post is a little closer to Thanksgiving than I would like, but due to the recent start of this blog, late is better than never. These wine selections go equally well with Christmas, so consider it early for that. Plus, you could even make the point that holiday wine lists are silly to begin with, as someone with a great deal more wine knowledge than me does here. I somewhat agree, but think that certain Indiana wines just beg for consumption this time of year and should be highlighted.

The wineries selected to answer this question were done by blind draw. I asked more , but some did not respond to their emails before post time. I also included Buck Creek Winery, since I asked Jeff Durm this question during my interview.

Anderson’s Winery, Valparaiso:

I spoke with Sheila, who said that the Vineyard Blush ($10.99) goes great with turkey and is their top seller this time of year. The rhubarb ($11.99) would also go great, and seems to be enjoyed by everyone. The Vidal Blanc ($13.99) has undertones of grape and pineapple and is great with ham. Finally, the Vineyard Blue ($10.99) is a Concord Blend that is enjoyed by those who are not typical wine drinkers.

Best Vineyards, Elizabeth:

Owner Wilbert said their Strawberry (no price yet) comes out this Wednesday, and does not last very long. The Catawba ($10.95) is the biggest grape wine seller this time of year and goes great with everything on the holiday table. The Red Raspberry (13.95)is a great dessert wine, especially with chocolate cake.

Buck Creek, Indianapolis:

As Jeff Durm said in our earlier interview:

Our Christmas wine is our Christmas Cherry, if you like a little bit sweeter. We only bring it out the first part of November through Christmas. We sold out last year prior to Christmas. We made a little bit more this year. Our buck actually has a red nose like Rudolph on the label. It is very popular.

Our Cabernet Sauvignon just came out, and I think it is one of the best dry reds we have ever made. Forget Me Not, which is our Traminette, would be a wonderful wine with turkey, because it has that Alsatian kind of spiciness that would match very well with turkey. Our Dew Drop is Muscat Canelli, and it really has that tropical flavor, like pineapple and citrus, and would really go well with baked ham. We just brought out a sweet wine called Trilogy that is a blend of three native American grapes-Steuben, Concord, and Catawba blended together. I basically had so many gallons of these left, and it was a test and see what it was like. It was out of necessity due to lack of tank space that we came up with this wine, and it has been by 30% our biggest seller since it came out two weeks ago. So out of necessity sometimes, good things happen.

Easley Winery, Indianapolis:

Meredith Easley told me that something with some sweetness is the best seller this time of year, to appeal to people who don’t usually drink wine. The Barrel Red and Reggae Red are hot sellers now.

Also popular is the Cabernet Sauvignon, which was judged Best of Show at the Indiana Wine Fair, as well as Gold at Indy International. It is selling by the case at the winery. The new Limited Reserve Cabernet was released last Friday and is also expected to be a huge seller and may rival the previous Cabernet in acclaim.

For the holidays, Easley makes a sweet red mulled wine. It has been the same family recipe for 34 years. Do not boil the wine or you will lose the alcohol. (I always use a crock pot.)

For the holiday meal, Easley’s recommend Governor’s Chardonnay or Reggae White with Turkey, or Pink Catawba with ham. With crown roast, the Governor’s Riesling is best. Mulled wine goes great with pumpkin pie, Cabernet or Merlot with apple pie.

And for holiday parties, Easley’s Champagne (around so long the use of the name is grandfathered in) is always a big seller.

Mallow Run, Indianapolis:

Bill Richardson and I played phone tag before this story posted, so instead of writing what he says, I will substitute my thoughts on Mallow Run wines that would be great with holidays meals. Their Traminette ($12.95) is one of the best Indiana Trams I have tasted and would go great with Turkey. I would also recommend the Seyval Blanc, but it is sold out. The Finale ($14.95) makes an excellent pairing with chocolate, and I think the Blackberry ($9.95) is unbeatable at the price and excellent with berry dishes. It is very rich though, so pour yourself a small glass!

Sorry for the Indianapolis-centric recommendations. That was not my intention, they just responded in time to be included.

I am leaving the state soon and will be back late Thursday. I will be taking two wines with me from recent purchases, Buck Creek's Der Champion and Windy Knoll's Apple. Everyone have a safe and happy holiday!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Interview: Buck Creek Winery

This Wednesday, I had the pleasure to sit down for an interview with Jeff Durm, co-owner of Buck Creek Winery. Jeff owns Buck Creek along with his wife Kelly and mother-in-law Josette. In the four vintages Buck Creek has produced, they have won numerous awards, including four gold medals at this year’s Indy Wine Festival, not to mention numerous silvers and bronzes. I’ve discussed before how friendly these folks are, but Jeff was gracious enough to give forty-five minutes of his time to an internet blogger to discuss Indiana wines, for which I am grateful. Even better for him, his winery is doing such great things that mere word of mouth is bringing people in, and he needs no help from me. For my tasting notes from Buck Creek, please click here.

