Monday, August 3, 2009

Howard Hewitt's Ohio River Trip

It's been three months since I took my winery trip, and I still haven't finished writing about it. Fellow Hoosier wine blogger Howard over at Grape Sense-A Glass Half Full writes about his the next day. Show off!

He visited six wineries, including a few new ones and gives great descriptions. Check it out, parts I and II!

Howard also brings up a dilemma that comes up when one tastes wine-what do when something tastes off? Do you move on and not say anything or do you mention it? Myself, I play it by ear. Some pourers seem receptive to that sort of questioning, while others might bristle. It does get especially complicated when the pourer is the winemaker. It can be even more intimidating when someone is new to wine and isn't sure if there is something off with the wine or if they are really supposed to be tasting (and presumably enjoying) those off notes.

Anyway, thanks for the great review, Howard!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

RIP Appellation America

After hearing the bad news that the wonderful resource Appellation America was moving to a paid subscription site, we get the even worse news that the site has decided to cease totally. Sad. AA was a great resource that attempted to give weight to all of the wine growing regions in America. I somehow doubt anyone can pick up the slack.

There does seem to be a constriction in the wine internet world right now. Let's hope it is merely cyclical due to the economy. While more information is not always a good thing, I have appreciated much of the "power to the educated buyer" stance many websites have been offering.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tasting Notes: Carousel Winery

On day two of our recent winery adventure, we left our base in Nashville and hopped south on IN-37. Past Bedford, right on the highway, we came across our first destination of the day, Carousel Winery.

The winery has been in existence for 8 years, started by West Coast transplants Marion and Sue Wilson. What juice they can't get locally, they try to get from Washington State. Sue was at the beautiful limestone counter when we came inside just as another group was leaving, and was quick to set us up a tasting.

The first thing one notices about the winery is the decor. Just as the name would suggest, a merry-go-round theme is evident here. The rest of the decor was over the top as well, but to each their own. One thing I did like is that the winery hosts a different local artist every couple of months and allows him or her to bring their work in the winery for sale. Great idea to help support the local arts, not to mention a cheap way to decorate (and redecorate) your store.

You also notice the friendly large Retriever moseying around. Named Cayuga White, it is a great ambassador for the winery.

As we took our places at the counter, we were handed a wine list. It was out of date, with several of the varieties sold out but not marked as such, but we made due. I am listing the price we were quoted when we were there, even though the website now lists higher prices for some bottles, even though it appears the website is irregularly updated. Notes:

Aglianico ($28.04) Sue crowed about this wine, saying you will can rarely find it in this country, let alone Indiana. This is an ancient variety that has never come into favor in America, and has only recently arrived with significant California plantings. I enjoy Italian Reds, and I am always up for something different (not to mention to knock another off the Wine Century Club countdown), so we tried it. The bouquet reminded me of a Syrah. The taste is dry, dry, dry, (some age on this wine would have been appreciated), and I didn't notice much of the complexity I get from some of my favored Italian wines. The taste reminded me of plums not quite ripe. Try it for the novelty factor, but this price is way too high for what you get.

Petite Sirah ($32.71) This limited reserve cost $1 to sample. Wanting to see how Indiana wineries are handling the higher end varietals, I forked over the money. Some blackberry and pepper notes, but we would taste better vintages of this variety on our trip at half the price, not to mention absent the sampling fee.

Lady Luck ($11.00) The description on the list said nothing about the wine, just some quizzical lines about luck smiling on you. That's nice, but it doesn't tell me a damn thing about the wine. After getting a taste, it does have a good balance in the mouth, with enough sweetness to be a hit in Indiana. One of the better "summer sippers" we tasted on our trip.

Riesling ($15.89) Lots of pineapple flavors to the exclusion of everything else. Underdeveloped, and much better (and cheaper) Rieslings would be tasted on our trip.

Cherry ($14.02) Made from Michigan fruit, this is an above average cherry wine. For me, that damning with faint praise, since I don't generally care for cherry wine, but if you do, this is one of the better Indiana ones.

Pomegranate ($14.02 for 500ml) I have only had one other pomegranate wine, that being at Grape Inspirations. I wasn't too impressed with that. This one was much better, if pretty sweet. The Silver Fox said, "it tastes just like the juice." Sue says this wine is becoming a big seller. If you like fruit wines, it's worth a shot.

I have to admit, I came away pretty underwhelmed here. In fact, at the conclusion of our trip, we named it one of the two biggest disappointments. Some innovation, but the prices stifle the desire to buy. I am sorry, but you are missing a huge opportunity for business if you can't provide some dependable, decent wines for under $10. If you can't do that, you better make sure your wines are better than average. Sadly, they weren't here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Review: 2008 Butler Vineyard Chambourcin Rosé

I don't normally care or post about wine competition results, but do feel the need to point out that Butler Winery won the award for Rose Wine of the Year at The Indy International Wine Competition. This is the first time an Indiana wine has won one of the major awards and represents a huge breakthrough for Indiana wines. It also confirms what many have been saying about Butler Winery-they may not get the attention their larger brethren do, but they sure make good wine.

When I was in the winery earlier this year, the wine was not yet available for tasting. However, I recently was able to split a bottle with some friends at Mass Ave Wine Shoppe. There was a markup in price ($24.95 vs. $17.95 at the winery), but it was worth it to enjoy the wine with friends in a great atmosphere. (Not to mentioned the markup is pretty insubstantial when compared to restaurant markups.)

Anyway, the wine was crisp and refreshing, perfect for a warm summer day. Served chilled, it set the perfect mood with its full herbaceous bouquet. It was great with some light cheese and crackers. We all loved it. Chambourcin is a wine that can actually do well in Indiana, and it is great to see what magic Butler was able to put into the bottle.

A wonderful addition the Butler brand, and one of the best Indiana wines. Congrats on the victory! Get it at Mass Ave or at the winery-it won't last long.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Guest Judging at the Indy International Wine Competition

Like several bloggers, I received an invitation to be a guest judge at the Indy International Wine Competition. Sadly, my schedule did not allow me to participate. However, you can find two great posts from Grape Sense and Wine Biz News.

Sounds like a great time was had by all! Sorry I missed it.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Oak Hill Winery Now Has a Blog

Rick over at Oak Hill Winery has already done some pretty inventive things with his winery. Now, he becomes the first Hoosier winemaker to have his own blog, Ponderings at the Oak Hill Winery. He is doing a good job of keeping up the writing. Let's hope he keeps up the blogging, and that other wineries follow suit!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Lastinger Wine Review Reviews Oliver's Watermelon Harvest

In my absence from blogging, I also neglected my blog reading. I missed this review last month on The Lastinger Wine Review on Oliver Winery and their Watermelon Harvest wine. I am not a big fan of these wines, though they certainly do have their finger on the pulse of Midwest palates. I agree with Stacy-the Black Cherry is particularly atrocious, just like a Luden's cough drop. The Mango isn't that bad though, and my friends who like sweeter wine rave about it.

Anyway, a great summation and worth reading. I haven't tried the new varieties of Watermelon and Passion Fruit, and though Stacy's review doesn't make me want to, perhaps I should and consider them for when I entertain people with diverse palates.

EDIT: I was at a dinner party this weekend, and a friend brought this over. Stacy has it right-this wine taste just like watermelon Jolly Ranchers. VERY sweet. As it was, it was too much. One of the people remarked, "I can't believe I used to drink this sweet stuff all the time." Another though it would be okay as a spritzer. I am sure it will sell well, since Oliver almost always has their finger on the Hoosier wine buying pulse, but I'll pass.

We all agreed the bouquet was wonderful though.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

You know what they say about loose lips....Part II

I've received some interesting feedback on my previous post detailing a very negative experience I recently had at an Indiana winery. A few people wanted to play the "If I guess the person correctly, will you confirm it?" game (uh, no), but most just wanted to add a few comments. Most of it is off the record, so I won't repeat that here, but I will respond to the comment Tia, co-owner of New Day Meadery, left the in comments on the blog. Since she responded in a public forum, I will do the same.

Tia writes:

Hi Charles, this is Tia Agnew. My husband and I own New Day Meadery and I felt I should comment on your post.

First, I'm sorry that you had that experience at an Indiana Winery. Being what I like to call the "oddball winery" here in Indiana (since we don't use grapes), I have to say that everyone's always been great to us and very supportive of everyone in the industry. Indiana's fortunate to have a wide variety of wineries and styles of wine - there's something for every palate and every pocketbook. We do our very best to talk one another up to everyone that comes into our shops and no one really sees anyone else as a competetor.

