Friday, December 19, 2008

Stupidity prevails in Michigan, bound to spread south soon.

What, Michigan worry? That little deal about the collapse of their most important industry is of so little import, they have plenty of time to deal with truly vital matters as interstate wine shipping.

Reacting like only ineffective state legislatures can, both houses have now passed by overwhelming margins a measure that would completely ban wine shipments by third-party shippers.

It could have been worse, since the original version banned all retail deliveries. According to Michwine:

"That [new] wording appears to allow out-of-state retailers to hire Michigan-based employees to make deliveries on their behalf, or to drive their own delivery vehicles into Michigan.

Unlike the 2005 law on winery shipping, the Senate-passed bill does not specifically require out-of-state retailers to obtain a Michigan license or collect Michigan sales and excise taxes on wine they deliver to state residents."

Well, that makes perfect sense. Leave it to Michigan to kill the goose that is laying one of their biggest growth industries.

Next month, the equally ineffective Indiana legislature will begin a new session. Given the spate of new case law and the bribes (or political contributions, it's all the same) the liquor wholesalers give legislators I am sure they will find time to screw up our shipping laws even further.

Let's just hope it doesn't create any more fatalities amongst Indiana wineries.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Review: Winzerwald Cranberry Weisser

I have a secret love affair with fruit wines. However, I freely admit there is good reason for their poor reputation. Certain fruits should not be made into wine, for instance, strawberry. Whenever I taste strawberry wine, it feels like I am chewing on a leather strap. While some lovers of reds may enjoy that note, I do not.

However, I think some fruits can make perfectly serviceable wines, among them blackberry, cherry, and cranberry. Certain fruit wines can also be pleasant if blended with grape wine. So when I was at Kahn's last week, I just had to pick up Winzerwald's Cranberry Weisser. They also have the Strawberry Weisser, but for the reasons stated above, I stuck with cranberry. This was also a nice chance to review this winery's product before I have a chance this spring to get to the winery near the Ohio River.

This semi-sweet tart blend of grape and cranberry wine (I paid $14.49 at Kahn's, but it is $11.99 at the winery) is part of the winery's Wilhelm Tell Collection. This, according to the label, "celebrates the Swiss heritage of Perry County with fruit and Swiss-style wines that commemorate Wilhelm Tell's historical feat when he shot the apple from his son's head." I don't know what the hell that means. The Weissers come in cranberry, strawberry, blueberry, and cherry. Shouldn't they have cider? What does wine have to do with the legend of William Tell? The lawyer in me also wants to know if we should be combining alcoholic beverages with legends involving shooting fruit off a loved one's head.

Despite the confusion with the wine's backstory, this is actually a pretty good wine. The color is ruby, or rather, cranberry, and the liquid is of the proper consistency. Nice,if slight, bouquet, and a nice balance of tart and sweet. I believe that in order for a fruit to be a good candidate for wine, it needs to have significant tartness to combat the cloying effect, which is why I can enjoy cranberry wine. The wine is simple, but enjoyable.

The wine held up very well the second night after being preserved by the Vinvac. No noticeable difference in quality or taste.

I only wish I could find more information about this wine. What is the percentage of grape to cranberry? What variety of grapes are used? And again, that whole Wilhelm Tell tie-in is really bugging me. Alas, nothing I could find could shed any light on these matters, but hopefully, I can find out one day. In the meantime, if you are looking for a sweet yet tart fruit wine that would be good for the holiday season, give this Weisser a try.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How much is too much for a bottle of Indiana wine?

Post idea shamelessly stolen from Michwine.

I have previously wrote about my experience at Kahn's last month here. I have already noted the shabby condition the Indiana section was in, but while I was there, I also noted something else-the price on the bottles.

The price of Indiana wine at Kahn's ranged from $6.99 to $22.99. Only two wines dared break the $20 price point-Chateau Thomas's Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, both at the aforementioned $22.99. 7 others were $16.99 or higher. Most settled in the $9.99 to $12.99 range.

Just like in Michigan, if you go to an Indiana winery, you will see many wines north of the $16.99 price point. From what I have seen, customers don't seem to hesitate too much to buy wine at that price at the winery. Sure, cheaper wines are more popular, but to lovers of dry reds in particular, the prices are acceptable. Of course, the winemaker also profits more from sales at the winery.

