Thursday, January 29, 2009

IATC Raids an Indiana Winery

Hoosier Wine Cellar reports that several Indiana wineries were the target of an Excise sting right after the "face to face" requirement was reinstated by the 7th Circuit. The caller would implore the wineries to send a bottle to the caller's mother through the mail, despite the fact the caller had not completed the required application to ship wine.

Sadly, one unnamed winery failed to follow the statute, and sent a bottle. This resulted in the immediate search of the winery, and the suspension of the winery's license. The matter was quickly settled with a substantial fine, and now we all know the Excise Police are serious about enforcing this law.

I tend to be very pro-law enforcement, and don't much care of the "where are our priorities" argument when it comes to enforcement of statutes. So don't expect that here. But when various Federal Circuits, appellate courts, and just about everyone else has trouble interpreting the current state of the law, (or, at the very least, has concerns about the current constitutionality of the law) is prompt enforcement wise?

I would have recommended a memo sent to all wineries by IATC's legal counsel clarifying the current state of the law, complete with a note of IATC's commitment to enforcing the statute. Several government agencies routinely do this, and counsel's secretary only has to make 37 copies.

Then again, one might say this should have been done by the Indiana Wine Guild. I suppose, but I am not sure if they are in a position to afford to retain an attorney on a consistent basis, though apparently they did finance the quick settlement of the above action.

One thing is clear-there are no winners in this. The IATC looks like a heavy handed Gestapo, and the winery has a massive fine to pay in the midst of a recession.

Let's hope the other 36 wineries in Indiana got the message.

PS: I did find this warning from The Wine Institute dated December 2 warning shippers of the return of the face to face requirement.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Tasting Notes: Grape Inspirations

I was up in the Carmel area this weekend, and found time to check out Grape Inspirations Winery. Those of you familiar with Grape Inspirations know it not only as a winery, but a place where you can make your own wine. Better than that, Grape Inspirations will actually store the carboys for you while the wine ferments. Great little niche and a nice business model perfect for an urban winery.

The winery is tucked into a Carmel strip mall and is nondescript from the outside. The inside has a pretty small tasting bar and then an area to the right to sit and enjoy a glass of wine. I was also immediately struck by something that was missing-the overwhelming amount of wine related merchandise every winery seems to stock these days. While there were Vinvacs and a few other essentials, missing were the massive amounts of grape pattern potholders, trivets, and toilet paper (okay, I made that last one up) present at every other winery.

As I sidled up to the tasting bar, I was greeted by a courteous staff. I was then handed the wine list. It stretched 3 pages, and listed 45 wines. That's 10 more than Oliver. The sheer breadth of that list is something to admire. As to whether it is wise from a business standpoint is a decision for the owners and their accountants. As a customer, even someone fairly knowledgeable, it was overwhelming and a touch frustrating.

I also noticed the relatively high price point for an Indiana winery. Almost every wine retails north of $15. The lowest priced was $14.50. The Carmel surcharge, I suppose.

I did manage to taste several varieties, and here are some quick impressions.

Chardonnay/Semillon ($15.99) Nice blend that highlights the buttery notes of the Chardonnay well. I also noted light honey. The taste was sharp but reasonably rounded. Good wine, but a little pricy for the quality.

Showcase Pinot Grigio ($15.99) Light aromatics of peach and apple. I enjoyed the finish on this and it would make a good sipping wine.

Classic Riesling ($14.99) Great orange notes, but the orange aroma overwhelms everything else. Noted honeysuckle and pears on the tongue. Good finish.

Bella Bianco ($15.99) I meant to ask what variety this was, but I couldn't get the splinters out of my mouth from the excessive oak. Not pleasant.

Showcase Chianti Reserva ($15.99) The last vintage of this wine, as it was not selling well compared to others. I enjoy Chianti, but could see why it has not been selling. A somewhat bland blend with slight raspberry notes that falls apart even further on the tongue.

