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 It was out of date, with several of the varieties sold out but not marked as such, but we made due.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.