When I sat down with Jeff, Josette watched the counter in case someone came in. She also added a few words when she needed to. I also had the pleasure of speaking with her a little afterwards, and wish we could have talked more. A delightful lady, who reminds me of a stereotypical kindly grandmother with the heart of gold.

Here are the highlights of our interview:

Can you tell us what you did before you entered the wine business?

I was a police officer with the Marion County Sheriff’s Department for twenty-three years. My wife, who is co-owner, was also a Lieutenant in the Sheriff’s Department. My mother-in-law is co-owner as well.

So you used your pension to fund the winery?

Exactly. I wanted to wait-we planted our vineyard 18 years ago. We could have started our winery earlier, but I wanted to get a pension so that if we didn’t sell any wine, or if no one liked our wine, then I would still be able to put our kids through school and survive.

How many children do you have?

I have two boys, one is 18 and one is 14.

What led you to winemaking?

(Laughs.) Um, there is my wife’s version and there is my version. My wife’s version is that she bought me a winemaking kit twenty years ago and then molded me out a lump of clay to be the man that I am today.

My story is that my relatives were farmers in the Elwood, Indiana area. I always liked going up there, visiting the farm, as a kid, and I thought, boy, it would be neat to have some land and a pole barn and a couple of cats running around. We don’t have the cats but we have the pole barn now.

Based on what I have seen, winemakers tend to be a pretty collegial bunch, but it seems to be even more so in Indiana. What kind of support did you receive when you said you wanted to start a winery?

Oh, yeah. I basically went to all of the wineries and talked to the winemakers. I went to Château Thomas part-time. Actually when I went in there, they said they weren’t hiring. I said I wanted to learn how to make wine and work for them, and they gave me a look, like “that’s very nice.” But then I said, “I’ll work for free.” And they said, “You’re hired.” And that is when I started my internship. I worked there a couple of days a week, whenever they needed me. They would give me some bottles and corks, maybe some juice, ten gallons or so whenever it came in. I learned a lot about the tanks, pumps and barrels and running some tests. Just the little things that really helped me out.

In the wine industry in Indiana, everybody is extremely helpful. I could name twenty names of people who’ve helped me. I’ve bought stainless steel tanks from Ted Huber at Huber’s. I bought a really nice older press from Bill Oliver, who is extremely helpful. In fact, we still buy juice every once in a while. He buys it by the tanker load and brings it in, and we buy 500 gallons of it every once in a while. Things that we can’t get with our connections now. Dave Schrodt from Brown County has helped tremendously when I’ve had questions. With all of the guys, there’s really not what I call competition with each other. We try to help each other out, and I try to help out the new guys if I can. I’ve got a guy working for me now, part-time, who wants to start a winery on the west side. (Laughs.) For some reason I’ve got to pay him. I don’t get the same internship with him. But he gets to watch me, and the mistakes that I’ve made, he won’t make. So, it is an industry where we do help each other out a lot.

Starting out, what mistake did you make that you would tell an aspiring winemaker never to make?

As far as the vineyard, my goal was to try twelve or fourteen varieties on four acres of land instead of concentrating on four or five varieties. What happens is you end up with a hundred vines of this and a hundred vines of that. The situation we were in, a winery doesn’t want to buy a quarter ton of grapes, they want a minimum of a ton of grapes. Otherwise, it’s not worth it to fire up their press. I would say concentrate on a smaller number of varietals.

There’s a lot of money involved in the wine business. Go into it knowing you are eventually going to spend a pretty substantial amount of money to get it going. So be prepared for that.

How many acres do you have out here?

We have four and a half acres of vines, and we have twelve acres of property here. My mother-in-law and father-in-law and my wife and I together own twelve acres. My mother-in-law is part owner, and my father-in-law helps out and is a great help.

And you also source your grapes?

About 25% of our wines are made from our vineyard. A little over 50% of the wine we make is from Indiana fruit. We do buy apple cider from Peru, Indiana. The remaining 48% or so comes from California vineyards and the Finger Lakes in New York. So we are a nice 50/50 blend of Indiana versus the rest of the country.

What varieties do you have in your vineyard?

We have fourteen. We have Stueben, Concord, Catawba, Chancellor, Chambourcin, Seyval Blanc, Traminette, Cayuga White, Vidal Blanc, and Chardonelle. We have two varieties that were just named; they were test varieties with Cornell’s Geneva Test Station. For years they had numbers. We planted them about sixteen years ago, and they now have names. They are Noiret and Corot Noir. {Me: For more on these varieties, check out this article.} We also have Cabernet Franc, which is actually the first vinifera we’ve ever had. It’s a test plot of fifty of those vines. We are going to blend that in with our dry reds. We are hoping we can grow some good vinifera here as well, but we will see.

{Me: I miscounted and told Jeff he had named fourteen varieties. I will edit the article if I can find out what the other variety is.}

You’ve discussed this a little bit, but tell me about the evolution of the vineyards and your future plans for them.

