For the Love of Wine

Does it surprise you that we live in the second-largest wine appellation in the U.S.? Or that the country’s first successful winemaking business was in the Indiana Territory? Wineries, each with a distinctive style, dot our rural landscape. Tasting rooms, like Winzerwald Winery, are opening shop on city streets. Wine destinations — think Healdsburg, Calif. — attract a growing number of visitors. From refining our palates to enjoying wine just for fun, there’s never been a better time to be a wine lover.

Being Labeled

Southern Indiana earns American Viticultural Area designation  By Mel Runge

The hillsides, ridges, and knobs of South Central Indiana are not known for producing 200-bushel-to-the-acre corn. But growing grapes and making wine is a different story. And that’s now official.

The Indiana Uplands, a region from north of Bloomington south to the Ohio River, was certified last year as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. It’s the same classification given to the Napa Valley and other famous winemaking regions of the country.

For wine enthusiasts, the use of AVAs is an exciting indication that the U.S. and Midwest wine industries, destroyed by Prohibition, are indeed recovering and continuing to forge ahead. Early in the comeback, wineries might copy a French name, such as Burgundy or Champagne, to attract consumers. But as they developed their own distinct wines they wanted to be recognized as such. Before the AVA system was adopted, they were allowed to label their wines by state or county, the so-called Appellations of Origin. But political boundaries do not necessarily identify special wine-producing areas by which U.S. winemakers increasingly want to be known. It has always been a general rule that the smaller areas of origin produce more distinctive-flavored and higher-priced wine.

To answer winemakers’ needs for a way to better label their better wines, TTB introduced the AVA classification in 1980 to designate distinct wine areas. To qualify to use the AVA designation on a label at least 85 percent of the grapes in the wine must have been grown in the area. An AVA is also necessary for the winemaker to use the term “Estate Bottled,” meaning both grown and produced on the property.

The Indiana Uplands AVA is the third AVA in the Tri-State. Shawnee Hills AVA, an Illinois area between the Ohio and Mississippi rivers from about Carbondale south was certified in 2006. The Ohio River Valley AVA follows the river upstream from the Wabash River across Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio into West Virginia. It was one of the country’s early AVAs, made official in 1983. Obtaining the Indiana (or Hoosier) Uplands AVA was a lengthy process, taking more than a decade.

Gary Dauby, owner of Blue Heron Vineyard and Winery overlooking the Ohio River in Perry County, is happy with the change. He used the Ohio River Valley AVA on a couple of his wines but will be changing to the Uplands AVA as soon as new labels can be approved and printed. “The Ohio River Valley AVA is so big I didn’t think it was that significant,’” Dauby says.

Dan Adams is another winemaker happy to be changing AVAs. “It’s like being in Burgundy,” he says. The owner of Winzerwald Winery of Bristol, Ind., who has a tasting room on Evansville’s West Side, said his vineyard was originally planted by his great, great grandfather in the 1860s. The vineyard was mostly lost during Prohibition but a few vines were saved for his grandmother to make the “very best grape jelly.”

Jim Butler, of Butler Winery in Bloomington, who filed the initial application for the AVA designation, says some Hoosier winemakers didn’t use the Ohio River AVA because they didn’t want the word “Ohio” on the labels of their Indiana wines.

Butler says he already has the Indiana Uplands AVA term on some of his wines but consumers are not likely to see the designation on other wines until the 2013 vintage, now being bottled, hits the market later this year.

The Indiana Uplands and Shawnee Hills AVAs are similar in climate and geography. They are both hilly (called knobs in parts of Indiana) with rather poor, thin soils mostly over limestone. The Uplands AVA includes 4,800 square miles and Shawnee Hills 2,140 square miles.

These characteristics combine for good grape growing, Butler says. The poor soils help hold down yields which means fewer grapes but grapes with more concentrated flavor that, in turn, produce more distinctive, flavorful wines. And hillside vineyards tend to have advantages over flatland vineyards in ways such as hours of sunshine, milder temperatures, pruning requirements, and length of growing season. The underlying limestone helps facilitate good drainage and flavor.

Bradley Beam, enology specialist, winemaker and educator in Illinois, says the purpose of any AVA is to promote a region that has a unique set of growing conditions, topography, soil types, elevations, and other features.

“The Upper Mississippi AVA, while quite large in scope, does effectively describe a unique set of circumstances,” he says. “The vineyards and wineries within this region are working with high-quality, yet extremely cold-hardy grapes like Marquette and Frontenac planted on the slopes of the Mississippi River Valley. While still somewhat new, the development of the AVA should really help promote these vineyards, wineries and grapes as they continue to develop their regional identity.”

One other aspect of the AVAs is important. The classification applies only to geographic area, unlike the classification systems used in some of the world’s most famous wine areas where winemakers are restricted to the types of grapes they are allowed to grow and winery techniques they are allowed to use. They’re at a standstill.

