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.