We started eighteen years ago with an acre and a half. We’ve planted a half-acre here and a half-acre here every few years, and we are now at four and a half acres. We may have a few more varieties, but just being myself, my sons, and my family, we don’t want to get too much bigger. What we are trying to do is create a really good relationship with some vineyards around the state and in California and New York so we can get quality fruit. It’s great to grow it but there is a point where it gets to be a little too much. So I think that right in that five acre range is about where we want to be.

How many cases do you produce a year?

Last year we produced 10,000 gallons, this year we produced 12,000 gallons, so around the 4,000 case range.

So you are expanding by around 20% a year?

It’s been a bigger jump than that, since we’ve only been open 2 ½ years. We started out with 1850 gallons our first vintage, and this is our forth vintage. You actually have to have a vintage before you can open the winery. The second year we did 6800 gallons. Last year, 10,000. This year, 12,000.

Do you have any estimates about your plans for next year?

I’m not really sure with this economy. We definitely plan on growing. In the back of the building, in our production area, we plan on adding about 1600 square feet. Hopefully next fall or in the year after that, we can add on to the front of the building, increase our tasting room. We want an oak tasting bar like we have now, but we want a 360º tasting room, and have tables that go down the sides of the room for at least 50 people to seat for events, and maybe a fireplace on the far end.

So keeping the same shell?

Yes, just moving forwards and backwards. We will be putting a loading dock on the back of the building so it will be easier for the limited amount of semis we have that bring in glass and such. We are in the process right now of building a 20x30 shelter, with a cedar roof and the 10x10 oak beams and a colored concrete floor. We will have a patio on the backside to have tables and chairs. That is what we are trying to complete before Christmas, slowly but surely.

What are the advantages Indiana has for growing grapes?

As far as climate, I don’t know that there are any great advantages. There are advantages and disadvantages. There tend to be higher acid wines here, but in California, because they have so much heat and solar hours, it depletes the acids so the wines are flabbier. They are a lot more maybe richer in some respects, but you also lose some of that acidity. So the sweeter wines we have here really match well with the acids. That is why a lot more sweeter wines are produced in this area of the country.

One the advantages we have is that we don’t have 600 wineries, just 35, so there is not that competition I spoke of earlier. It’s not a physical advantage, but surely it helps us.

What about the challenges you face every year growing the grapes?

Our challenge is that this is a family run business. There are only so much of us to go around. We are at that point where we need to look at finding quality people to help us. Trying to find the income to hire some extra people to delegate some of the jobs that I have. Our demand is up this year over last year, but our physical limitations make it really tough. Harvest was really tough this year, but we got it done. 12,000 gallons is a lot of wine to make with just a couple of people. But as we grow, we will be able to have some good people help us.

Besides what you have already mentioned, where do you see the winery at in a year?

I just want a steady growth, more room in the manufacturing area, and more space would be extremely helpful. The one thing we are really lacking is a space for people to come in groups and a facility for people to have events here. Bridal showers or events like that. Our wines are really good; we just need the space to accommodate more functions.

What about in the space of 5-10 years, do you see any future expansions?

In the space of 5-10 years, what I would love to do is to get my kids involved. My oldest son is going to Purdue next year to study business and food science. We are going to try to fashion a degree in those areas, because the enology department is part of the food science department. I would love to see them come in and help and maybe one day have the desire to take over eventually. We want to keep making good wines and remain a family business.

What do you see as the trends in Indiana wine?

I think the trend we will see will be more away from the sweeter wines and to the semi-dry to drier wines. That will come because everything moves from the West and East to the middle of the country, and as palettes evolve, they’ll like the drier wines. I think now we are around 75% sweeter wines, and I think over the next ten years that will shift more towards the 50/50 range.

I noticed that compared to a lot of other Indiana wineries, sweeter wines don’t make up as high a percentage on your list. Is that personal preference?

My preference is to make what people like. There are a few winemakers in Indiana that I have a lot of respect for, and they believe in making wines that they like, and that is pretty much their goal. If people like their wines, great, but if people don’t like their wines, then, so sorry. My goal is to make wines that people enjoy, and we will evolve as people’s palettes evolve. We will be able to gauge that. We are coming out with more and more drier wines, and it takes time to be able to source vineyards that produce quality grapes for dry wines, and we are doing that.

Do you think fruit wines will continue to play such a prominent place on Indiana wine lists?

There will always be a spot for fruit wines. I think that what we will do is eliminate the ones that don’t sell as well and have one or two that are really our standards. Our blackberry has been a great seller. Our red raspberry apple, which we mull this time of year, has been a great seller. I think those two we will always have, and others will evolve.

Any new wines on the horizon?

We made Merlot a couple of years ago and sold out very quickly. We didn’t make it last year, and I regret that, because we had a lot of people come in for Merlot. In this harvest, we brought more Merlot grapes from two different vineyards that we are going to blend together. I think it will be really good.