Tropical Blue ($14.99) This is a blend of blueberry, pomegranate, and white merlot. I don't know of another Indiana winery that is making pomegranate wine, which I suppose should be commended. Regardless, the wine tasted of watered down pomegranate juice or a light blend of pomegranate and vodka. It also reminds me of those cocktails that have alcohol, but you don't realize it until you've had three or four and you're drunk.

Ruby Divine ($14.50) This is a pink grapefruit blush. Again, grapefruit wine is unique to this Hoosier winery, but I was not impressed. But then again, I dislike grapefruit. I suppose if you do, and think that grapefruit is appropriate for wine making, you might like this.

Passporte ($16.99) This winery's version of standard port is indistinguishable from other ports at lower price points.

Showcase Old Wine Zinfandel ($17.99) Blackberry and pepper, but the pepper doesn't overwhelm you like some Zins. Nice and full-bodied. The wine tasted like it has been aged, but the staff told me it was bottled 3 months prior. Nice cherry and currant flavors as well. One of my favorite tastes of the afternoon.

There were numerous others I would have been happy to taste, but the sheer volume of the list is truly overwhelming. The samples I did taste were uneven, but I suppose that is to be expected with 45 wines. I did enjoy that the winery is using grapes that others are not, but I also question some of their fruit choices. I will say that everyone can something they like at Grape Inspirations.

EDIT: In the comments, Stacy notes that unless things have changed, most of the wine comes from juice kits. This makes a lot of sense. I wasn't able to get a tour this weekend, but did notice on the wine list that nearly every wine Grape Inspirations stocks can also be made by amateur winemakers. While again, this is a nice business model, especially for aspiring winemakers, I can't imagine the quality of the juice is on par with what some of the other wineries in the area buy.

As always, I welcome anyone at Grape Inspirations to correct any of the assumptions I have made.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bringing Children Into the Winery

Should children be allowed in wineries? Is it tacky to bring your child along for wine tastings? Should Indiana wineries make themselves more "family friendly?"

When I addressed reader mail a few days ago, I didn't address these questions, wanting to leave it for a separate post. It is actually something I have been thinking about for several months, after seeing some parents bring their children to a local winery. I must admit, I was shocked to see children in the winery.

I'll try to address this question on the merits and not the fact the children I saw acted like heathens while their parents sipped their wine in oblivion. I always think of my mom in situations like this. She's the one who says, loud enough for everyone to hear, "I am so glad you never acted like that in public. Well, you did once, but all it took was a good whipping and that solved that." Oh, how times have changed.

I don't believe in sheltering kids from the existence of alcohol. There's nothing wrong with drinking. In my experience, early, consistent exposure to the presence of alcohol makes children less likely to abuse it later. Part of reducing temptation is to reduce the forbidden allure, if you will. I didn't taste hard liquor for years after my uncle saw my curious looks and had me take a big swig of whiskey when I was 14.

Wineries can also be a fun and educational experience for kids, especially ones drawn to science. While a winery is not a bar, there is drinking going on, and I do find something distasteful about making your child your drinking buddy.

There is also the question of whether bring your children is fair to others? Let's face it, a lot parents these days don't own up to the misbehavior of their children. There also seems to be a sense of entitlement that others must tolerate the misbehavior of children in public, under the guise of "kids will be kids." (These people have never met my mother.)

I also like to think that people who go wineries have a little more sophistication and class so as to not act like a clod, and not acting like a clod includes making sure your kids don't act like heathens. But as parents sip more and more wine, it is also harder to keep a careful watch on the kids.

I suppose another question becomes if wineries can afford to ban kids. Would it become such a distraction as to cause the winery to lose business? Or would people enjoy the assurance of a "kids-free zone?"

I do think it is imperative for staff to quickly and firmly tell parents of offending children to calm their child or please leave. There should be no excuses or worries about offending someone or losing sales. I, for one, have left businesses that won't control their environment and know others who do the same.