So why don't we see more of these wines in Indiana liquor stores? Just like in Michigan-it's a pricing issue. If, as many wine writers like to say, we are in a golden age for wine and you never need to pay over $15 for a bottle of great wine, why pay more for an Indiana wine? I myself will rarely pay that much for any bottle of wine unless I actually go the winery. Even then, I have to really enjoy the wine (and even then, the salesman needs to be pretty good).

I do disagree with one point in the Michwine article. In Michigan, the retail sweet spot is described as between $11.99 to $15.99. I think Indiana's is lower-around $8.99 to $12.99. That's not all bad news-a few years ago, I would have said that asking above $10 or $11 was pushing it.

As quality goes up, so will acceptable prices.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Review: Easley Traminette

I make no secret of the fact I enjoy Traminette, the cross between Gewurztraminer and Johannes Seyve 23-416, a close relative of Seyval Blanc. Part of the reason is that semi-dry whites are my favorite demographic. The other part is that Traminette is a variety that is well-suited for Indiana’s climate. There’s versatility with Tram as well, you can run the range from sweet to dry. I find that sweet Trams can sometimes be cloying, but the varietal really hits the spot in the semi-dry category.

Therefore, imagine my delight when I was gifted with two bottles of Easley Winery’s Traminette. I had not yet tried Easley Winery's Traminette, and I just know the giver didn’t expect to me wait until Christmas to open one!

Color is that of pale straw, and the nose does not give up much. Slight apple and apricot notes. The palate showed moderate mineral tones with a nice fruit and floral balance, and the finish was crisp and smooth. Trams can clear the palate, and thus would be appropriate with spicy Asian food as well as seafood. I enjoyed it with a big pot of ham and beans I cooked up. A little unorthodox, and while I usually prefer a hearty red on a cold winter night, the combination of comfort food and comfort wine hit the spot.

The second night, the downside of Traminette happened-the wine lost much of its luster. Ironically, the nose was much fuller, with fruit giving way to floral notes, particularly honeysuckle. However, the taste was barely there, with the mineral tones dominating, too much in fact. I could taste what was, but it was only a flabby shadow of itself.

Overall, I enjoyed this wine. You can not really blame the wine for petering out after the second day when most semi-dry whites do. Perhaps something to spice up the frame to give it a little staying power would be welcome. I would certainly recommend this wine-but would make sure it was going to a function where it would be consumed that night.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Happenings at Oak Hill

Oak Hill Winery, in Converse, Indiana, has several new releases in this year's vintage. Oak Hill has rapidly expanded its offerings and now has over 20 varieties. Some recent additions include:

Windfall ($9.99)-a Rhine style semi-dry Seyval Blanc. A touch of residual sugar is left in to allow the slight fruitiness to come forth.

Whitewater ($9.99)-a Riesling style wine fruitier than Windfall. Production is limited to 50 cases.

Sweetser ($9.99)-Catawba, spicy, semi-sweet.

Swayzee ($9.99)-made from Chancellor grapes, food friendly, semi-sweet red.

Bordermen ($9.99)-semi-sweet cranberry grape blend. Delayed due to the cranberries taking their time fermenting.

Mead Marion ($12.99)-limited release, smooth and sweet. Limited release.

The wine club is also growing by leaps and bounds. Membership in the wine club is $149 a year and comes with two bottle of wine up front, your choice. Every month after that, bring your card back and pick up two more wines. If you miss a month, you can catch up three months at a time. Membership also allows you to buy bottles at the lowest price of $7.49 each, as well as a 10% discount on most of your non-wine purchases. You also get first chance at limited releases and special productions, and invitations to special events throughout the year.

Promotions such as this wine club are what's setting apart some Indiana Wineries. Let's hope other wineries follow suit.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The End of Free Pours in Michigan?

Michigan Grapevine reports that free pours may be on the way out at wineries on the Old Mission Peninsula. There is currently a local ordinance that prevents wineries on the trail from charging for tasting. There were also proposals submitted to allow wineries to hold events such as receptions, to broaden the sale of food at the wineries, as well as allow the sale of wine by the glass.

