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.
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 americanwineryguide.com/regions/indiana.
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 turtlerunwinery.com; Blue Heron Vineyard, call 812-547-7518 or visit blueheronvines.com; and Best Vineyards, call 812-969-9463 or visit bestvineyardswinery.com.
Oliver Winery welcomes visitors with sights, sounds, and great tastes By Paul Leingang
The tasting room is in an attractive building, with post-and-beam timbers framing the displays of bottles and cases of wine along the walls. A central bar offers space for guests to meet one-on-one with winery employees, or in groups of two or three or even more. Conversation rises and falls as bottles are pulled from cases or coolers, poured, and tasted.
A visitor’s experience at Oliver Winery in Bloomington, Ind., begins with a walk through a garden area and past a waterfall to the main tasting room. Three fulltime landscape architects are on staff to provide an attractive entrance experience, and deeper into the property, visitors can enjoy a picnic area.
Most visitors come from Indiana and nearby areas of the Midwest. Among them are amateurs and oenophiles from throughout the United States, and parents with their nearby Indiana University students.
Seasonal vineyard tours, Saturday concerts, and occasional special events add sight and sound to the experience of tasting some of the 30 or more wines available any time of the year. There are two labels. Oliver wines are available locally and in many states. Creekbend wines are produced from 57 acres of grape vines on the property and usually available only at the original Oliver Winery north of Bloomington, or at the new Oliver Winery downtown on the courthouse square in Bloomington.
It is no accident that what was once IU Maurer School of Law Professor William Oliver’s basement hobby is now one of the largest wineries in the eastern United States, bottling 300,000 to 400,000 cases a year.
“We are certainly not risk-averse,” says Oliver’s son, Bill, with a laugh, responding to a comment about the business decisions he has made. His father, William, had helped influence the passage of the Indiana Small Winery Act of 1971, allowing wineries to sell directly to the public. It was Bill’s idea to bring in wine grapes from the West Coast, adding new varieties to the wines made from local and regional vineyards. He opened the current tasting area in 1997 and added large stainless-steel tanks for increased production.
Camelot Mead (honey wine), the wine that put Oliver on the map (and is said to produce no hangovers), is again achieving popularity and awards, along with hard cider and fruit wines. But the central focus remains on wines produced from Oliver’s vineyards in the Indiana Upland region, which achieved new prestige when it was designated in February 2013 as an American Viticultural Area.
For more information on Oliver Winery, call 812-876-5800 or visit oliverwinery.com.
Monkey Hollow blends family, fun, and serious wine experience By Paul Leingang
Why did Daniel Hedinger and his family start a winery?
“We wanted to keep the family farm intact,” says his daughter, Jaime Zellers. “But we didn’t want to do traditional farming.”
Zellers spends a lot of time hosting visitors at the tasting room. Her brother Daniel is the vintner. Brother Andy is who discovered a 19th century plat map referring to their farm area as Monkey Hollow. A sister, Tammy, helps out on weekends.
Monkey Hollow Winery near St. Meinrad, Ind., is among the newest of about 70 wineries in Indiana. The family started planting grape vines in 2003 and sold some of the first fruits to other wineries. After setting up its own production facilities and building a tasting room, Monkey Hollow opened in 2011.
It was quite an opening year, with medals for six wines at the Indy International Wine Competition, held annually in conjunction with the Indiana State Fair. Monkey Hollow’s traminette received a gold medal and was named Indiana’s Traminette of the year. The honors continue, and in 2013 its raspberry and blueberry wines won Double Gold awards at Indy. The winery does all production by hand, including one-at-a-time bottling, corking, and labeling.
“We are family oriented,” Zellers says. “We believe in community, helping out one another.”
Local organic products — meats and cheeses — are available, along with local crafts. Summer Saturday evening concerts feature local and regional musicians on the new patio, for picnics and wine by the bottle or by the glass. The tasting room, built by Amish craftsmen, of native oak and poplar may call to mind an old-fashioned barn but a modern geothermal system provides heating and cooling.