I know that once in a while, a customer will come into my shop and comment negatively on another winery or about Indiana wines in general. Our mode of operation is to try and get them to reconsider. Be it to try something else in their line or to think about how different grape varietals have different characteristics, etc. I'm sure that this same scenario takes place at all of Indiana's wineries and that 99.95 of the time they handle it in the same way - positive. I know from experience that many people are skeptical of our wines (the no grape thing really throws a lot of people), but many have come into my shop telling me how they were convinced by the conversation they had with another winery staff person or owner.

Again, I'm really sorry that you had such a negative experience and I don't know if my comments help with any bad taste in your mouth, but I want you to know how much I feel my fellow winery owners support me and the rest of my colleagues. It may sound cliche, but I honestly feel like we're a team rather than competitors.

Thanks for posting your experience so that we all can be certain that we're putting our very best foot forward.

All the Best,


Tia, thanks for your comments. I agree with everything you say.

As for any bad taste in my mouth, there is none. What happened on my visit reflects on the character of the owner of that winery, not on Indiana wine (and, yes, mead), and certainly not on Indiana winemakers who, as I have stated time and time again, are a very collegial bunch. Too many times to count do I see examples of this lack of competition, several of which are posted on the pages of this blog.

What shocks me most is this person was so indiscreet to begin with. As you and your winery knows firsthand, I do not generally identify myself as the writer of this blog, and on the rare occasion I do, it is after I taste the flight and engage the owner/staff in conversation. In fact, I never identified myself at all to this person, and unless they read this post and realized I was talking about them, they still don't know I popped in.

As you may or may not know, I don't generally ask winery owners their opinion on their competition. I have asked questions of a similar sort in an interview, for example, such as asking a winemaker what other Indiana wineries they admire. What I do not do is ambush journalism. I am not out to set someone up. These remarks came about when I was asking what I thought were relatively innocuous questions.

What should be of note is that if this person would be so indiscreet as to say these things to a total stranger as myself, someone who kept asking questions about the wine and did nothing to encourage further discussion along those lines, what are they saying to those they do know? And quite frankly, if the person is so indiscreet, I can't imagine the competition hasn't already heard that this person is badmouthing them. You actually hit on the point of my post (and I did a lot of inner debate as to whether I should post my experience at all) that everyone should be putting their best foot forward. Your winery, and every other Indiana winery I have been into, already does that.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

You know what they say about loose lips....

Dear Winemaker:

Just a few words to the wise. Your mileage may vary.

When a stranger comes in your winery to taste what you have to offer and what you have worked so hard to produce, it is not too wise to spend your limited time with that customer badmouthing your competitors. If your wines are truly worthy, they will stand on their own. You don't need to bury others to praise yourself.

Furthermore, if you want to bitch to said customer about how all your competitors aren't friendly to you, copy all of your ideas, don't tell you about upcoming events, don't seem to want to socialize with you, and are just plain jealous of your success, you should do so without the previously mentioned badmouthing. After hearing your rant, I can see why no one would want to spend time with you.

Your conversation is always in poor form.

It could be downright tragic if, unbeknown to you, the person you are being so indiscreet with happens to own this blog.

I can't help but be even more taken aback by your caustic attitude when I contrast it with every other winery I have ever been in, both inside Indiana and in other states. Never have I heard anyone broach the topics you did. In fact, I have even heard a few of your competitors say nice things about your winery.

Luckily for you, I am not going to identify you by name.

Monday, July 6, 2009

New Indiana Winery

Indiana has yet another winery! Blue Heron Vineyard joins the scene all the way down by the Ohio River in Cannelton. The winery is selling five wines now, though the only varietal mentioned is Foch.

They have a small bed and breakfast on site, and what they claim is the largest in situ (that is, carved in stone) Celtic Cross in the world. They also appear to want to emphasize local food and culture.

Gary and Lynn Dauby are the owners of Blue Heron. Both are teachers, with Lynn teaching art (in addition to being a working artist) and Gary retired from a career spent teaching, among other things, at the nearby Branchville Prison.

Pretty impressive website so far, though I would like to see prices and perhaps pictures of the labels, as well as what specific varietals Blue Heron is selling.

Good luck to the newest Indiana winery!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Tasting Notes: Butler Winery

In part three of my wine weekend, the three of us left Oliver and drove down some winding and hilly roads to Butler Winery. Butler had been around since 1983, and is Indiana's fourth oldest winery still in existence (Oliver, Easley, and Huber predate it). From Oliver heading south on IN-37, there is a sign pointing you to Butler. You still have to go down some roads that can be pretty treacherous in adverse conditions.

In our wine journey, Butler was a big question mark. I didn't know quite what to expect from this winery. It's been around for a while, and has three locations, but it doesn't get the attention of other wineries. I have had a few of their wines, and either enjoyed them (as I did when I reviewed their blueberry) or thought they were okay enough (as I did when I reviewed their Indiana White) but without tasting the full flight, everything else was a mystery.

Once there, one is greeted by a simple building. There was plenty of room for plantings, but given the risk of frost, not too much had been done, but the preparations were clear. There is patio on one side complete with tables that overlooks a pond. We wondered if the pond was for function in irrigation as well as form, but it was explained to us it was not. However, even the small size of the pond does provide a slight lake effect in giving the nearby vines a few degrees of warmth on cold winter days. Sometimes, two degrees is the line between harvest and nothing.

Upon entering the unpretentious and immaculate tasting room, we were greeted by co-owner Susie Butler. There was bottling going on in the back, as evidenced by the distant clatter of bottles, but we were the only customers there for almost the entire visit, so we were able to engage her in conversation. She was matter of fact in a great way. She answered all of our questions and seemed delighted to share her pride of the winery and the wines.

Every wine was given a great introduction, and a wonderful job was done by Susie. I am going to use the term unpretentious again, but it seems to fit this winery to a tee.

White Select ($11.95) A dry Cayuga fermented in stainless steel. Surprisingly sharp, but nothing that would make me forgive my aversion to this grape.

Chardonel 2005 ($13.95) One of the better Indiana Chardonels. No residual sugar. Oak Barrel fermentation, but one does not feel like there are splinters in one's mouth. A nice Indiana alternative to Chardonnay.

2005 Vineyard Chambourcin ($15.95) Oak aged for 6 months. Nice earthy aroma and a taste that is great for those who don't normally like red wines.

Black Currant ($12.95) I don't recall any other Indiana wineries making this wine, but they should if they can make it as well as Butler. One of the best Indiana fruit wines. Textured and bold, with just enough tartness.

2007 Vineyard Late Harvest Vignoles
($14.95) Above average dessert wine, though we would come to prefer others on our trip.

The thing we noticed about Butler was their consistency. All the wines were good, and there were several standouts. Having come into the winery with minimal expectations, we left very impressed. KeeKee went so far as to call it one of the two hidden gems of the trip (more on the second one later).

If you are going to make a trip to Oliver or one of the other nearby wineries, I suggest you make time for the Butler family.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Yes, I am Alive

It's been a long 6 weeks since my last post, and for that, I apologize. Just this week culminated a massive investigation I had been involved in. I won't talk about that here, but if you paid attention to the news this week, you probably saw it. While I missed blogging, that's the way things are. Sadly, I don't get paid to write about wine, I get paid to do my day job, and after working twelve to fourteen hours a day at that, the last thing I wanted to do was get in front of a keyboard again. Things are still going to be hectic, but not as bad as they have been.

For those still around, thanks for checking in. I also thank those who emailed me asking if I was still around. Your thoughts are appreciated. There will be a new post up tomorrow. I have lots of things to catch up on.

Finally, I would again put out a call for contributors. The detriments to being the sole contributor on this blog have been evident the past few months. The pay is lousy, but if, like me, you want to improve your writing and care about Indiana wine, your submissions are welcome. If you do have an interest, financial or otherwise, in an Indiana winery, I would like to discuss that with you first, but that would not necessarily bar an article.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New Indiana Winery

Richmond, Indiana is the new home of J&J Winery. The winery had its grand opening April 25th. The winery is owned by Dr. Jeff & Melody Haist and Jim & Karen Ramey. It sits on an 8 acres farmstead just outside Richmond.

The winery seeks to give visitors a Tuscan flavor, complete with a wood fired pizza oven. Trails and a large pond are present. J&J also has a bistro serving pizza and other simple Italian dishes.