We are also coming out with a rhubarb wine that is on the sweeter end. That is a big seller at several of the Indiana wineries, and after tasting it at some of those, it has a very interesting flavor and mouth feel that I think will be enjoyable. That will be introduced in the next couple of months. I am really happy with our Traminette. We just started making it last year. That is a Gewürztraminer hybrid, cross between that and Seyval Blanc. I think that is a really good grape to grow in our vineyard and other Indiana vineyards. The Traminette we have now is a blend from three other vineyards. It’s from Oliver’s Creekbend vineyard, we bought some juice from them, from our vineyard, and there is a beautiful little vineyard in Lafayette that we bought grapes from as well. I think it grow well all across the state. It is probably one of the top two white grapes for this part of the country.

If climate wasn’t an issue, which varietals would you dream of growing?

Oh, I would love to grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Chardonnay of course. I would love to be able to grow a Bordeaux blend here, but it’s not happening. Down in Southern Indiana, Huber does a good job of growing some of the viniferas, but it is very questionable here. But as I told people before, this is where I was born and raised, and this is where I am going to make my stand. That’s just the way it is.

Do you keep track of what percentage of your sales come from inside the state or are local?

I would say 99.8% comes from inside the state. There are only a few states we ship to. We ship very little wine at all.

Is that mainly due to the shipping laws?

Shipping laws are the primary reason, but people also like to visit wineries and buy while they are there. We don’t get that many requests, and quite honestly, we just kind of try to stay away from it [shipping] if we can. We can barely keep up with the sales we have now. People ask us about retail and where we sell our wines. We just sell what we can out of here. We run out of wines all the time, so there is no reason to go through a wholesaler and do that at this point. Now, as we grow, that will change.

Do you see any relief in sight from the shipping laws as they currently stand?

I don’t know. I surely hope we get some relief, but with lobbying and all that, and all the money that is poured into the industry, it is just going to be a mess for years to come. I just hope the laws don’t get worse.

What are your thoughts on sampling fees?

That’s an interesting point. I’m the President of the Indy Wine Trail. We just had a meeting a week ago and there was talk of whether we should implement some tasting fees. One of the wineries, Chateau Thomas, does charge a fee, I think, after four or five tastes. My opinion is that we should not be the first wine trail in Indiana to charge fees. There are a couple of wineries in the state that charge fees, but I just think we should not be the first to go down that road, because there will be some resistance. Now in Ohio, it is the law that you have to charge a fee. It is a token fee, but you have to charge some fee, you just can’t give wine away.

I just think it is the perfect fit to be able to come to here or any other of the Indiana wineries, taste the wine, and see what you like. When you go to the store and see a pretty kangaroo on a label, take it home and you can’t drink it, then you are not doing yourself a service. I think the atmosphere, being able to go back and check out the tanks, get a tour if people want to see, and being able to see how we make the wine- I think being able to taste the wines, and buy what you like is a big part of our success. It is a perfect fit for our industry.

Are there any future plans or hopes for a distillery?

I don’t think so. Now, my son, if he takes over in ten years, that might be something that he would want to do. There is only one distillery in the state right now, and that’s Huber’s.

Do you think distilleries will continue to expand in Indiana?

I think so. There will be several more come in the future, but we are happy where we are at.

Any thoughts or plans for organic wines?

No. Not that I wouldn’t love to, and we’ve had a lot of requests for it, but the things you have to do to make wine organically make it tough to make a quality wine that is going to last.

Who designed your labels?

That is an artist from Brown County by the name of Bill Zimmerman, pretty famous nature artist. He did some Oliver labels, and we contacted him probably twelve years ago, long before we had the winery. We knew we wanted to do the winery, and he actually painted a picture the size of our label. We didn’t think of it at the time, but the animal, our buck, has been a good fit for us, and he did a great job for us on that label.

Any inspiration for the label besides the fact you are next to Buck Creek?

We had originally thought-there were two names that were finalists. One was William Lloyd Cellars. William and Lloyd are actually my son’s middle names, but as we thought about it, it just seemed like it was somewhat pretentious. And then it was Buck Creek, and we thought there is Buck Creek Playhouse, Buck Creek Nursery, we sit on Buck Creek, and a big part of our business is going to be local.

People will come to us as opposed to going to Oliver or somewhere distant with gas prices and whatever. If we make good wines and we are nice to people, and we treat them well, our business will grow. In fact, I watched an interview on one of the FYI stations, and they were interviewing Magic Johnson. He owns 130 or so Starbucks and movie theatres in LA and the Bronx. His one comment was “you just have to treat people the way they need to be treated, and with a good open heart.” I thought that was very interesting, because that is our business model as well. Treat people like they’re family every day. My mother-in-law treats people a little better than I do though (Laughs).

Who maintains your website?

My father-in-law and Jason Sisk. He was the webmaster at IUPUI for several years and now he is out on his own. He does a great job.

How important is your website to your overall business plan?