Visitors come to see the vines and taste the wines and to see the farm scenery and cattle in the nearby fields.
“Kids are welcome, too,” says Daniel Hedinger, the “Ol’ Grandad” whose nickname is on the label of a port-like wine made from a local blend. He is looking forward to expanding the vineyards and production space eventually to create more room for events and family gatherings.
The vineyard is part of the American Viticulture Area, newly designated in 2013 and the first such designation in Indiana. Monkey Hollow is one of eight wineries on the Hoosier Wine Trail.
For more information about Monkey Hollow, contact 812-357-2272 or visit monkeyhollowwinery.com.
Father, daughter team runs popular Spencer County Winery By Emily Patton
The long, wooded gravel road that leads to Pepper’s Ridge Winery is deceiving. There is a party waiting at the end of the drive. Against that rustic backdrop, Pepper’s Ridge is bustling with activity as visitors enjoy live music, choose-your-own-wine slushies, and free Wi-Fi.
Owner Kevin DeWeese opened Pepper’s Ridge on Aug. 11, 2012, in Rockport, Ind., after purchasing the property 12 years ago. DeWeese had a vision for what was simply a horse trail.
Four years ago, DeWeese put his plans to open a winery into motion by clearing trees and moving dirt to build a tasting room and facilities for winemaking. The tasting room is beautifully lined with finished wood as antiques decorate the walls. A canoe hangs behind the bar, which has a foundation built with brick found on the property.
“We make all of our own wine here and grow our own berries,” says DeWeese’s daughter, Lori DeWeese Page. “We have 20 acres here and 9 acres across the street. We do not grow our own grapes, but anything we can get from Lakeview Orchard (also in Rockport), we use. People also show up with their own fruits, or say, ‘We have a crop of persimmons for sale, will you buy it?’” Pepper’s Ridge always tries to purchase its grape juice from other Indiana wineries first and still purchases within the U.S. if that’s not possible.
DeWeese wants to keep the winery in the family and pass it down to his four grandchildren. Pepper’s Ridge’s name is inspired by family themes. DeWeese’s father and grandfather both were nicknamed Pepper; the winery’s logo represents DeWeese’s father and his birddog.
Tastings are free, and there are always more than 20 wines available to try. The winery allows visitors to bring in their own food, order from local pizza places (which will deliver to the winery), or buy a platter of Oberle cheese and sausage and Steckler Grassfed cheese, with Ritz or Club crackers. Tell City Pretzels also are for sale.
The winery is open year-round and offers live music three Saturdays a month during the winter, and every Saturday in the spring and summer and sometimes on Sundays. It is also kid-friendly, making grape, orange, or Coke slushies.
For more information on Pepper’s Ridge Winery, call 812-649-9463 or visit peppersridge.com.
Ruby Moon Vineyard & Winery grows, makes own wines By Emily Patton
Before Ruby Moon Vineyard & Winery became a reality, owners Anita Frazer and Jamie Like began as home winemakers. More than 10 years later, it’s no wonder the winery has maintained the hometown welcoming feel in their dream come true.
Ruby Moon is located just south of Henderson, Ky., and produces wines that are handcrafted in small batches from their own estate grown grapes on a 3-acre vineyard and other locally grown fruits.
“We were home winemakers and we liked going to wineries,” says co-owner Jamie Like. “We went to several in Indiana and just loved it. It was relaxed and chill, and we had a great time. One day, we were in a winery and we started looking at some homemade wine equipment much like we have for sale (at Ruby Moon). One crazy thing led to another and here we are.”
In October 2003, Like and Frazer purchased a tract of land in Henderson County with approximately 5.9 acres. In the spring of 2004, the first acre of grapes was planted.