The winery will release no wines until next year, having just produced their first crop last year. Now, they have other wine for purchase and are bringing people in by their bistro and by hosting functions.

Let's wish this winery well. Let's also hope they update their website soon so we can know the mission of the winery, as well as what wines they intend on producing.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Around and About

I know I have been incredibly tardy in getting a new post out, but the real world intervenes. This is why I am asking for other writers!

I still have a lot more coming. What's to come:

-Further discussion of the nine other wineries I visited on my wine tour last month.
-A review of the Indiana Wine Fair, including some things I overheard from the crowd.
-Summer wine events are heating up, and I will have more on that.

Finally, a note of thanks. Last month, we averaged over 60 unique visitors a day to this blog. I well remember the first few weeks when we averaged one a day, not including myself. We quickly got to 20, and have increased steadily.

This has very little to do with me. There are plenty others out there who could do a much better job. This is due solely to the interest those out there have for Indiana wine. Cheers!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Tasting Notes: Oliver Winery

In part two of our wine tour, KeeKee, the Silver Fox, and I left Mallow Run and headed south to Oliver Winery.

Oliver, as most everyone knows, is Indiana's oldest and largest (by quite some distance) winery. It is also the only Indiana winery that can claim to be a regional player, distributing wine in at least 11 states. If someone from out of state is familiar with Indiana wines, it is probably Oliver they know. Their size and reach are staggering, their marketing is aggressive, and their wine is, by and large, first rate. Still, it had been just over a year since I had been to the winery, and I wanted to see what was new.

Upon arriving, we had to fight for a parking spot. It was the first truly spring day of the year, and even though it was early afternoon on a Friday, people were out enjoying the weather. Once that was accomplished, we took a few moments to tour the garden. There had been some recent planting, and the grounds looked wonderful. It was nice to take a few minutes on the beautiful day to stroll amongst the flowers and limestone sculptures and see some life after the long winter. We also took a quick jaunt near the pond, where the familiar koi fish are so large, you can see them from the back door of the winery.

Seeing those grounds brought back memories of my first visit to Oliver now some years ago. I was already familiar with wine at that point, but preferred sweeter wine. I was there on a date, and we ended up buying a bottle of the Camelot Mead and taking it down near the pond. The honey aroma attracted so many bees we had to move to the patio. The relationship, still going strong. My enjoyment of the sweeter Oliver wines, not so strong anymore.

After the tour outside, we moved inside to the tasting room. The bar is large, with an appropriate level of staff. We had to wait a few seconds for a spot to open up, but when we did, we were greeted almost immediately by Lorraine. She has worked at Oliver for almost five years, having started out while a student at IU. She was as knowledgeable as you would expect with her experience. She gave us excellent descriptions of all the wines, chatted with us, and answered all of our questions. Our interaction with her is what you get from Oliver. While I do miss the down home family atmosphere you find at many Indiana wineries, there is something to be said for this style as well. Just like Secretariat, Oliver is a tremendous machine.

One bad thing about Oliver's wine list is that it is so large. It covers so great a gamut you have trouble picking what to taste, especially since the wine list asks you to limit your tastings to 6-8, though this is rarely enforced at any Indiana winery if you are tasting responsibly and appear to be serious.

Only a few things had changed at Oliver's since I had been there last. The Sky Dog Wines have since made their debut . Sky Dog is Oliver's attempt at a drier, entry level wine. I asked Lorraine how they have been received in the tasting room, and she said great. I don't believe it, but that is what she said. Almost everyone, including myself, has given them a thumbs down.

The other thing I noticed was the more aggressive marketing of the Creekbend label. Creekbend is Oliver's estate bottled wine, produced from vines located a few miles away. Oliver has said before they seek to extract as much quality as they can from Indiana's soil and put into the bottle with Creekbend. A noble goal, and a great project. Unlike Sky Dog, the results have been mostly excellent and worthy of praise. My only protest are the labels, an example of which is pictured above. The labels for Creekbend depict spearheads that celebrate the type of Indian artifacts often discovered when the fields are plowed. Nice, but another great thing about the main line of Oliver wines are the lovely William Zimmerman labels depicting native birds. I was assuaged somewhat by picking up one the magnets of the bird labels that are available for sale.

Here are the tasting notes:

Creekbend Chardonel ($15.50) Somewhat oily on the tongue, this was pretty hearty for Chardonel. I would not recommend this for sipping, though it might pair nicely with lighter meats.

Creekbend Pinot Grigio ($25.00) Oliver is the only Indiana winery to feature estate grown Pinot Grigio. Could certainly take in the lemongrass and pear the wine the description promises, but it seemed too light, even for a Pinot Grigio.

Pinot Grigio ($12.50) We much preferred this version, made from imported juice. Light body
with a little more underpinnings than the Creekbend version. Good note of pears.

Creekbend Valvin Muscat
($25.00) Great sweet perfume bouquet. Though it smells very sweet, it is actually quite dry, with an excellent finish. My favorite of the Creekbend wines I tasted.

Sauvignon Blanc ($12.50) Lorraine kept asking us to smell the gooseberries, though it has been so long since any of have smelled gooseberries we have forgotten what they smell like. The lemongrass we were also asked to notice was evident, and was actually one of the most pronounced lemongrass bouquets I have noticed in a wine. It reminded me of my days working in a candle shop. Another excellent light white.

Shiraz Reserve ($18.00) Aged for 30 months, you won't find many Indiana wines with this much age. The age shows, lots of character and mouthfeel in this wine. The wonderful earthy flavor that Shiraz develops over time was evident in this bottle. Excellent value.

Creekbend Vignoles ($18.00) Lots of apricot and melon flavors, with a nice touch of sweetness.

Creekbend Catawba ($12.00) I have had this before, but I decided to try it again because of my previous post about this wine. In that post, I questioned the price and whether any Catawba is worth this much money.

I will say, I have tasted a lot of Catawbas. This is best one I have tasted, and head and shoulders above most of them to boot. I still question whether any Catawba is worth $12, but if you enjoy this varietal, or sweet wines in general, it would be a worthwhile.

I would also point out that the display of Catawba did make a striking presentation on the shelf with back lighting showing off its bright peach color. Lorraine mentioned it does get lots of oohs and ahhs.

I did not taste at this time, but have previously enjoyed, the Muscat Canelli ($10) and the Beanblossom Hard Cider ($8.50)

After our tasting was complete, we toured the rest of the tasting room. Oliver also stocks a great supply of breads and cheeses for a picnic or for later. We made our purchases, toured the garden one more time, and headed on to our next stop.

I am always amazed when I go to Oliver. Oliver shows the potential for Indiana wine, while still preserving the uniqueness of Hoosier Hospitality. How much further can Oliver go to increase the power of their brand? Time will tell. One thing is certain. It is always hard to be the leader, and plenty of other wineries are trying to catch up.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tastings Return to Cork and Cracker

I got this email a few weeks ago, but it got buried in the rush of everything else. Indianapolis wine shoppe Cork and Cracker is hosting bi-weekly tastings at the Upper Room in Broad Ripple Steakhouse. The cost is $15 and includes 6 wines and appetizers. The next scheduled wine is May 7th. Call the store at 317-733-9463 for more details. Or better yet, go to the website and sign up for their newsletter.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Signs, Signs, Nowhere Are There Signs

In Indiana, this is the sign you see along the road to let you know a winery is near. (This picture, taken from Indiana Wines website, is the sign directing you to Easley Winery, I believe from the Ohio Street ramp off of I-65.) There are also blue "tourist marker" signs that one sees directing you with specificity to a particular winery or other popular spots.

However, you may have noticed that not all Indiana wineries get such signage. On several recent tasting trips, I have been downright frustrated by the difficulty in navigating to a rural winery, especially when I am accustomed to looking for signs like you see on the right. I have always ended up finding the winery. But how many people decide to take a detour from their drive to visit a winery off the beaten path, only to be frustrated and turned back by lack of signage?

In speaking with winemakers over the past several months, I have asked several, via email or in person, why they lack signage. The answers range from mystification to anger.

I contacted Jeanette Merritt with the Indiana Wine Grapes Council to see what the qualifications were for the signage. She was kind enough to respond. She confirmed what a few winemakers had already told me-that a winery must have regular operating hours to receive signs. This is defined by being open at least five days a week, six hours a day.

This is obviously bone-headed, given that the costs associated with the start ups require most beginners to continue to work in their primary jobs during the week.