I think it’s real important. We have people in all the time that state it was the website that brought them to us. I am not very web savvy, but my father-in-law is very good at that, and he makes sure we maintain that the proper way. I think our website needs a little improvement, but it’s doing very well.

Josette: We communicate with people through our website. They always want to know when certain wines come out, and we just tell them to keep an eye on the website. When we run out of wine, we let them know. When we have something new, we let them know. It’s updated whenever it needs to be.

Me: I hoped you enjoyed this long interview. I also had the pleasure of speaking with the pair for a few minutes afterwards. I do have to relate that Josette, right as I was leaving, leaned in close to me, and said, “You know, we get people in here from California every once in a while a little skeptical about our wines. They leave here loving our wines and our atmosphere.”

Of that, I have no doubt.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tasting Notes: Buck Creek Winery

I sat down this evening for an interview with Jeff Durm, co-owner of Buck Creek Winery. We discussed a variety of topics concerning Buck Creek and Indiana Wines. I will bring you that interview later this week.

In the meantime, I have organized my tasting notes from my visit Saturday to Buck Creek. When KeeKee and I arrived, the place was packed. The tasting room is not the largest, but there are plans to remedy that situation, details of which will be forthcoming. We simply walked around for a little bit and looked at the wine related merchandise they offer for sale and did a little conversation dipping to see how the staff interacts with the customers.

The staff is friendly, certainly one of the friendliest I have encountered in a winery. There was an older gentleman behind the counter at first, whom I later learned was Dick Randolph. He was soon joined by Jeff and Kelly Durm. One server did not stick with certain tasters-they moved amongst everyone and seemed to have great chemistry together. They were insistent on trying certain vintages, but they were never pushy. It was obvious there was great pride in the product. If they thought it odd that I was taking notes of what they were telling me, they didn't show it.

KeeKee and I mostly agreed on the wines, and even though we were in a different mood that day (I wanted semi-dry whites, she wanted dry reds), we went far down the scale, tasting several wines.

Our recommendations:

Syrah-described as "a full bodied wine with ripe berry aromas and chocolate overtones. Finishes with raspberry, black pepper, and spice."

Accurate description except neither of us could taste any chocolate overtones. The others were there in abundance, especially the black pepper. I also noted "light coffee, maybe leather" on my sheet. Finish just a little harsh, but this would disappear if drank with food or perhaps some aging. Kelly did not have to tell us this wine is great with steak-the pepper flavor begs for it. Thanks to this wine, I still can't get my mind off of steak. $17.95

Cabernet Sauvignon-sheet said "a rich full bodied dry red was aged in American oak barrels." Kelly said it was bottled 10 days prior. It's youth was evident, but it also showed great promise. Smoother than the Syrah, and no detectable aftertaste. They recommended a month more in the bottle, but I would like to cellar it for a year. Great potential, one of the best young Indiana reds I have tasted, especially at this price. Expect several medals hanging on this bottle this time next year. $18.95

Forget Me Not-"Spicy white Alsatian style wine made from Traminette grape has a lovely floral aroma with honey, apple, and grapefruit flavors." Jeff said some of the Tram comes from the estate, the rest from Indiana sources. It was a touch drier than I prefer my Trams, but your mileage may vary. I wrote "mellow" on my tasting sheet. The grapefruit was evident, and to a lesser extent the apple. A fine semi-dry white, but I preferred the reds. $13.50

Der Champion-"A Riesling white wine which has wonderful grapefruit aromas, with melon and ripe peach flavors." I figured with the last name Durm, I should get some good Riesling here, and I was not disappointed. My favorite taste of the day, and you just read my rave for the Cab. Everything the description said, especially the melon flavors, which were soft and ripe. I also noted rose and pear. $13.50

Trilogy-"A blend of three native American grapes. Steuben, Concord, and Catawba make this sweet wine full of ripe berry flavors, with a wonderful floral aroma." Jeff told me that this wine is 70% Steuben, and 15% equal parts Concord and Catawba. A great wine for by the pool. Sweet, but not cloying. A good way to finish the tasting session. $11.50

We tasted a few more, but I am limiting my review to five. Between us we bought six bottles, and I would have bought more but I made a vow to cut back until my wine rack clears up a little.
A very impressive selection from a very young vineyard. As my interview will note, the crowd I saw Saturday arrived via highway traffic, word of mouth, and the net, since Buck Creek has no outside retail sales. This winery is one to watch.
Image from Buck Creek Winery website.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Review: Sky Dog Red

Ah, what might have been.

As I mentioned earlier, I was in a grocery store this weekend when I saw Oliver's Sky Dog Wine on sale for $5. Having heard these discussed in the media and amongst friends, I decided to take advantage of this low price to see what King of Indiana Wineries is up to now. For the first time in over two years, an Indiana wine truly disappointed me.

The article also claims that younger wine drinkers are increasingly sophisticated and seeking wine adventures. I agree, but Sky Dog is not the wine to provide either.