On Nov. 11, 2006, Ruby Moon opened its door for business as a winery/tasting room and gift shop. The winery expanded in September 2011 after completing a new building adjacent to the tasting room, which houses a banquet hall, a one-bedroom suite that can be rented out nightly, and the wine making and bottling operations.
Visitors to Ruby Moon can sample its award-winning wines in the Tuscan-inspired tasting room, taking a seat at either the wooden seat at the bar, at a table in a large living space, or outside on a blue stone patio adjacent to the vineyards.
Wine tastings are free with purchase, or only $2 per person without purchase. Ruby Moon offers 11 dry, sweet, and sangria wine options to taste, and carries around 30 varieties of Kentucky-made cheese from Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese in Barren County, Ky. Ruby Moon grows eight varieties of grapes including both American and French American hybrid varieties.
For more information on Ruby Moon Vineyard & Winery, call 270-830-7660 or visit rubymoonwinery.com.
Mystique Winery works hard to keep up with demand By Nathan Blackford
The Clutter family had done the research. They’d spent six years talking with other winery owners, stocking up on supplies, and turning a building on the family property into a tasting room and production area.
But when the new Mardi Gras-themed Mystique Winery opened its doors east of Lynnville, Ind., in November 2012, the Clutters were in for a surprise.
“The general consensus from the other wineries was that we’d need about 10,000 bottles in our first year,” says Seth Clutter, the family winemaker. “We went through 22,000 bottles. It was just constant for us. But it was great to be that successful.”
The booming business created some challenges. Mystique’s tasting and production areas aren’t very large, though an outdoor patio — enclosed in the winter — offers additional seating. With larger crowds, the Clutters will offer additional tasting areas, even setting up tables in the production room.
Six family members, including Seth’s mom, Patti, are co-owners; the winery has only one part-time employee.
The Clutters all live in the same 40-acre property east of Lynnville, well off the beaten path. The winery is nestled into a wooded area just behind the home they’ve lived in for 37 years. Now, they encourage guests to bring along a picnic lunch and enjoy a bottle of wine pretty much anywhere they’d like.
“We’ve had several people tell us that this property is a little slice of heaven,” says Patti. “We’ve lived out here so long, and we have taken advantage of that. We’ve got all kinds of birds and even a young eagle. Our customers tell us it is just peaceful here.”
All of the wines at Mystique are made from grapes, although some have other fruit added later. Seth says that helps ensure each vintage tastes the same.
Mystique offers several varieties of wine, and grows some of its grapes locally. But Mystique has only a little more than an acre of vineyard planted, so it imports most of its juice from larger wineries and vineyards in Indiana.
While some wineries will try to appeal to sophisticated palates of oenophiles, you won’t get that at Mystique. They encourage customers to taste free samples of six of their wines and two wine slushies.
“We make the wines that we like,” says Seth. “We don’t go with trends. If we like it and we think it’s going to sell, we put it on the shelves.”
For more information about Mystique Winery, call 812-922-5612 or visit mystiquewine.com.
Winemaker of the Forest
Evansville’s only tasting room offers wine and atmosphere By Erin Miller
An extension of the winery located in Bristow, Ind., whose name means “vintner of the forest,” the Winzerwald Winery tasting room located at 2021 W. Franklin St. strives to keep its German roots alive. Found wood covers the floor, back wall and bar while a large piece of sealed and polished petrified wood shines as the bar top itself.
Tastings served from behind the counter consist of a flight of six wines of the customer’s choice for $5.
“Basically we have everything available from our dry reds to dry whites all the way to the semi-dry and semi-sweet, all the way down to our sweet wine,” says manager Ray Vigurs.
This year, the winery is introducing a blackberry fruit wine to complement its best-selling blueberry and cranberry. Among the winery’s many awards, Winzerwald’s Gewürztraminer, its top selling wine, won a silver medal at the 2013 Indy International Wine Competition while its second bestseller, Little Rhineland Red won silver at last year’s Historic Newburgh Wine, Art & Jazz Festival.