Finally, I have to question just how fun it would be for a kid to spend all day going to wineries. How many hours can you spend watching your parents sip wine? No wonder kids would act up in a situation like that-there's little else to do.

In case you haven't noticed, I am trying to walk the middle ground here, though I do lean against bringing your kids to the winery. However, I am also against a blanket ban.

As for being tacky, I think it is fair to say most find it disconcerting. I wouldn't say tacky, though.

As for making wineries more "family friendly," what the hell does that mean? Making a Champagne Slip-n-Slide? I fail to understand the point of the question. It's not like they are doing lap dances on the bar (though that might change if the HoseMaster of Wine got his way). Plus, from my experience, making things more family friendly tends to make them more popular, but less fun. See Times Square and Las Vegas for examples. But that's just me.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Review: French Lick Winery Catawba

As you can see from my past two reviews, I have been in search of some sweet Indiana wine. Since my travel opportunities outside of Indianapolis have recently been limited, I went again to Kahn's to pick up this bottle. I paid $10.99 for it, but the website says it is $9.81 at the winery.

Catawba was one of the first varieties propagated and planted in America. It was also the centerpiece of the thriving 19th century Ohio wine industry, and the suitability of the variety for the Midwest climate makes it a staple on Indiana wine lists. Some criticize it for being too sweet (and foxy, but I have never noticed that in any Catawba I've tried), but I took at this as an opportunity to review one of the sweeter Indiana wines.

The color is rich peach blush, and the bouquet gives up honey and apple blossom. I tasted grapefruit, peach, and honey. It was sweet, and certainly some would find it too sweet, but I was fine with it. It actually moderated for the better the second night, with a more mellow sweetness and more peach undertones.

One thing I also noticed about this wine was the thickness it presented, both in the glass and in the mouth.

I would quibble with the price, and would not consider this a value wine for this variety. A reduction of two dollars would have made me happier, and increased the QPR. Still, if you are looking for a sweet Indiana wine, this is a nice change of pace from the few who currently dominate the market.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Reader Mail

These questions have trickled in over the past several weeks, and I decided to combine them all into one post. Questions may have been edited for space or clarity.

What is your favorite Indiana winery?

I don't have just one. I have several wineries I admire for various reasons, and can find something to enjoy in each one of them I have visited or tasted. I have yet to visit a winery in Indiana and not find something I could enjoy.

Which Indiana winery is the most innovative?

I am getting some loaded questions here! Again, I can't pick just one, and sadly, I have yet to visit all wineries in this state to make a truly qualified opinion. However, based on what I have seen, heard, and spoke of, I would consider Buck Creek Winery and Turtle Run Winery as just two I certainly am keeping my eye on for their future projects.

But the field in Indiana is pretty level- at most we have two top tier wineries, and lots of others fighting to get there. It will be interesting to see whose business model wins.

Will Indiana soon reach a saturation point for wineries?

Fair question. With Indiana soon to have 40 wineries, how many is too many? The smart-aleck answer would be "as many as the market can bear." But with quality juice increasingly expensive to get from the coasts, perhaps a waning market for sweet wines, not to mention the current economy, could we go from boom to bust? More restrictive shipping laws could also toll doom for some.

I can't answer your question yet, but thanks for giving me a topic to explore in the future!

I really enjoyed your interview with Jeff Durm at Buck Creek Winery. Will you be interviewing more winemakers?

Absolutely! I really enjoyed my interview with Jeff, and that interview gets a lot of search queries. The weather and my busy calendar have prevented more interviews, but certainly look for more in the future!

What do you think of the Indiana Wine Grapes Council?

As the Magic 8 Ball would say: ask again later. All I know about them is from their web site, the press releases they send me, and what some have told me off the record. I hope to interview someone from the IWGC soon, and will discuss this in a future post.

Do you accept samples?