I should note Ms. Merritt's positions in this issue is neutral, since the IWGC cannot get involved in government or agency decisions such as this. The blame for this rests purely with the Department of Transportation.

I have been, and still am, very critical of wineries not having a website, or of not maintaining said website. There is just no excuse for it, especially considering how cheap it is to have a website.

However, on this issue, the government is entirely at fault. The government controls the easement near the highways, allowing them to help market wineries in ways that not even a website can. Plenty of other signs have hours on their sign as well, so one does not need to worry about visitors driving up without some idea of the hours. This can be done at no charge to the winery. The costs can easily be offset by the increased traffic and revenue the sign will bring to the State's coffers.

Wineries don't have this same luxury. In order to put a sign up near the road in the State's easement, you must obtain permission from the State. This, like any other sort of government action, is a pain in the rear, complete with meetings and specifications. The alternative is to find someone with land in a good location, and get their permission to display your sign on their land. If they allow it, you will probably have to pay rent. The other problem with several of Indiana's smaller wineries is that they tend to be more rural areas where the citizens might not be so keen to advertise a winery. One winemaker told this was case with them. The pleas to get some signage in the easement went unanswered, or were answered with a simple letter citing the rule mentioned above. No compromise, no offer to help, no other alternatives being proposed, just a simple form letter.

I am constantly amazed at the fact that the State just doesn't get the basics of marketing here. For all their talk about promoting agritourism (see here, here, here, and here, just to start) they forget that a small amount of publicity can reap big rewards. The rewards are even greater when the signage is pretty much permanent, assuming the sign doesn't blow away.

Not being able to see the forest for the trees. Our government at work once again.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

In More Wine Competition News...

At the Pacific Rim International Wine Competition, the Gold Medal in the category of Cabernet Sauvignon went to Charles Shaw Winery.

That's right, even the "Two Buck Chuck" (or rather, three or four dollars here due to shipping and taxes) you see at Trader Joe's managed to win a gold medal at a major wine competition.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Indiana Wine Fair Medals Awarded

Just returned from a delightful day at the Indiana Wine Fair. The crowd was happy, the weather near perfect, and the location great. I'll have more on that later, but medals were also given. Here are the results:

Best of Show: Oliver Merlot

Dry White: Gold-Oliver Viognier

Silver-Turtle Run Winery “The Chard”

Bronze-Huber Winery Starlight White

Sweet White: Gold-Easley Winery Cayuga White

Silver- Chateau Thomas Winery Fleur d’Peche

Bronze- Easley Winery Sweet Barrel White

Dry Red: Gold-Oliver Merlot

Silver-Chateau Thomas Petite Sirah Reserve

Bronze-Chateau Thomas Teroldego

Sweet Red: Gold-Mallow Run Winery Rougeon

Silver-Brown County Winery Vista Red

Bronze-Best Winery Concord

Blush: Gold-Oliver Catawba

Silver-Oliver Bean Blossom Blush

Bronze-Chateau Thomas Winery Slender Blush

Dessert: Gold-Brown County Winery Old Barrel Port

Silver-Carousel Winery Shadow Dog Port

Bronze-Huber Winery Ruby Port

Non-Grape: Gold-Grape Inspirations Winery Coco Royale

Silver: Oliver Blackberry

Bronze: Buck Creek Blackberry

As you know, I am not a big fan of wine competitions, but I do like the rules of this competition. Dr. Allen "Ole" Olsen, one of the main organizers of the event and the dean of Indiana wine bloggers over at Hoosier Wine Cellar, explained the rules to me. Five judges, not professional judges, but well-informed wine drinkers, blind tasted all entries. The judges were to consider color, aroma, taste, and finish. The judges were also to be cognizant of the limitations of Indiana's climate. In case of a tie, Dr. Olsen cast the deciding vote. From my viewpoint, many of the medalists are spot on.

Congrats to all the winners. I'll have much more on the Fair in the upcoming weeks.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Tasting Notes: Mallow Run Winery

To kick off our wine weekend I accompanied KeeKee and the Silver Fox to Mallow Run Winery. I had been to Mallow Run a few times before, as had KeeKee, but this was a first visit for the Silver Fox. Since it was on the way south, it seemed a shame not to show her the beautiful farmstead on which the winery rests.

Mallow Run is located off of Highway 37, on Whiteland Road. You have to follow a few bends and curves, but soon enough, the red roofed barn greets you. The winery sits on a farmstead awarded a Hoosier Homestead Award, meaning it had been owned by the same family for at least 100 years. Nearly 180 in fact, having been settled by the family in 1830. The farm covers 600 acres, with 9 of those devoted to grapes, and the rest to standard fare (there was a wonderfully green patch of winter wheat in front of the vineyard). The tasting room is going on the fourth year, having opened in 2005.

The tasting room sits in a wonderful old barn. The counter (which is quite high) is sided with old wooden shingles. Exposed beams support the roof. A deck and chairs are outside for warm weather enjoyment.

We were greeted by Sandy, who was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about Mallow Run and the wines. It was amusing to see her reaction when I asked for something to spit out the wine I was tasting. "No one's ever asked me for that before." she said. She found a pail though, for which I was very grateful, especially when I saw just how much wine I spit out. The pours have always been generous at Mallow Run.

Here are my tasting notes, interspersed with comments of KeeKee and the Silver Fox.

Syrah ($17.99) Good tannin balance here. Nice blackberry, currant, and light licorice notes. We all enjoyed this wine made from Lodi juice.

Zinfandel ($17.99) I expected more from this Zin, also from Lodi juice. It was just fine, but seemed muted. Not that wonderful pepper flavor you associate with this variety, and I noticed all the flavors period seemed muted. We all preferred the Syrah.

Seyval Blanc ($14.95) Apples, peaches, and lots and lots of pears from this newer release. More body than most Seyval Blancs, but I always find this variety to be pretty thin. Above average though. Grown by Windy Knoll Winery near Vincennes. Sandy said this wine is cold-settled for one day, filtered, and then cold fermented in steel.

Traminette ($12.95) Good grapefruit notes. Other than that, not much. I've had much better Indiana Traminettes, and by the end of the weekend, this one was not in the same class as the better ones.

Winter White (good until supplies last at $7.99) This blend of Muscat, Niagara, Traminette, and Cayuga was indistinguishable from Oliver's Soft White.

Riesling ($11.95) Just bottled. Made in a sweeter style, this was crisp and fresh. Good fruit notes, with a slight mineral finish. I enjoyed it, but it was a little sweet to suit the Silver Fox.

Picnic Red ($9.95) Standard sweet Concord, but I enjoyed this wine more than most of the other Concords out there. Worth the extra dollar or two if you enjoy sweeter wine.

Rhubarb ($10.95) The surprise of the flight. Many of the rhubarbs I have tasted have been briny, so I was not expecting much here. However, KeeKee had stopped in the winery a few weeks before and raved about this wine, so we decided to try it. I enjoyed it very much. It has the tartness of rhubarb without being too acidic. Sugar is added, but the wine avoids being syrupy. Good pizzazz. The Silver Fox, who doesn't care for fruit wines, raved about this as well. "I never have had any desire to try rhubarb wine, but this is very good." she said. This is perfect for sipping in warmer weather, which is exactly what we did that night on the patio of our hotel. The tart notes opened up even more upon being served very cold.

I didn't try the Raspberry, but I have in the past, and find it to be one of the better Indiana raspberries.

Overall, we were pretty impressed with the flight we tasted. A few uneven notes, but overall, pretty good.

Mallow Run brings people into its remote location with such events as pizza night, soup night, yoga lessons, and even hosting the Carmel Symphony (which drew over 800 people last year). Give them a try.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Follow the Indiana Wine Blog on Twitter

Join over 450 other people in following me on Twitter. I'm under, strangely enough, Indianawineblog.

I am especially happy to see all the Indiana folks now following me.

Campaign Contributions From the Alcohol Industry

From Fermentation comes a state by state list of how much in bribes, I mean campaign contributions, the liquor industry has paid out. Indiana and surrounding states:

Illinois: $1,588,484
Indiana: $282,462
Kentucky: $58,350
Ohio $283,650

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Indiana Wine Fair This Saturday

As stated earlier, this Saturday, the wine festival season kicks off in a big way at the 2009 Indiana Wine Fair. The seventh annual event takes place at the Story Inn near Nashville. $20 admission gets you parking, a Story Inn wine glass, and entry in a prize drawing. Oh, and it also gets you ounce pours of wine. From 12:30 to 7, and the weather is supposed to be wonderful.