Most of us remember our first taste of wine, and the memory often is not a pleasant one. Odds are the bottle was an inexpensive white (or, less likely, a red), probably drank at a wedding with a free wine bar. The "pucker effect" was instantanous, as the basalmic bitterness overwhelmed every nuance those grapes probably never had to begin with. If you were like me, you struggled through it anyway, because you were younger and poorer, and it was free. However, the odds were good you avoided wine for quite some time after.

There is not much to be said for this wine. It is a blend of Merlot and Zinfandel, with a touch of Concord. It is bitter and sharp, with no undertones except the Concord finish that wants to get out but is prevented from doing so by the overwhelming acidity of the initial taste. The website speaks of its "soft acidity" but there is nothing soft about this wine. The taste does not improve with a slight chill and it becomes even sharper the second day. The taste reminds me of Mad Dog 20/20. I want to make clear how sad typing that last sentence made me.

Oliver is the leader in sales in Indiana for three reasons. One, it's head start as Indiana's first winery gives it experience and wisdom. Two, the labels and marketing of the bottles are first rate. Finally, it appeals to the masses and connoisseurs alike with a wide variety of wines. At every station along the sweetness continuum, Oliver has a wine, and most of them are at least above average.

I want to be clear: Sky Dog winery is a noble experiment. However, is it necessary? IU students already make a regular pilgrimage to Oliver's once they reach legal drinking age. When I was in law school, Oliver had its fair share of devotees. It still does among my age bracket and colleagues. There are plenty of wines on their list, both sweet and dry, to appeal to the taste of younger drinkers. I agree, price may be a problem, particulary among drier wines. But what happens when that dry wine your brand puts out as "entry-level" is exactly the type of wine that often turns people away from not only dry wines but wine period?

I find it telling that the name Oliver appears nowhere on the bottle. Speaking of the bottle, the mascot is the best part of the wine, but I must confess it reminds me when the tobacco companies were sued for enticing children to smoke via their cute mascots.

On the bright side, Oliver takes delight in winning over critics, and never resting on their laurels. This is why it is now Indiana's only regional winery. Will it improve Sky Dog as well? Let's hope, or we may chalk this one up to good intentions gone awry.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Coming up this week

Winter has seemingly come early to Indiana. It was the perfect weekend to put a hot pot of something on the stove, and bundle up with a hot plate, a good book, and a great glass of wine. I managed to do two of those three, but work commitments meant I couldn't get around to reading a book this weekend.

Saturday, KeeKee and I did manage to visit Buck Creek Winery. The staff was very friendly, in fact, one of the friendliest I have encountered in a winery. I will write more on my tasting notes when I get a chance. I have also made arrangements with owner Jeff Durm for a tentative interview. If my paying job doesn't preclude it, I hope to do that this week.

I also have a few things to follow up on from my upcoming topics feature from last week and will hopefully find the time to manage that as well.

Finally, I was shopping for groceries last night and noticed a bottle of Oliver's Sky Dog wine on sale for $5. Having heard a little bit about this wine from others, I decided to spend the minimal amount to taste the brand for myself. I ended up trying the red variety, and will give a short report on that wine as well.

Until then, enjoy the rest of your week!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Review: Windy Knoll Peach

I have been drinking Windy Knoll's Peach Wine for the last few days. Windy Knoll, just outside of Vincennes on Highway 50, makes a wide variety of wines, but does trend towards the sweeter and fruit varieties.

Before getting to the review, I would note the wine pictured is not Windy Knoll's peach, but their Cayuga. They have no mention of their Peach Wine on their website, probably due to the fact that it appears the website hasn't been updated since 2005! A wretched business decision that does great disservice to what is otherwise a fine winery with an owner who seems to take delight in introducing wine lovers to his creations. I will certainly discuss this winery more in the future.

The color of the wine is vibrant, that of a luminous wheat. I noted no sediment in any glass I poured.

The bouquet was strong-almost overpowering in it headiness. The smell of peaches overwhelmed me, so much so that I could not pick up any other notes. And make no mistake, it is the smell of tree-ripened peaches that hits you. There is no confusing this with any other fruit wine. While this may seem self-evident, not all fruit wines have such clarity of purpose. But that can be both a blessing and a curse.

Upon first taste, I realized I had left this wine in the fridge too long-it bit back more that it should have. This is not a wine to leave in the fridge, pull out when wanted, and drink immediately.

After fifteen minutes, a second taste was much improved. Upon that taste, again, no mistaking this for anything other than a peach wine. This is not a subtle wine, the only flavors I could taste in this wine were peaches and the nuances of cinnamon that become somewhat more evident when the wine warms. The sweetness was strong, but not too cloying for one who likes fruit wines.

The finish was lasting, the sweetness lingered on the lips and could be remembered for some time, and was not unpleasant.

Other than that, my impression of this wine on it's first night was pretty bland. Just fine as far a peach wine goes, but nothing spectacular. Eric, who prefers somewhat drier wines, took a sip, and his reaction was short, "That's really sweet and really strong!" He did not ask for a glass.