I noted a few things interesting about the article:

-A claim that if sampling fees were permitted, only some of the wineries would institute them.
-The owner of Black Star Farms (which also makes their own cheese and some excellent fruit brandies) says that free tastings cost the winery between $50,000 and $100,000 annually.
-Some winemakers claim there is an issue with freeloaders sampling.
-No matter how crappy Hoosier wine laws are, at least we're not Michigan. I read of all the oppressive legistlation and proposed legislation and wonder how this industry has managed to thrive.

As for Indiana, a few wineries do currently charge sampling fees. I think more are going to follow suit as they become more established. The fact is, free samples of wine drive foot traffic to a new winery, and there's really no other way in Indiana to build your business. However, I wouldn't be suprised if sampling fees became standard in as little as a year or two. What I suspect will happen is a wine trail as a whole will institute sampling fees.

As for freeloader sampling, I haven't noticed much of it in Indiana. There will be freeloaders everywhere, but for every person who walks out without a bottle, there's a person who walks out with six. Wine poured for free is money walking out the door only if the winemaker failed to build the sampling costs into the margins.

That being said, I am not opposed to sampling fees per se. The concern I have is they keep interested patrons from sampling the full range of a winery's output. If there are twenty wines on the list and you paid to sample five, you will stick to what you know and expect to enjoy. This discourages samplers from broadening their horizons and could reduce sales. I particulary fear for wines at the top of the list (the dry reds) since Hoosiers seem to gravitate towards the sweeter wines.

Of course, there is a sensible middle ground-institute a modest sampling fee but make the price refundable upon the purchase of a bottle or two. Your free rider issue disappears and you encourage sales. Let's hope that winemakers looking to institute sampling fees will consider this. Let's also hope this is done in such a way that doesn't destroy the unique atmosphere of Hoosier wineries.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.

Wallace Stevens, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

I love days like today. Mostly undisturbed snow on the ground and in the trees, birds and squirrels at the feeders. This afternoon is a quiet time in a busy month.

Several of the ideas I have for this blog have been going slower than anticipated. I have taken a new position at work, and the transition is one of stress and exhaustion. Factor into that the holiday tumult, and there is no time for winery visits and road trips.

All is not lost. I have recruited two sassy and brassy dames who will join me in some visits after the New Year. More may join us as schedules allow. We are going to travel to some of the more distant Indiana wineries and see what we have been missing.

More Indiana wine reviews are on the way as well. My opportunities to go out and taste Indiana wine have been limited in the past few weeks. If I go out, Indiana wines have not been available. The Indiana wines I have been drinking lately have been bottles from recent trips to already reviewed wineries. Wanting to shake things up a bit, I've decided against reviewing those.

I have also been emailing some players in the Indiana wine industry and have received some committments for interviews.

While certain aspects of the blog are moving slowly, other things are picking up just fine. Readership in one month has been much higher than I anticipated-quickly averaging over 20 unique visitors a day and showing a steady progression upwards. This proves there are people eager to learn about and experience Indiana wines and wineries.

I have also found myself a small part of the wine blogging community. Much like winemakers, they are a gracious and sharing bunch. I encourage you to read other wines blog, especially those whose links you will find on the right. I would especially recommend a fellow Hoosier wine blogger and his two well-respected wine blogs, The 89 Project and 2 Days Per Bottle. Not only are his blogs innovative, you will never drink a glass of wine again without wondering what the Wooden Guys would think.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Whyte Horse Winery Happenings

Abby Franks at Whyte Horse Winery let me know the crew just finished bottling their holiday wine, Jingles ($12.62). Abby describes this wine as a semi-sweet red fruity wine with a smooth finish. It is a great wine to bring to a holiday party. It also makes a great holiday gift, and comes complete with a festive red and green label and jingle bell around the neck. This is the first time this newer winery has put out a seasonal wine.

Whyte Horse's biggest seller this time of year is their Traminette ($15.89). Abby says this is a semi-dry, fruity wine that most people enjoy, and goes great with turkey or some of the sweeter items on the holiday table such as sweet potato casserole or cranberry sauce.

I plan on getting to Whyte Horse sometime next year. Right now, it's all by itself in the Lafayette area. If the vineyards are as pretty as the winery is in the picture above, I am in for a treat.

*Picture taken from Whyte Horse website.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Easley's 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Reserve Release

Meredith and Mark Easley, owners of Easley Winery.

Winemaker Jeff Martin guiding a tour through the fermentation room.

