Wine country and Indiana aren’t often found in the same sentence. But they don't create an oxymoron. Indiana has several wine trails and more than 60 wineries. And if Indiana has a wine country region, it’s southern Indiana’s Uplands Wine Trail, home to several of Indiana's best (although there are, of course, viable wineries elsewhere in the state).
With just one or two fall weekends remaining with Hoosier leaf-peeping at its peak, a weekend winery visit makes for a great day. Several of the wineries on the Uplands Wine Trail are close in Indy and offer pumpkin picking, live music or food to draw huge crowds.
The biggest celebration is probably at Huber Orchard, Winery and Vineyards. Huber’s has thousands of pumpkins, live music, food, hayrides, and huge crowds every weekend in all fall. And frankly, Huber is one of a small handful of Indiana wineries making better Indiana red wine than most Hoosiers have ever tasted.
Huber Vineyards sits atop the hills overlooking the Ohio River, near Louisville. The elevation, old glacial soils and environment make it arguably Indiana’s best spot to grow grapes.
Just 10 miles away is Jim Pfeiffer at Turtle Run Winery. Pfeiffer is a blendaholic by nature and takes Indiana’s sometimes eclectic grapes and makes very drinkable wines.
Check out Huber and Turtle Run’s Chambourcin red wines. You'll be surprised by how Pinot-like these wines can be when they’re well-made. Huber has very nice light style whites, while Turtle Run's are uniquely tasty. And both wineries have worked steadily to reduce the natural sweetness of Indiana grapes. And if you are into brandy, Ted Huber has been making and aging award-winning spirits for several years.
The Uplands Trail gives the individual wineries marketing power and identity. “Validity, validity, validity,” said Pfeiffer, winemaker and owner of Turtle Run Winery. “When you have event marketing and have big events people take notice.
“When we started our winery, and we’re now in our 12th year, we had seven dry wines,” he said. “The dry wine drinkers give you just one chance. The sweet wine drinkers will knock your door down with their head and keep coming. You have to promote yourself, promote your industry, grow and get others to grow with you. We want to be noticed but it takes a lot of effort.”
A shorter Uplands Wine trip would be to Bloomington to Oliver and Butler wineries. Who hasn’t visited Oliver? The winery made its name with the sweet reds and whites, but the Creekbend line of Oliver wine and other bottlings are very solid choices. Try Oliver’s Chambourcin and his Syrah. Bill Oliver makes his Syrah in a lighter French style that’s fruit driven with a hint of spice. I’d challenge anyone to blind taste his Syrah and guess its origins.
Next wander into the colorful countryside to Butler winery. Jim Butler is another of Indiana’s wine pioneers. He got his start at Oliver and then branched out on his own. He owns the unique distinction of winning the initial category first place in the Indy International Wine Competition a few years back with his wonderful Dry Rose’ wine.
But the Uplands area is about more than just marketing. Butler has put in years of effort to get the Uplands designated as an American Viticulture Area approved by the federal government. That designation would give the area a unique labeling for its style and quality of wine. It’s an achievement that wine aficionados would recognize as serious winemaking.
“We probably started four or five years ago and we’re in the home stretch,” Butler said. “I’m hoping by the end of the year we’ll have it.”
All nine Uplands wineries have good websites with directions and hours; check out this article on nuvo.net for links.
Howard W. Hewitt writes about wine for NUVO and 20 Midwestern newspapers. Check out his blog at redforme.blogspot.com.