On the second night, this wine took on an unexpected metamorphosis. The bouquet is not nearly so pronounced, in fact, you have to strain to really get a nose on it. When one does, you can smell fruit blossoms, though I won't go so far as to identify the blossoms as peach.

The sweetness and sharpness in the taste has mellowed and is much more appropriate. The wine has taken on a heavy, almost mead-like quality on the tongue, and the finish is much smoother to savor. It still is undeniably peach wine, but also begins to resemble Traminette.

I was much happier with this wine after the second night. On the first night the wine IS dessert, on the second night, it could simply be drank with dessert.

I would even cook with this wine, and can picture now a recipe for a peach mango reduction to top some high-quality vanilla ice cream.

An above average peach wine. Let's see if Windy Knoll can build on the foundation of this wine and bring some nuances to future vintages.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Taste of What's to Come

As you can see, things are coming along here. I am slowly adding links and essential blogs. Slowly, because I don't want to do much rearranging if I change my mind on the layout. I'll share a little about some of my favorite wine blogs later, but rest assured, the blogs that you see now are excellent choices if you are looking for some great reading about wine.

But who wants to just read about wine? I don't. So I need to plan my first winery visit as blogmaster. I would like to do so this weekend, but am not sure if my trial calendar will allow it. I should know by Thursday. It will also depend if I can cajole a friend or two into joining me.

Future topics have also been circulating in my head. Among them:

Are certain wines a benchmark for overall quality?

State wineries always seem to have one mandatory fruit wine they MUST have on their wine list. You can't go to a Michigan winery without being offered a sample of their cherry wine made from local fruit. I have tasted over a dozen, and my favorite, in fact one of the few I actually enjoyed, came from the father of a very famous pop star.

In Indiana, the fruit of choice seems to be blackberry. While evaluations of one particular type or varietal only gives you a narrow view of a winery's overall range and quality, I find that a winery's blackberry wine can serve as an useful benchmark to determine indicators of note for the rest of the wine list. If a winery’s blackberry is bland, the other offerings tend not to be robust. If the blackberry is cloying, it might be a bad omen for those who dislike sugar bombs. Over the course of my winery visits, I will be looking closely at Indiana blackberry wines to see if my hypothesis is correct. It may not be-but I am always willing to try.

Similarly, certain regions are known mainly for one or two grape varietals. Think Ontario and Eiswein or the Finger Lakes and Riesling. Does Indiana have a varietal that stands out yet? Why not? Will it? I will also turn over some thoughts to what grape varietals to use for the same benchmark.

Sampling fees-Are they on the horizon?

We have been pretty lucky when we visit wineries in Indiana. I can't remember paying a sampling fee at any Hoosier Winery except for New Day Meadery, but that is understandable given their specialized product and limited availability. Contrast this to Ohio, which actually legislates a mandatory sampling fee.

But are sampling fees coming to Indiana? I have heard rumors they might be coming to certain wineries. This rumor makes sense; wineries in other states have instituted sampling fees once they felt their popularity would allow them. I'll talk about sampling fees, their future, and also discuss with vintner's their thoughts on them.

The Sympathy Bottle

Who hasn't visited a winery, found nothing to their liking (or in a few instances, anything palatable), but come out of the store with a bottle anyway? Was the owner pouring for you and making sad eyes? Was the person serving you just so nice and knowledgeable that you felt compelled to buy? Is it because you got to sample several varieties for free? Or was there some other reason?

And then, what did you do with the bottle when you got home? Gift? Dinner party? Space-filler on the wine rack? I'll discuss sympathy bottle stories and encourage you to tell your own.

Are More Distilleries in Indiana's Future?

Besides Huber's Starlight Distillery, no winery in Indiana (to my knowledge) has announced plans to form a sister distillery. Will this change? Is the industry in this state simply not mature enough yet? I'll discuss the future of distilleries in Indiana with various vintners.

Seasonal favorites

What else should we discuss this time of year? What Indiana wines will go perfectly with your holiday meal or dessert? I'll give a few selections next week.

Mulled Wines

Another seasonal topic and a niche that seems to grow every year. What's the latest in mulled wines?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Kapp Winery, Where are You!

I don't mean for my first post about a specific winery to be negative, but here it goes.

I was putting the links for Indiana Wineries together so I could add them to the blog. You will find them on the right. I pulled them from the Indiana Wines website, which you will also find in a link to the right.

Creating this list made me even more excited about this blog. It brought back some memories of past visits, brought me up to date on what I have been missing, and gave me some ideas on where to visit soon.

It also let me know who pays attention to their website through regular updates, and who doesn't put much thought into the whole picture. I would also note that if your website has music that scares my sleeping cat, you might want to reconsider the tune.

I was also thrilled to note that every winery also had a website. Well, except one. Kapp Winery in Jasper is the sole exception. Looking at the awards they have won, they seem to be successful at making some interesting varieties of fruit and grape wine (any winery brave enough to try persimmon wine grabs my interest and is almost enough to guarantee a future visit). So why no website? Are the owners not Internet savvy? Surely the owners have a young relative who can whip up a decent site in short order?

