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BY Andy Hedinger
“Oh you like Merlot? Let’s try this Chambourcin. Chardonnay you say? How about Chardonel? Trami … oh you know, the Indiana grape … Try on Traminette.”
If you’ve been to just about any Indiana winery, you’ll recognize the names of these grapes and the wonderfully flavorful wines they are capable of producing.
They are all French American hybrid varieties of grapes specifically bred to withstand the harsher range of weather we have in the Midwest - the adage of wait a few minutes and the weather will change certainly rings true these days - and these grapes are readily grown right here in southern Indiana. Wines produced from these varieties are what I like to call “full flavor” – they are bursting with interesting and unique flavors all derived from the grapes themselves. Interestingly enough, these flavors can and do change based on the growing conditions of a particular year or vintage of the wine.
Indiana’s citizens and tourists have embraced the wine culture with open arms as the state is now home to 70-plus wineries, five wine trails and its very own American viticultural area. The establishment of the Indiana Uplands AVA deserves to be praised as it distinctly defines the unique geography, soil type and climate of the area. The AVA encompasses all of Perry County and a portion of Spencer County so it includes four of the five local wineries – it’s right in our backyard!
An AVA can be likened to the French concept of Terroir which includes much of the same attributes such as soil type, climate, topography, and even the types of plants in and around the vineyard that can affect a grape-growing region and, consequently, the wines of the area. Another way to think about it is that wines made in this area are distinctly different from wines made anywhere else in the world, even if the same grape growing and winemaking techniques are used on the same types of grapes – it all ferments down to location, location, location. Terroir is also loosely defined as “a sense of place” which, agriculturally, blends right into the “buy local” movement of the conscious consumer.
We are fortunate to have five local wineries between Perry and Spencer counties – Blue Heron, Monkey Hollow, Pepper’s Ridge, Wine Shak & Winzerwald – each with their own charm and allure. They are places you can go to sample new & interesting wines, listen to music, let your hair down, relax, chat with vintners who are passionate about their craft and experience a different facet of agriculture in operation. Vineyard work is a very “hands on” experience as pruning schedules, shoot positioning and canopy management are performed throughout the year. There’ll be more on that in future columns.
Wineries are now preparing their production areas for harvest and early reports point to a bountiful crop. Grapes are starting to turn and just like any crop, wineries and vineyards have their fingers crossed that the fruits of their labors will be a success and the 2013 vintage will be the best one yet.
With the heat of the summer upon us, fruit wines take center stage with their refreshingly sweet tastes. Often described as “summer in a bottle,” vintners pay careful attention that these wines are true to their fruits and the flavors that swirl across your palate are as delectable as they are familiar - certain aromas and tastes have a powerfully pleasant way of eliciting wonderful memories.
Flavorful fruit wines are no exception to local wineries as they garner awards in wine competitions and are fan favorites. Blue Heron’s Four Blue Stars – named in honor of the military service of four of their family members – is a blueberry wine with a Cayuga White grape base and bursts with blueberry goodness. With sweeping views of the Ohio River among the best in Perry County, Blue Heron’s tasting room offers the perfect setting for sharing Four Blue Stars with friends.
Winzerwald’s Cherry Red has generated a lot of buzz with fans and critics alike with gold medals for best dessert wine at Newburgh and Story Inn wine festivals. Cherry Red is a red grape based cherry wine that is cherry through and through with a sweet flavor reminiscent of cherry pie. At Donna’s suggestion and my weekend confirmation, Cherry Red pairs well with s’mores made around a campfire!
Just recently debuting for the summer, Monkey Hollow’s Raspberry is a fan favorite with its fruit forward deliciousness readily apparent from the moment this aromatic wine is poured in your glass. Sweet from front to back, Monkey Hollow’s Ras-pberry is made from 100 percent raspberries and while it can be enjoyed as dessert itself, it’ll stand up to any cheesecake in its path.
Last, but certainly not least, Pepper’s Ridge’s Bird Dog Blues is a vintner’s blend of locally sourced fruits. Named in honor of the beloved bird dogs of Kevin and his father, Pepper, Bird Dog Blues has a very berry nose and notes of strawberry, raspberry and blueberry danced across the palate of this taste tester. Bird Dog Blues is the perfect thirst-quenching wine for those hot summer days.
As you are out and about on your travels or just want to make a day of it, I encourage you to support your local wineries and see them in action. Stop in to sample their wines, taste the subtle nuances of wines made by different wineries, meet the owners, take in the atmosphere and just relax. Even if you don’t imbibe, wineries serve local cheeses and meats, feature local artists and have music schedules for all to enjoy. Yes, we have a very unique “sense of place” here in southern Indiana and wineries enhance the local flavors of the area.
Talk to any of the families that make up these wineries and vineyards and you’ll get a glimpse of what TV shows and movies try to replicate – we all have our own stories, personalities, hard working mentalities and behind-the-scenes drama that go into every bottle of wine – all for your enjoyment. Cheers!
If you’d like to experience all five of your local wineries in one place, mark your calendars for Saturday for the Schweizer Fest Wine Garden. Hours are noon to 6 p.m.
Hedinger is co-owner of Monkey Hollow Winery near St. Meinrad.
Blue Heron Vineyards
5330 Blue Heron Lane
(Rocky Point area),
Cannelton, IN 47520
Wine Shak Vineyard
(Located inside Sassy’s Spa & Salon), 8722 Indiana 37,
Tell City, Indiana 47586
Pepper’s Ridge Winery
4304 N. County Road 200 W.
Rockport, IN 47635
26300 N. Indian Lake Rd.
Bristow, Indiana 47515
(812) 357-7000 or (866) 6WINZER
Monkey Hollow Winery
11534 E County Rd 1740
St. Meinrad, IN 47577