Ah, the ultimate loaded question for a wine blogger. Every prominent wine blogger has dealt with this question, and it has all been said before. I would note the person who asked this question wasn't actually offering a sample, but my answer is the same. I would probably accept a sample; however, I would disclose in my review the item was given to me for free. It's no big deal though. One of the joys of reviewing Indiana wine is that I don't have to spend too much out of pocket for my wine.

That being said, I take the 2 Days Per Bottle approach: I will review your wine, but you may not like what I have to say.

Have any other questions? Just ask.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Review: Madison Vineyards Black Dog

Are my taste buds malfunctioning? For the second time in a row, what I get from a wine is way off the description on the bottle.

I again tried to taste an Indiana sweet wine, and thought I was doing so when I picked up Madison Vineyard's Black Dog ($10.99). The bottle notes the wine is "a rich, sweet red wine produced from French hybrid grapes grown in our Madison, Indiana vineyards." The description seemed a little incongruous to me, which turned out to be my first clue.

The color is dark garnet, and the bouquet reveals black currents and cherries of medium intensity. At this point, I get my second inkling that something is not quite right, since this smells like many a dry red.

Upon tasting, my suspicions were confirmed. The wine reminds me of a blend of Chianti and Cabernet Franc. There is nothing sweet about the wine, and in fact, tannins are quite present in the wine. To verify, I handed the wine to Eric, who puckered up, and said, "too many tannins!" Not a big fan of dry reds, that Eric.

However, this is not to say the wine is unpleasant. Cherries and blackberries abound in the mouth, and it lingers nicely through the finish, which wasn't too long. Unlike Eric, I did not find them unpleasant in the moderate quantities they were present.

The wine held up well through the second night with the aid of the Vinvac. Some deterioration in aroma and taste, but merely marginal.

Sucker punched again. But just like with the Butler Indiana White, the label misidentification was not unpleasant for me. Let's only hope other unsuspecting customers are as forgiving.

Let's also hope this mislabeling is not a trend.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Indiana Winery

Indiana has another winery! Wildcat Creek Winery joins 36 other Hoosier wineries. It is, along with Whyte Horse Winery, the only winery in the Lafayette area. Their website is only a title page now, but I am sure they will update it soon. They are currently only open on the weekends.

The winery is operated by Rick and Kathy Black. Rick has been making wine on an amateur level for many years, including a win for Best Amateur Winemaker at the 2002 Indy International Wine Competition. The wine list is only four wines right now, and from the picture on the website, they appear to Riesling, Lafayette Blush, Lafayette White, and Lafayette Red. More wines will be coming later this year.

The winery is located in a restored farmhouse right off I-65. I will be traveling to Chicago tomorrow, and hopefully will see a sign on the interstate.

I called and left a message asking the Blacks to let me know when they update the website. I will pass that information on to you.

According to the Indiana Wine Grapes Council (where I got most of the above information), four more wineries are scheduled to open before the end of the 2009.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

In No-Brainer News of the Week...

The Indiana Legislature will not be acting on Sunday alcohol sales this session.

You don't say?

According to the article, the newly formed Hoosiers for Beverage Choices wanted to push for an update of the state's alcohol laws, but legislative leaders don't want to deal with any alcohol legislation this session.

There are many reasons for this, but I can't blame the Legislature. There are much more important issue facing our state. First, the reps need to ensure that ethics reform doesn't even make it out of committee, let alone come up for a full vote. Then, we have to make sure all those township employees on the public tit stay there.

Besides, those "Hoosiers for Beverage Choice" people are hacks. I bet they haven't even bothered to bribe a legislator yet.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Review: Butler Winery Indiana White

I picked up this wine from Kahn's a couple of weeks ago ($11.95, the same price as listed on the winery's website) . The bottle describes this as a "light, fruity, semi-sweet wine made from Indiana grown grapes. This is a great wine for entertaining on the deck or patio. Indiana White goes well with fruit, cheeses, fish, and poultry dishes. Serve chilled."