I don't know how many wineries have confirmed-I have heard anywhere from 18-25. We can argue semantics, but there are few times in this state where one can get this many Indiana wineries pouring samples in one place, so I am very grateful for that opportunity. I am also happy to be able to taste a few wineries I have yet to experience. I also know what a good day, sales wise, this can be for some of the more remote wineries. Expect plenty of posts coming my visit.

Hope to see you there. If you think you recognize me, say hi!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Grand Tour

I am back, tired but happy, from my whirlwind winery tour this weekend. KeeKee and the Silver Fox joined me in visiting 11 wineries this weekend. Stay tuned for lots of features from our trip. Some snippets:

-Tasting notes for all 11 wineries
-A head to head blackberry wine competition
-A head to head port competition
-Are locally grown grapes making headway?
-Wineries that elated us and wineries that disappointed us

All of this and more. The season is just heating up. On Saturday, don't forget the Indiana Wine Fair in Story (more on that later this week). Life is good.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Mallow Run News

Mallow Run Winery is bringing back their popular Market Club promotion this summer. This allows you to receive a monthly basket of local produce, cheeses, breads and meats. $240 for six months, or 3 months for $120. Items are also in stock at the winery, and being a member of the Market Club gives you a 15% discount on the items (not the wine, though).

In my recent posts, I discussed my desire to be more environmentally friendly. The winery is likewise seeking to do the same by rolling out an Earth Day promotion of reusable wine bags. Buy four or six bottles, get a carrier free. Bring them back for refills, and get 5% off your purchase.

Mallow Run is also releasing their new Riesling. A sweeter style, it comes out on April 18th.

Finally, on Friday, May 1, from 7-10pm, the winery is hosting a fundraiser for Relay for Life. Tastings, appetizers, live music, and prizes. $20 a person, $30 a couple. Call Brooke at 317-697-7326 to buy tickets or stop by the winery.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Book Review: Passion v. Arrogance

This weekend, I had the chance to wrap up Passion v. Arrogance: A Dana & Goliath Story of Wine, Women and Wrong! by Margaret E.J. Broderick.

This book tells the story of Gaia Wines, the first solely female owned winery in America, located in Indianapolis on Mass Ave. The book is told from the author's point of view, and tells the story of her relationship with domestic and business partner Angee, their decision to start Gaia Wines, and their struggles to keep the business open. However, the bulk of the book is consumed with what happens after the couple makes the decision to close Gaia. Wranglings with the bank and the courts lead to the utter destruction of Gaia, it's inventory, and it's legacy, and the the emotional toll is devastating.

The book was a pretty quick read-I read almost all of it in my downtime visiting family this weekend. It flowed pretty well.

The book does a great job of explaining the process of forming a winery-the financing, the constant meetings, having to sign your life away multiple times to buy the basic equipment. The book also does a good job of explaining the travails of what happens when the winery launches-the constant inventory struggles, having to pour cash into the future stock as soon as the register rings up your current stock, and the constant struggle to hire good help. Anyone thinking about starting a winery would be well advised to pay close heed to these sections, especially the income figures. For those who think a winery is a quick way to strike it rich, think again.

I was bemused to see how much of the current banking crisis was foretold in this book. The arrogance demonstrated in the book is a reason this industry is having serious problems.

Some of the complaints I had was the whirlwind courtship of Margaret and Angee. One day, they meet, and it seems like almost instantly they decide to start a winery. There wasn't much of the process-what led them to form a winery. Sure, they both liked wine, but one gets the sense that there wasn't a passion to start a winery, just a passion to start a business, make a lot of money, and retire to Florida. At least in my career, when the going gets tough, the passion and love for what you do sustains you. Without that passion, the book made it seem that giving up the business was like quitting any other job. Ironic, given the title of the book.

The biggest complaint I had were issues I have with all books of this type. Written with benefit of hindsight by the author, Broderick writes with the tone of one who always, no matter what the situation, knows what is correct, and since she has the pen, she makes sure you know it. The book, especially the second half, seems to be little more than a rant to prove this. Lots of documentation, some recorded conversation transcripts, and lots of lots of digs, all told from the author's point of view, who always gets the last word in. No one, including Angee, is safe from the wrath of omniscient Margaret. I found the discussions regarding the legal issues faced particularly troubling, since it was pretty clear to me that the author knew just enough about the situation to be dangerous, not enough to actually understand the nuances involved. Although they did get hosed by the bank, it seemed clear to me the bank had some pretty valid complaints as well.

Another thing that annoys me in writings such as this is the refusal to call people by their real names. Even the bank is never identified, even though, in the book's lowest point, the author gives us nearly 10 pages of bone dry FDIC complaints against the bank. We also find out at some point after the story concludes the bank shuts down. Who's going to say anything? Who's going to sue you for libel? I can see the need for some caution, but still, I always wonder about the veracity of "tell-all" books that don't really tell all.

Still, overall this is a worthy read. The connection to Indiana wine alone makes this noteworthy, and it was interesting to see how many characters I could figure out by the author's description (I even think I figured out who a couple of the attorneys were). There were also several passages about the ins and outs of owning a winery that were particularly compelling.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Wine on Tap, Part 2

In follow-up to my recent post about a Michigan winery serving wine on tap from the tasting bar, the New York Times has an article asking if this is becoming a trend or is just a phase.

Let's hope so. As someone who is aggressively trying to reduce my environmental impact, I am getting increasingly discouraged by seeing the quantity of bottles wineries go through just in the tasting room. I can't imagine the waste makes them happy either.

A question I have been meaning to ask, and hopefully one of the winemakers who reads this can answer-are the bottles consumed at the tasting bar recycled by the winery?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Hope for Wine Lovers Yet?

The Indianapolis Star reports (that's becoming an oxymoron fast, isn't it?) that the push to double the tax on alcohol statewide is losing momentum. That's the good news. The bad news is that there will be an amendment to the legislation to allow Marion County to impose it's own local excise tax.

Apparently, Senator Kenley is surprised the proposed tax hike raised controversy instead of support. Who'da thunk it?

If this passes, the battle shifts to the City-County Council, who will then vote on the proposed tax increase. The Democrats will presumably vote against it, because, well, the mayor is a Republican. The Mayor will secretly support it, but pretend like he doesn't, and foist it all on the Republican majority in the CCC. The Republicans will presumably vote against it because they want to keep their jobs.

I think if this proposed bill makes it out in the present form it will not pass the CCC-yet. But, just you wait until times get better, and the furor dies down. Then, look for this tax hike to pass while our backs are turned.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Promotion to Make You Laugh

I received Easley Winery's monthly newsletter today, and they were showing the support for firefighters by running the following special:

The week of April 20-25, Easley Winery in downtown Indianapolis is running a special promotion just for Firefighters. Everyone with ID will receive 20% off wine and gift purchases. An additional 5% off will be awarded if anyone (usually the rookie) in the squad is willing to don our grape suit. Green tights optional.

I assume the annual firefighter convention is in town that week. Clever.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Michigan To Become a VQA?

Mich Wine asks if the time is becoming ripe for the state to do what Ontario has done and form a Vintner's Quality Alliance (VQA). Wines with a VQA stamp are guaranteed to be completely from the appellation, and undergo a screening process, including a taste test, to ensure they are high quality. Considering where Michigan is in their development process, it makes perfect sense.

Indiana is nowhere near considering a VQA, but I do find myself frustrated by the inability to find the origin of many Indiana wines. I found this passage from the Mich Wine article particularly telling:

"This is the Michigan wine industry's dirty little secret: how many wines made and sold by Michigan wineries contain, in whole or part, juice from non-Michigan grapes. And how many wineries go out of their way to blur the distinction."

Amen to that. I agree there are plenty of wines not suitable for Indiana's climate, and juice must sometimes be imported. But why blur the distinction? I have never been outright lied to about the source of the grapes, but have seen plenty of obfuscation. Why?

We know all the grapes didn't come from your vineyard-and trust us, we're okay with it.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Tasting Notes: Wilsons Winery

Sunday, I headed east to Wilson's Winery. I headed to Wilson's specifically because I felt a little sorry for them. I mean, just look at this map. Wilson's is pretty isolated, without benefit of a wine trail (not that obscene amounts of distance ever stopped anyone from creating a wine trail, but more on that later), a large urban center, or placement near an interstate. The winery closest to Wilson's is actually in Ohio.