Not wanting to leave question marks in the air, I called the Kapp Winery. I kept my questions brief because the owner had some customers tasting. I believe that those at a counter should receive precedence over those who call a business. The owner stated a website is under consideration, but the only employees are her and her husband, and it is just not feasible right now. She said that the winery will be closing after Christmas until April, and they will try to work on it then. She did seem surprised when I pointed out Kapp is the only Indiana Winery with no website.

The answers were not a surprise to me, but I have to ask are they acceptable in 2008? Kapp has been winning awards since 2003. Websites are not difficult to start nor particularly expensive. And the wine industry in particular has been able to take advantage of the Internet to increase knowledge and sales. The only excuse I find acceptable is that Kapp is not interested in building their business-they only want to make wine. I find that difficult to believe.

I have also put in an email to Indiana Wine Grapes Council, asking if they provide website start up support. I will report back when I get a response.

I mentioned in my welcome post that one of the items I would be discussing is the websites of wineries and whether they enhance or detract from the winery's image. Much worse than having a poorly designed or never update website is having none at all.


Why this blog?

First, there isn't a place on the web devoted to Indiana Wines. If there is, I haven't found it. By "devoted to Indiana Wines," I mean a place where people can discuss impartially the pros and cons of Indiana Wines, not simply a place such as the Indiana Wine Grape Council. The IWGC, while great for tourist information and a great resource for wineries, is not going to give you impartial information about what to seek out and what to avoid.

And that absence is a shame. Because I think Indiana is making great strides in viticulture and vinification. Are we at Napa's level yet? No, and there is a great argument to be made that we shouldn't try to be. Are we better off than we were ten, five, or even one year ago? I say yes.

Here is what I promise with this blog:

I will try to post two to three times a week.

I'll post about wine events that I attend or become aware of. If you know of an event, please let me know, and I will be happy to publish it.

I'll review wines and wineries in Indiana. I might even review a bed and breakfast or restaurant if I combine it with a winery visit.

I'll occasionally review wine books.

I'll try to visit every winery in Indiana. I have already been to many, but I don't want to leave others out. I don't know how long this will take, and if you are a vintner and think you are being ignored, don't hesitate to let me know!

I'll discuss (usually as part of my visit) the website of a winery and whether it helps or hinders the winery.

While Indiana Wines will be my focus, I will occasionally discuss wines from neighboring states. It would seem a shame to ignore the great things Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky are doing in wine, especially since many Hoosiers will be much closer to some of these wineries than many Indiana Wineries. If I am in their neck of the woods, I will probably give a shout out.

I am a lawyer by trade, and will post about trends in the law regarding wine and wineries. Obviously, shipping is the big issue right now in the wine legal world, so expect some discussions about that. However, I freely admit that business is not my area of practice. Don't expect a learned treatise from me. In fact, I may simply refer you to the wonderful Indiana Law Blog, which has covered wine shipping laws in an excellent manner since this issue came to the forefront.

What one shouldn't expect from me:

I am not going to be a cheerleader for Indiana Wines. I enjoy them, and many of them are great. But some are also not good, to put it lightly. Some varietals have no business being grown in Indiana. Some vintages are unworthy of adulation. I will be impartial in my reviews. However, I will strive to be respectful and appreciative of the efforts put into the wine.

I don't like point systems. I understand their value, but I believe they over simply the appreciation of wine. A wine can be so much more, or even so much less, than their total numeric score. I also think that giving numeric scores can mean giving huge preference to a one point difference in score. For example, Wine Spectator gives one wine that sells for $15 eight-nine points. It gives another that sells for $30 ninety points. What happens? The wine that sells for twice the price outsells the wine that, probably, is in fact the better value. I am not the only one who thinks this is dangerous thinking, and there is even a blog devoted to this very subject.

Therefore, I won't be giving out points, thumbs, grades, stars, or any other similar scale. I will share my thoughts and let the reader draw their own conclusions. It will usually be pretty easy to discern my thoughts.

About me:

I am not a likely person to create this blog. There are many who are more knowledgeable about wine than me. I consider myself pretty wine savvy, and I will do my best to continue to educate myself and others. Isn't that part of the fun?

I don't plan on revealing my identity, but I don't plan on hiding it either. You could have already gleaned a few clues about me from this post alone. If you do figure out who I might be, congrats! I don't plan on writing anything on this blog that I am ashamed of or won't stand behind.

I will note that I have no interest, financial or otherwise, in any winery

My wine palate is pretty diversified, though I freely admit I am not one for bone dry reds. I am lucky enough to have plenty of friends who like these varietals, and I may ask them to give their thoughts in a review of those wines.

So, pour yourself a glass of your favorite Hoosier Wine, sit back, and enjoy! There will be a lot of housekeeping going on to get this blog up and running, and I ask for your patience.