I expected this wine to be of the stock semi-sweet white wine that nearly every Indiana winery has. I was shocked when I tasted the wine-I couldn't detect any sweetness at all in the wine. In fact, it seemed to be quite dry. I actually read over the bottle description again to make sure I wasn't mistaken about what my recollection was. In fact, the wine tasted of a Chardonel or Traminette. When I looked at the website to verify the price, I read that in fact those grapes make up the wine, along with Vignoles.

Besides the confusion over the bottle description, I enjoyed this wine. I could detect the slight aroma of peach, perfume, and a little cucumber. The bottle indicated the alcohol content was 10.5% but the alcohol content seemed to be higher. Good finish, with no unpleasant aftertaste. I was originally planning on simply sipping this wine, but after tasting it, decided to drink the wine with a few bites of cheese, and enjoyed the wine more.

Surprisingly, the wine, unlike other semi-dry whites, held up well the next day with the help of the Vinvac. I could taste just a touch more sweetness the second day, but this wine was still very much not semi-sweet. The wine didn't even break down the third day.

Despite the label confusion, I recommend this wine for its pleasant taste and for actually holding up for longer than a day, unlike other semi-dry whites.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

More than Corn in Indiana?

If any of my readers are still here, I hope you had a safe and happy holiday season. I have been resting and relaxing the past several days, gearing up for a big push at work in the New Year.

Anyway, talk of the New Year always leads to articles of trends and resolutions. I don't have a worthy list like some others, but I was reading an article on one of my favorite local wine blogs, Michigan Grapevine (written by an actual professional journalist, Cari Noga, and not some hack like me) , and her article called to mind some discussions I have been having with others.

Cari recalled her 2008 predictions to see how accurate she was (always a brave, and often humbling, thing to do), and talked of her prediction of more farmland currently devoted to cherries (Michigan's star crop) being turned over to vines. She was correct, vine plantings are increasing at a rapid rate and cherry plantings are at best flat. She also points to an article that says much of the same.

In Indiana, there's not a huge orchard industry. Sure, you find small pockets of non-traditional crops (by traditional, I mean corn, beans, and wheat). The melon fields around Knox and Gibson Counties come to mind. But there is nothing that compares to the huge patches of land devoted to tree crops like apples and cherries so prevalent in Michigan. I almost ran off the road this summer when I passed by a field of sorghum, which I hadn't seen in Indiana in at least five years. The statistics are pretty clear, as well (but who knew we planted so much peppermint and spearmint?).

But is that changing? Slowly, yes. Wine grape production requires a large cash investment that takes several years to break even, which is not tempting when corn prices are going through the roof. Furthermore, farmers tend to be a conservative lot. You have to be when your livelihood depends on what you can bring forth from the ground, not to mention seasoned farmers know a new "next big crop" comes around every five years or so. Corn may not be glamorous, but it usually pays the bills, and driving a combine to harvest corn is a lot less backbreaking than harvesting a field of grapes. On the other hand, grapes can yield more money per acre than corn or beans, and let's be real, there's a certain something about growing wine grapes. Or is that just me?

Recently, I was talking to my boss about his farm. The usual crops, rotated as economics and agricultural practices call for. He does a lot of the work himself, but needs to hire out a lot of it also since he works full-time off the farm. I asked him why he didn't consider turning over five acres or so of his farmland to grapes for wine. He farms in a good microclimate that might produce some interesting results. He quickly batted away the idea. The usual suspects, too much investment, too long for a return, uncertainty. But then he leaned back in his chair, and said, "but you know, when I pass the farm on, I wouldn't be surprised or upset if that happened. Something has gotta give, and I think grapes would be an excellent crop in the right hands."

That sums it up. Wine will never come close to upstaging the current leaders in Indiana agricultural acres. But the acreage is and will continue to increase.

As a final note, I would note my sadness that probably the best wine grape growing land in Indiana, along the Southern Lake Michigan shore, is now and probably forevermore in the hands of vast, polluting, oil companies.