So, I was pretty curious. How does a winery without the benefits I mentioned survive? What kind of crazy folks would put a winery in a place where churches outnumber people? How does a winery in the middle of nowhere pull customers in, let alone establish a unique identity? So, to see what is happening at this outpost, I hopped in the car for an hour and drove to tiny Modoc.

Wilson's is a working farm, but only 3/4 of an acre are devoted to grapes. The rest is devoted to the more standard Indiana crops. The winery is in a non-descript building behind the farmhouse.

Due to the weather, I was alone on the roads, and was the only customer the entire time I was there. Sad for the winery, but I appreciated being the sole customer for purposes of this post.

When I arrived, I was greeted by Darin. I later learned that Darin is the son and nephew of the co-founders of the winery. Darin is also chief winemaker.

Darin is just what one would expect from someone from Modoc, quite simply, a pure country boy. As a fellow country boy who sometimes wonders how the hell I ended up in the big city, I both recognize and appreciate this. I further enjoyed the friendliness and enthusiasm he displayed in showing me the wines. His attitude was more blunt and open than most people I see behind a wine counter, and I appreciated his candor.

I ended up tasting most of the wines in stock at the time. Here are some of my notes:

Seyval Blanc ($12) Mineral notes, apples and pears dominate. Not as dry as I was expecting. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, as I usually find Seyval pretty bland.

Autumn White ($12) Locally grown. Vidal, Diamond, and Vignole blend. Average semi-dry Indiana white.

Riesling ($13) Moderately sweet, lots of honey and flowers on the nose and in the mouth.

Marechal Foch ($13) Red wine with no real tannins, but not much body either. If a light body red is what you are looking for, this is fine, otherwise, look elsewhere.

Modoc White ($11) A sweet Niagara with lots of honey and citrus notes. I haven't enjoyed Niagara for a while, but liked this wine. It does need to be filtered, as I saw a good amount of tartaric crystals in the bottle.

Richard Red ($10) The biggest seller, named after Darin's grandfather. Sweet Concord that taste just like every other sweet Indiana Concord. If you like that type of wine, you will love this one. If you don't, you won't. (Now, that would be an interesting wine challenge. Put everyone's sweet Concord in a blind tasting, and see if anyone can tell them apart.)

Elderberry ($10) Described as port style, but I don't see that, unless you count the 16% alcohol. An interesting variation, and kudos for going outside the normal berry route, but something was missing.

El Concor ($12) This wine is 80% Elderberry and 20% Concord. The sting of the high alcohol and tartness from the Elderberry was softened by the sweetness of the Concord. The sum was certainly greater than the parts here, and what was missing from the Elderberry solo was clear once I tasted this. I would encourage some more experimentation with this-it could be a big seller.

Blueberry ($14) My ongoing battle with blueberry continues. Unlike my previous experience with Butler's Blueberry Wine, I didn't enjoy this one. My ill will towards blueberry wine continues.

Cabernet Sauvigon ($22) The highest priced wine on the list. Darin made it clear that if no one wants any, he doesn't care, he is proud of it, and he is fine drinking it all. In fact, when he poured me a sample, he got a glass for himself. I was surprised at that, but hey, I guess he means what he says.

The wine does have potential. Good cherry, leather, anise, and earthy berry notes. A little young for my taste, but some aging could make this wine a keeper.

I must say my trip to Modoc was worth it. Darin talked my ear off, gave me some wines to sample, most of which I enjoyed. And as our conversation developed over the course of the tasting, I could see how Wilson's had managed to make an identity for itself out here.

It's pretty simple, really. Host it, and they will come. Wilson's is always getting people to come in from the community. They have "Bring Your Own Meat" dinners where they provide the grills, you provide the meat and pot luck side dish, and everyone comes out for a big cookout. Depending on the weather, they get 20 to 70 people on a Friday night. They have concerts outside, one of which brought 750 people to the winery last summer. Cooking contests, writers coming in and reading their material, and an amateur wine making club are other activities the winery hosts. It gets people in, and most importantly, it gets people buying their wines. For it's size, Wilson's seems to have the busiest social schedule of any Indiana winery, and is yet another great business model at work.

I'll post more about Wilson's summer schedule later, but here's hoping you get a chance to go out east and see what is happening at Wilson's. They do have limited hours, so check the website first.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

What Did You Expect?

As was pretty much expected, the Senate voted 10-2 to advance the CIB bailout measure, that would among, other things, double the state excise tax.

Color me surprised. Did you really expect the state legislators to dare piss off the Irsays or Simons and miss out on primo box seats?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Around and About

Two great posts discussing Indiana wines:

First, the Lastinger Wine Review reviews another Indiana wine, this time Creekbend's Catawba. Creekbend is Oliver's top shelf wine, and unlike Sky Dog, their "introductory" wine series, it is a noble effort. I tasted this wine pre-blog and enjoyed it, but thought it, like most Indiana Catawba I have seen lately, was overpriced. I wonder if there is a reason for this? I must say, the color of the wine, as evidenced by Stacy's photo, is certainly striking.

I also am quite intrigued by Stacy's photo of her and her husband making wine. I only ask that if she decides to start her own winery, she tells me first.

Second, Good Grape has a great post talking about Whyte Horse Winery, it's backstory, and a quick review of two of their wines, including their Traminette. As I mentioned before, I am big fan of Traminette, believe it is highly suitable for Indiana's climate, and am glad to see so many estates starting to grow it. Also great is for Whyte Horse to get some attention from a blog with the pedigree of Good Grape.

Vote for Vevay!

Budget Travel magazine is doing a feature on America's Coolest Small Towns. The only Indiana city in the running is Vevay, home of The Swiss Wine Festival. Right now, Vevay is on the bubble in 5th place, so show some support by voting here. Polls close Friday and are open from 10am to 8pm.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hearing Scheduled to Double Indiana Excise Tax

I received the following email about the hearing scheduled on doubling the excise tax. The email was written by Lisa Hays Murray, attorney with Hays Murray Castor.

Please see the email below that Jim Purucker, representing the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers, sent out this afternoon. Since Jim does an excellent job in summarizing the alcohol tax amendment and shoring up calls in opposition, I have taken the liberty to send his email to you and ask that you and your employees join in on the calls to legislators opposing the tax.

This Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee will be considering an amendment to HB 1604 which increases the excise tax on Alcohol by 100% to help fund the Marion County Capital Improvement Board shortfall caused by the Pacers, Colts and Convention Center operating losses. In and effort to gain support for the idea, the anticipated $42 million increase in alcohol taxes would be distributed statewide to cities and towns throughout Indiana on a population basis for economic development initiatives. Only Indianapolis’ portion ($8 million annually) of this increase would go to the Marion County Capital Improvement Board. Here is the membership up of the Committee. Please have your employees and customers contact their legislators to let them know what a bad idea this is. I have also attached a flyer which you can feel free to distribute to members, employees and customers. This will reach the Senate Floor sometime next week.

Senate Appropriations Committee

Senator Luke Kenley, Chair R - Noblesville

Senator John Broden, R.M.M. D - South Bend

Senator Gary Dillon, R.M. R - Pierceton

Senator Lindel Hume D - Princeton

Senator Phil Boots R - Crawfordsville

Senator Earline Rogers D - Gary

Senator Brandt Hershman R - Monticello

Senator Karen Tallian D - Portage

Senator Teresa Lubbers R - Indianapolis

Senator Patricia Miller R - Indianapolis

Senator Ryan Mishler R - Bremen

Senator Tom Wyss R – Ft. Wayne

House Switchboard:

800-382-9842 317-232-9600

Senate Switchboard:

800-382-9467 317-232-9400

Edit: I wanted to get this post out as soon as I could, and could not write comments due to having to go to work, but can now. As the commenter notes, this bill would result not only in higher costs for consumers but in greater costs for our fledgling wine industry. This is especially true if the rumors that this will apply only to bottles of alcohol sold and not to drinks sold in taverns bears out. I hope people would take this into consideration and take the time to call their representatives to let them know their feelings about this proposal.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Reader Mail

Back for an another episode of reader mail. As always, please write me with any questions you have about Indiana wines at Questions may be edited for clarity or length. As always, please don't ask me for legal advice.

Which Indiana winery is the most influential?

I hate to pick a doctor over a lawyer, but this question is easy. Chateau Thomas. Oliver may be bigger, and it is certainly the one the casual Hoosier wine drinker knows, but Dr. Thomas and his crew have the influence. His commitment to European techniques and blends have made many serious oenophiles who would not have given Indiana wines a second thought converts. And no matter what you were saying about those diet wines, you were saying something. He got people talking about Indiana wines in a way no has before. If Indiana has a Robert Mondavi, it is Dr. Thomas.