Guests gathered in the Arbor Room for a picture before dinner began. Joan Easley, seated in the center, founded the winery in 1974 with Jack Easley who played lead roles in passing the Small Winery Act of 1971. This change in Indiana law allowed wineries to sell directly to the public.

Easley Winery celebrated their newest release, a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Limited Reserve ($24.75), a few weeks ago during a winemaker’s dinner. Only seventy cases were crafted. This will be the fifth time Easley has released a Reserve, but it is the first winemaker's dinner.

Owners Mark and Meredith Easley, along with winemaker Jeff Martin, invited members of the Case Club as well as leaders in the local wine industry to this premiere event. Stories regarding winery history and winemaking techniques were discussed during the dinner.

Dinner was preceded by Champagne, then three courses being served, followed by a dessert of fruit and ice wine. Other Easley wines were served during the meal. Live music was also provided during the meal. After dinner, a tour of the winery was conducted by Martin, and guests were able to barrel taste the 2007 Governor's Chardonnay currently aging in French oak barrels.

As for the wine itself, it is described as medium bodied, with a smoky nose followed by subtle floral aromas. The palette repeats these flavors, followed by notes of blackberry, pepper, and nuts. The wine is a blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Chancellor Noir harvested from Posey County, near the Ohio River.

The richness of the flavor is due to the wine being barrel-aged in American oak for 10 months. The barrels were grown in English, Indiana, and coopered in Kentucky.

Drink between now and 2017.

Meredith indicated this dinner was a way to reward their most loyal customers as well as listen to feedback they have about the wines. Meredith said, "If they love it, we know we have a hit." She also indicated plans to make the dinner an annual event.

In order to become a member of the Case Club, one merely has to purchase a case of wine (at once or over several visits) from the winery. You will then be added to this preferred customer list, allowing you to receive special notices regarding special events, sales, and new releases.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Indiana Wine in the Big Box Stores

This weekend, I was at Kahn’s looking for special deals and just to browse. I like to slowly walk up and down the aisles at places like Kahn’s because I always find that I learn a few things. Plus, I like to find cheap wine (what, you don’t expect me to drink ONLY Indiana wines, do you?). For this opportunity, I forgive the downsides of big box wine shops like this, such as the lack of personal service (Kahn’s cannot hold a candle to Cork and Cracker) . Luckily, while the deals were so-so, I noticed the customer service has much improved at Kahn’s, though still miles below Cork and Cracker. Perhaps the recent split in the company has served some purpose.

Anyway, while looking, I came across the Indiana section. You might have missed if you have never explored Kahn’s before. It’s in the back, next to the Missouri section. That’s right-the Missouri section, which consists of around 6 wines. If you look on the other side, you will note the big cardboard boxes of Franzia.

I noted the following wineries represented at Kahn’s: Brown County Winery, Butler Winery, Chateau Thomas, Easley Winery, French Lick Winery, Madison Vineyards, Oliver Winery, Simmons Winery, and Winzerwald Winery. Of course, Oliver had the most varieties, at 17 (including Sky Dog for $8.99-the highest price I have seen anywhere). Simmons and Chateau Thomas were also well represented.

I couldn’t help but feel sad at the display in front of me. The section was unkempt, which I could chalk up to a busy sales period before the holiday and this weekend. However, I could not excuse the obvious fact the bottles were not rotated. Bottles with lots of noticeable dust were in the back. Some bottles of one variety were buried behind a lot of a different variety. Given the short shelf life of most Indiana wines, especially fruit wines, this is bad news. I am sure that Brown County Winery would agree with me-those bottles of Cranberry Apple can’t sit on the shelf forever.

I wonder if Indiana wineries should be asking themselves what the benefits of these placements and displays are. Will this bring more sales? Will this bring more people to your winery? More importantly, does this help your brand? Does this help your reputation?

If you are like Oliver, a winery that is becoming firmly established as a regional player, you have no choice but to sell at venues such as these. But what if you have Oliver like aspirations? Is there another way to accomplish this volume that might be more brand friendly? If you are Winzerwald, and reside deep in Southern Indiana, is there any other way to get your wines to Indianapolis? Is this because we are all prisoners of Indiana’s unconstitutional shipping statute?

I don’t have answers for these questions yet. I may be silly in even asking them. But over the course of this blog, as I talk to winemakers and others involved in the Indiana wine industry, I will keep these questions in my mind and try to gather some thoughts from others.