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Grape Sense: An award-winning Vignoles 

click to enlarge River City Winery owner/winemaker Gary Humphrey and his award-winning 2011 Vignoles.
  • River City Winery owner/winemaker Gary Humphrey and his award-winning 2011 Vignoles.
A lot of things change in 40 years. The Indiana wine industry is showing remarkable maturity now after years of being dismissed as unpalatable swill and "just that sweet stuff."

Indiana is now home to more than 60 wineries. There are very good Hoosier winemakers, those not so good, and those still learning. That's part of the problem. Knowledge is a serious and costly investment.

Vindication is in the glass. Indiana winemakers recently celebrated a rare accomplishment. River City Winery, situated in a chef-driven restaurant in downtown New Albany, won top honors at the Indy International Wine Competition.

Before dissing an Indiana wine competition, realize the annual Indy wine contest is the biggest held outside the state of California and third biggest of any in the United States. The contest drew 2,600 entries this year from 41 states and 14 different countries. To be selected as THE best wine is obviously an honor for owner/winemaker Gary Humphrey.

His award winner was a 2011 Vignoles. Vignoles is a hybrid white wine grape with a sweet flavor profile and floral aroma. But it tastes clean and crisp when well made. It often has hints of fruit like pineapple. Humphrey uses cold barrel fermentation and storage to keep a real freshness to his bottling.

The River City Vignoles is not as sweet as most you'll find in the state but has a bright and fruity style.

"This was first time we've done Vignoles so we nailed it," Humphrey said. "We didn't manipulate it very much in the vineyard at all. Actually the birds almost got it and we were in the vineyard picking within two hours of seeing the birds arrive.

"Once it got into the cellar, we really pushed the envelope keeping it cold and doing very cold fermentations and arresting the fermentation. That keeps all that fruit flavor in there. Halfway through the fermentation I had nothing but a grin. I knew we'd have a wonderful wine if we didn't screw it up. We spent the next few months trying not to screw up. Once fermentation was complete, that wine was excellent."

Vignoles is a popular wine at Hoosier wineries and grows well in Southern Indiana. Many Indiana wineries have a Vignoles at prices ranging from $10 to Humphrey's $28 prize winner.

Read Howard Hewitt's wine column or write him with questions or comments at hewitthoward@gmail.com.

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