I would note that if one talks to other Indiana winemakers, both Mr. Oliver and Dr. Thomas have been selfless in their mentoring of aspiring winemakers. Without their help, many successful wineries would not have made it.

What are some good spots in Indy to buy wine? Not necessarily Indiana wine, but wine in general.

Another easy question. Mass Ave Wine Shoppe and Cork and Cracker are two in Indy proper. Both have great customer service and a very knowledgeable and fun staff. In both you can walk in, tell the staff what you want the wine for, and instantly get a great recommendation. Both also specialize in wines under $15.

I would give Mass Ave the edge because it also has tables where you can order a light meal or a cheese tray. You can also buy a bottle of wine there at retail, open it up with no corkage fee, and drink it with friends. A great (and dare I say cheap) way to enjoy wine and some food. They also have wine tastings, psychic reading, and language lessons.

Cork and Cleaver doesn't have the dining space, nor the tastings (they have them at an off-site restaurant), but I like their near Broad Ripple location as well as the things I mentioned earlier.

Kahn's is also close to me, and I generally go there when I buy liquor (and they have the best selection of Indiana wines), but I find their customer service to be spotty at best, though this has improved somewhat after the recent corporate shakedown. I've noticed that when I ask for for wine recommendations at Kahn's, instead of specific wines, I tend to get varietal selections. When I do get a specific recommendation, I've noticed they tend to steer me towards the higher priced selections. Understandable from a business perspective, but not from a customer service one.

I know there are some good ones on the Northside, but I rarely get that way.

What do you do when the one you love doesn't love wine?

Love someone else. Seriously, I can relate to this perfectly. It gets particularly frustrating when you end up pouring wine out not because you didn't enjoy it, but because you simply couldn't finish it all before the wine petered out.

But look at the bright side-you don't have to share!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Review: Butler Winery Blueberry

In the ongoing agony and ecstasy I feel in my battle with fruit wines, I opened my bottle of Butler Winery's Blueberry this week. This retails at the winery for $11.95, but I managed to get it in a closeout bin at Kroger for $5.50. Honestly, I probably wouldn't have tried this wine otherwise, since I am not a big fan of blueberry wine. In fact, of all the more common fruit wines that pop up on Indiana wine lists, blueberry is my least favorite, by a considerable distance. I have gone so far as to say it is pretty much unsuitable for even a dessert wine. Still, I am not one to pass up a bargain, especially one I can make a blog post about it.

I served the wine slightly chilled, and noticed a nose of currants and cocoa. Upon tasting, the wine was surprisingly dry and did not have the cloying factor I anticipate when I taste blueberry wine. It reminded me of some of the lighter bodied reds. Blueberries are on the palate, but this wine does not adamantly betray its source, instead giving snippets of multitude of berries, plus plums. And I have never tasted a blueberry wine with tannins, but this one has it, though the quantity is pleasant and not overwhelming.

On the second day, the wine mellowed some under the Vinvac, but the differences in taste were marginal. The tannins mellowed slightly, making the wine as good as, if not better than, the second day.

One rave I can give to this wine is that I finished the whole bottle, something I struggle to do with fruit wines. The other I can give is that this is not only the best Indiana blueberry I have tasted, it the only blueberry wine I have tasted from anywhere that does the berry any justice.

In writing this article, I went to the website, and learned that the blueberries come from Northern Indiana. I also learned this is Butler's biggest seller. I can see why.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Banning of Chateau

By now, everyone who follows wine has heard about the boneheaded idea by the EU to ban the use of certain words on foreign wines sold in EU member countries. The words that would be banned are "chateau, classic, cream, crusted/crusting, fine, late bottled vintage, noble, ruby, superior, sur lie, tawny, vintage, and vintage character."

Well, what do Indiana wineries think about this? Who better to ask than one of the deans of Indiana wine, Dr. Charles Thomas of Chateau Thomas Winery for his thought on the proposal. Dr. Thomas emailed me his thoughts:

My opinion is that I was not upset by the EU’s move several years ago to set aside names of places, regions, etc., such as Burgundy, Chablis, Port, etc. because these are places with unique identity that should be respected. But I think attempts to ban the entire French language is taking it too far. So, I can’t have a ”rendezvous” with my wife, or put “mayonnaise” on my sandwich, or have “hors d’oeuvres” before dinner, or keep the name Versailles, IN or study American “cuisine.” If the United States Government started banning French businesses whose names or products contain English names, we would have a real trade war on our hands.

My choice of the name “Chateau” as my winery name 25 years ago was intended to be complimentary to the French as well as to suggest the style of wine I produce. I have been to France more than a dozen times. I currently have a French oenology exchange student working at my winery. I love the French people, although the government has problems (as does ours). I draw the line, however, with this proposed ban.

I couldn't have said it better than the good Doctor.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Are You Going to the Indiana Wine Fair?

If not, why? The summer wine festival season is heating up in just a month, and this promises to be a good one. Even better, there shouldn't be any awful Indiana humidity that early.

The basic facts, from the website:

Who: Nearly every Indiana winery

Doing What: Doling out one-ounce pours to an appreciative public

When: April 25, 2009 – 12:30-7:00 pm

Where: Under three tents at the Old Barn, Story Inn. 6404 S. SR 135, 13 miles south of Nashville, IN. Click here for directions.

Admission: Only $15.00 in advance BUY TICKETS HERE! $20 at the gate. Admission also buys a Story Inn wine glass keepsake, several gifts and a chance to win prizes!.

Parking is free, dress is casual, and the event will go on, rain or shine!

WEATHER IS NOT A FACTOR. All tasting will be under shelter.

For more information call (800) 881-1183

This promises to be another great event. I could write more, but there is already this great article written by Barbara Keck over at WineBizNews.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A New Appreciation for Hoosier Hospitality

Things are getting back to normal here after my Florida vacation. I went to visit my sister, who lives in the Keys. The weather was perfect, and a great time was had.

One thing that was disappointing to me was my visit to The Key West Winery. They specialize in "fine tropical wines" which made me curious to taste some. Their wine list was interesting, and included some unique, if perhaps inappropriate, selections. But really, how often does one get to try carrot wine? Or tangerine champagne? Or tomato jalapeno?

When I arrived one afternoon to taste, there were two ladies being assisted, so I browsed around first. After the ladies completed their tastings, I went up to the counter and asked for the wine list.

"We don't have one. Just look around, find out what you want to taste, and come back. I'll pour it then."

Really? Whoever heard of a winery not having a list for customers? I've been to wineries with four wines, and even they still had a printed list. Still, I looked.

Upon looking, I was even more frustrated this winery did not have a wine list. If I was browsing the racks of a regular winery, I could keep the Cabs and Rieslings straight. But this winery, with its guava, watermelon, and banana offerings, made that impossible. Still, I managed to find three varieties I thought would be good to try.

And that is when I realized why there is no wine list, because now there was a line at the counter. It was a clever and subtle way to get you to cut back on your tastings by feeling rushed. This was a new concept to me. I've been to wineries in tourist traps before, but those tourist traps are tourist traps because of the wine industry. This was a winery built to satisfy tourists looking for something exotic (and many of the tourists were on shore leave from the cruise ships). In this place, the goal is not to encourage contemplation on the wine, but to encourage you to plunk down money for some fruit wine you've never had before and get the hell out. The fact they had only one person behind the counter, and an unfriendly one at that, only made the experience less pleasant.

Still, I persisted, and upon getting to the front, selected only three wines for tasting, since there were people behind me. I can't remember what I tried, but think it might have been banana, orange, and lime. The wine was served in the tiniest plastic cups I have ever seen. The pour was so small one couldn't get a second sip. When I tried to smell the wine, all I could smell was the plastic from the cup.

And the taste? The wines I tried tasted like watered down Schnapps, and were not pleasant at all.

I should also note than none of the wines retailed south of $18.

However, what irritated me the most was the advice the counter help gave to customers on how to break Key West's open container law. While many people think you are able to carry a drink down the street like one can in New Orleans, Key West forbids this, and has started to become more aggressive in enforcing it. This should have been carefully explained, but was not. Instead, the customers were advised to keep the bottle in their purse and "just be discreet."

After hearing that, I was done. While this put a crimp in my plans to buy several souvenirs for those back home, I was fine with it.