Our winemakers on the other hand are forging ahead. This is especially true in the Midwest where winemakers are planting new grape varieties developed mostly at our universities that are cold-hardy and produce wonderful wines. They are installing modern equipment and adopting innovative vineyard and winery techniques. As a result industry insiders, such as Beam, believe Midwest wines are getting so good they will challenge the very best.

For more information about the Ohio River Valley and Uplands AVAs, visit

High and Dry

Southern Indiana wine isn’t all about sweetness  By Mark Ganchiff

There are now 73 wineries in Indiana, which is about eight times more than existed in 1989. Indiana wine is growing because there are now more quality wines, including wines that don’t contain much, if any, sugar.

Sweet flavors are not all the same, and some knowledge about the sensation of sweetness is helpful to appreciating wine. Two kinds of sugar in grapes and wine are fructose and sucrose.

The natural fructose in wine tastes sweeter than sucrose, which is commonly called table sugar. This means a small amount of fructose will provide the same level of sweetness as a larger amount of sucrose. For winemakers, the trick is leaving some of the grape’s fructose in the wine.

Leaving just a little natural fructose in wine is not an easy skill to master. But as Indiana winemakers gain experience, more wines have a crisp, clean sweetness as opposed to a “cotton candy” aftertaste.

For wine drinkers, it can also take time to distinguish between ripe fruit sweetness and table sugar sweetness. Tasting different wines is the best way to learn the difference.

Let’s take a look at three wineries in South Central Indiana that make dry wines as well as sweet wines. These wineries are all located about two hours east of Evansville, an easy day or overnight trip

Turtle Run Winery, Corydon
This winery is known for having a range of wine styles, but the specialty is dry and sweet wines. To make crisp and fruity wines sweeter, Turtle Run stops fermentation during the winemaking process.

“We’ve found that by stopping fermentation in our winemaking process, (wines are) sweet but don’t have a sugary aftertaste,” says winemaker Jim Pfeiffer. “By keeping some of the fructose in the wine — as opposed to having the yeast convert it to alcohol — the fruit flavors of the wine can really shine through.”

The subtle and complex wines from Turtle Run pair well with many kinds of foods. Among wines to try is the white chambourcin, which is a blush wine made from grapes grown at Turtle Run’s vineyard.

Turtle Run’s dry traminette is one of the purest expressions of Indiana’s state grape. This wine is less floral than most traminette, so the apricot and orange flavors “shine through” brightly.

Blue Heron Vineyard, Cannelton
According to Lynn Dauby, who makes wine with her husband Gary, “Our niche at Blue Heron is that we like our wines to have balance; the sweetness is there, but it’s in balance with the natural acids in the wine.”

Dauby points out how we perceive sweet flavors: If sweetness is offset by mouth-watering wine flavors, the sugar in the wine is often barely perceptible.

“Sometimes our customers say they don’t like dryer wines, but then they taste some of our low-sugar wines and say they like the sweet, fruity taste,” says Dauby.

The Daubys make two styles of chambourcin, a French-American red wine grape: one with European oak and one with American oak. One of the main qualities of oaked wine is a vanilla flavor. European oak also adds coffee and chocolate flavors.

The outdoor deck at Blue Heron is perched scenically above the Ohio River.

“The experience is what makes our winery unique. We’re not just a store that sells wine,” says Dauby.

Best Vineyards, Elizabeth
This rural winery and vineyard is best known for its wide range of fruit wines, but the dryer wines are worth the trip too.

Winemaker Wilbert Best makes an oaky cabernet franc called County Red that won a gold medal at the most recent Indy International Wine Competition in Lafayette. Cab franc is normally associated with Bordeaux, but it takes on an earthy character in Southern Indiana.

Best’s chardonel is made from grapes grown at the winery and is almost indistinguishable from cool-climate chardonnay. The residual sugar is one percent, just enough to balance the wine’s bright acids.

Whether it’s fruit wine or grape wine, Best says his goal is to create wines in a slightly different style than other local wineries. Overall, wines from Best Vineyards tend to be fuller bodied and more fruit forward, which is sometimes called a “country” style of winemaking.

For more information about Turtle Run Winery, call 812-952-2650 or visit; Blue Heron Vineyard, call 812-547-7518 or visit; and Best Vineyards, call 812-969-9463 or visit


Great Feature

As a former area resident (a 1980 graduate of Princeton Community High School) who now lives in Northern California and spends most weekends in Healdsburg, I was delighted to see this article. You picked some of our favorite Healdsburg wineries to profile. Also very impressed with the growth of the wine industry in Southern Indiana. My great-great-great grandfather was a vintner in the Leavenworth area in the mid- to late-1800s, and I doubt he could have envisioned the way the industry is progressing now. We'll have to put some wineries on the itinerary the next time we come to visit.

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