On the flip side, I am even more appreciative of the hospitality I encounter each and every time I go into an Indiana winery. I don't feel rushed, I don't get shorted on tastings, and I don't hear winemakers encouraging old ladies to risk arrest.

One final, amusing, note. When I toured the bottles, what did I find around nearly every wine? A medal from the Indy Wine Competition. I guess I should be thrilled, but this only reinforced my earlier thoughts about these medals.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lastinger Wine Review on Brown County Red Raspberry

I'm here in sunny Florida, whiling away a few hours outside while everyone else takes a nap. In the meantime, click this link to read Stacy's take on Brown County Winery's Red Raspberry over on The Lastinger Wine Review.

I have never tasted this particular wine from Brown County, but I agree generally with Stacy's observations. I love a good blackberry wine, but for some reason almost always find myself disappointed when it comes to raspberry. Windy Knoll down in Vincennes and Mallow Run south of Indy are two notable exceptions.

Another problem I have with fruit wines is finishing the bottle, even with a great fruit wine. I have no problem drinking a glass, and even can usually want a glass the second night, but find it difficult to finish the whole bottle. I don't have this issue with most varieties of grape wine. That is why I usually just bring fruit wines to dinner parties.

Stacy, great review! When I am back, I will try to figure out how to actually cross-post, instead of merely linking your review. Also great to see you writing about wine on a more regular basis.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fresh Air and Sunshine

I'm off to Florida for a vacation. I will return again the 23rd, refreshed and rejuvenated.



Saturday, March 7, 2009

Living in the Past

When I first moved to Indianapolis for law school, I remember seeing a winery on Mass Ave, next to the theatres and restaurants. That winery, Gaia Wines, closed down in 2002.

So imagine my surprise when I stumbled across this article, dated January 20, 2009, talking about the wonderful things Gaia Wines is doing in the heart of Indianapolis.

Ouch. Anyone familiar with the back story of that winery will appreciate how cutting this article truly is.

I also noted with amusement this passage:

"Although often not widely recognized outside the state, the Indiana soil and climate provide great growing wine conditions, especially for the ever popular and dependable Cabernet Sauvignon grape varietal."

There are some great wines being made in Indiana, but to say our climate is great for Cab is pushing it. The Indiana Cabs I have tasted have been at best average. But facts are not in the writer's arsenal.

I did attempt to write the writer and offer him/her/them a correction, but they weren't interested.

Look for another post on Gaia Wines in the next month or so.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Review: New Day Meadery Semi-Sweet Plum Honey Wine

Instead of me being the sole reviewer, my thoughts will be blended in with others gathered at a dinner party tasting.

I purchased this bottle on my earlier visit to New Day. I thought it would be a great treat for the next dinner party I attended.

The directions on the back of this bottle said to give the bottle plenty of time to breathe. The bottle was in my cold car all afternoon, in the fridge for an hour, and open for thirty minutes. It was meant to be enjoyed after a great dinner (which was enjoyed with a very good DonnaFugata) and some dessert.

Everyone enjoyed the mead, and everyone seemed to be surprised by it. Oliver's Camelot Mead has been everyone's sole experience with mead.

The overwhelming amount of flowers in the nose was noted by everyone. The fruit was also noted, but most said it did not smell too much like plum. "It smells very sweet," was a common note.

Upon tasting, all were surprised by how much less sweet the mead was in the mouth. Still sweet, but nowhere near Camelot Mead. "I was afraid this was going to be syrupy enough to put on pancakes, but it is actually very pleasant and great for dessert" was one reply. Again, there was some confusion over the plum-the taste wasn't that plummy. All were happy with the taste, but one person noted an off note with the finish. One person wished the mead had been served ice cold.

When I revealed the price ($22) there was a little shock. However, given the expensive artisan process used to make the mead, no one could find too much to quibble with. Most agreed this would be a great unique gift, as well as occasional treat. "I can't imagine myself drinking this unusual wine on a regular basis" was one remark.

I normally like to review the wine on the second night, but it didn't last that long.

If you are an avid wine drinker who likes an occasional treat, you might like this. I will probably stick mostly to port for my wine splurges, but will certainly add New Day's products to the mix.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Around and About

Latest news and observations:

Was in Kroger looking for a King Cake (late I know, but hoping against hope) and saw several carts full of wine half off. Got some great deals, including a few Indiana wines. I heard several of the area Kroger's are also clearing out their stock, but I am not inspired enough to go all around. It takes a lot of effort to even get me in the door of a Kroger, especially one with such poor service as the one at 65th and Keystone.

In other retail "bargain" news, I also saw this weekend that Meijer is now selling Oliver's Sky Dog for $3.99 a bottle. This is on the heels of several other deep retail sales and price drops I have noticed over the past several months. Having previously been less than enthusiastic, I can't say I am surprised. Still, that price point can't be a good sign, especially since I saw the wines debut in some places at $8.99. Can a reformulation be far behind?

The Indiana Uplands Wine Trail is hosting their very popular March Gladness event the weekends of March 14-15 and 21-22. This event offers VIP tours, tastings, and hors d'oeuvres at each of the eight wineries on the trail. Tickets are $30, and can be purchased at each of the eight wineries. After visiting all eight wineries, you will be entered into a grand prize drawing at the 2009 Vintage Indiana Wine Festival.

Will you be at Vintage Indiana? I'll be there with KeeKee and the Silver Fox. June 6, 2009 at Military Park in downtown Indianapolis from 11am-7pm. Sample a boatload of Indiana wine, as well as food, art, and entertainment. A hotel package is available, but details have yet to be forthcoming despite the website saying they would be available by now. Looks like a few other updates need to be done to the site as well, and I would not rely on the site for anything other than the date for now, but hopefully that can be taken care of soon. Any Hoosier winery that doesn't make their way to this festival is missing a huge marketing opportunity.

Make plans for this weekend! Grab a great lunch somewhere downtown (save your money for your wine purchases and not on overpriced fair food) and amble over. One of the best things about this festival is that it is one of the few of the downtown fests that doesn't allow people to bring their pets. Sorry, but pooch has no place with thousands of people in the middle of a wine tasting. I would highly recommend you either have a DD pick you up or take advantage of the overnight package, you will be tipsy at the end of your tasting.

10 days after that , we have the Indiana Wine Competition. June 16-18th. Despite my previous post, this might be something worth seeing.

And further in the future, don't forget the Swiss Wine Festival in tiny Vevay. Looks like they have their website up and running. August 27-30th, 2009. Hopefully that time will work for me, and I can head down there.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Judging the Judges

Since I started this blog in November, I've wobbled quite a bit on what topics I want to cover. I've tried to move away from posts I think are too "press-releasey" while still reporting on Indiana wine and wineries. Strangely enough, one thing I haven't been interested in covering is that of wine competitions.

Anyone who has been to a winery has seen them. Look up, because the bottles are usually placed on a high shelf, wearing three or four necklace-like medals the wine managed to win at some competition or another. What regulars at wineries tend to notice now are the wines that have no medals, sad and stooped like the child who received no valentines.

Those who wish to immerse themselves in local wine culture quickly learn that just about any winery can win a medal for a wine they made. Those who immerse themselves in local wine culture learn pretty soon after that that medals are not really indicative of quality.

Now, a study in the Journal of Wine Economics confirms what a lot of people already knew. As the abstract puts it:

Wine judge performance at a major wine competition has been analyzed from 2005 to 2008 using replicate samples. Each panel of four expert judges received a flight of 30 wines embedded with triplicate samples poured from the same bottle. Between 65 and 70 judges were tested each year. About 10 percent of the judges were able to replicate their score within a single medal group. Another 10 percent, on occasion, scored the same wine Bronze to Gold. Judges tend to be more consistent in what they don’t like than what they do. An analysis of variance covering every panel over the study period indicates only about half of the panels presented awards based solely on wine quality.

The article has lots more goodies and stats that show wine judges are all over the map in grading wines, which explains why just about any wine can win an award.

I understand medals are valuable PR tools. I would submit, however, they are only paid any mind by beginners. I think just about every wine fan can remember the first time they bought a wine because of the award it had "earned." This is usually followed shortly thereafter by said wine fan drinking said wine and realizing the medal should be melted down and sold for scrap.

Ignore those medals on the shelf. Try everything you can sip the next time you visit a winery. Expand your horizons, and you will be surprised at what you like.

Find more about this topic at the wonderful "sister" site Michigan Grapevine, as well an article in Wines and Vines.

PS: Think I have any chance of getting media passes to the Indy Wine Competition?