“People who say they don’t like wine, we give them the Little Rhineland Red first because it’s the same grape Welch’s grape juice uses, so it’s a smooth taste and soothing wine,” says Vigurs.
The winery’s varieties line the wall across from the bar so customers can purchase bottles of their favorite or a glass can be purchased for only $5. Small tables and chilled bottles ready for serving encourage conversation for those who want to stay a bit.
Free afternoon concerts by local musicians liven up the room every Sunday and a regional artist’s work is displayed on the tasting room’s walls each month for guests to enjoy or purchase.
“It’s nice that Evansville has a place like this,” says Vigurs. “We’re the only wine tasting room in Vanderburgh Country right now and people love it. We always have a good time.”
For more information about the Winzerwald Winery Tasting Room call 812-423-2427 or visit winzerwaldwinery.com.
Derby City Wines
Louisville tasting rooms offer up many varieties By Carla Carlton
Many people choose wine the way they pick a horse for the Kentucky Derby. They get a hot tip from a friend. They trust the tasting-note cards at the store (the wine equivalent of the Daily Racing Form). Or they reach for a pretty label or a clever name. In many cases, the result is also the same: disappointment and a lighter wallet.
Fortunately, Louisville, Ky., has several establishments where the owners are well versed in vino and visitors can taste before they buy, significantly improving the odds of finding something fabulous.
Westport Whiskey & Wine
Although “whiskey” comes first in the name of this shop located in a specialty shopping center on the east side of Louisville, the majority of the inventory is devoted to wine — more than 3,000 bottles at last count. Since he opened the store in 2008, owner Chris Zaborowski has been on a mission to educate his customers about it.
“We take a hedonist approach: The best way to learn about wine is to taste it,” he says. In addition to an open wine tasting every Thursday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. ($5 per person), the store offers a dozen or more wine and spirits classes and tasting events every month, many led by the winemakers and master distillers.
Browsers can sample wine from the store’s self-serve Enomatic tasting system, which holds eight bottles. Purchase a reusable, reloadable wine card (minimum amount $10), insert it into the machine, select a wine and choose a pour of 1, 3 or 5 ounces (price based on retail bottle price). If you like what you taste, you receive a 10 percent discount on the bottle. In addition, you can always taste any of the bourbons the store currently has open.
Taste Fine Wines and Bourbons
Paul Meyer opened Taste Fine Wines and Bourbons six years ago to showcase wines from smaller, boutique producers that aren’t typically stocked by large package stores. About two and a half years ago, he moved the shop from Louisville’s Crescent Hill neighborhood to a bright, airy storefront in the emerging NuLu area on East Market Street, where customers often keep him pouring until midnight Fridays and Saturdays.
Taste Fine Wines stocks about 400 wines and features 10 varieties — five whites and five reds — for tasting each week at the wine bar. Most of the 2-ounce tastes are $4 to $5 each; for twice that price, you get a 5-ounce glass (although Meyer notes with a smile that he doesn’t measure and tends to “pour generously”). The lineup changes every Tuesday and is updated on the store’s website. If you find something you love, you can buy it by the bottle or the case.
For more information on Westport Whiskey & Wine, call 502-708-1313 or visit westportwhiskeyandwine.com. For more information on Taste Fine Wines and Bourbons, call 502-409-4646 or visit tastefinewinesandbourbons.com.
The Perfect Match
Pairing wine with the right food makes all the difference By Kristine Hansen
When done well, the perfect pairing of food and wine causes each to rise to the top, creating an even bigger presence on the palate.
There are two schools of thought in matching nibbles with vino. Like can be matched with like — such as the earthiness in a mushroom or salmon dish with a pinot noir expressing lots of terroir, or the effervescent nature of cava with sushi’s vinegar-rice — or create a study in contrasts. This is where diners might balance savory with sweet, but with a caveat: Never let the wine or the food rise to the top. Each should have space to express, but not enough room to reign.
On a recent night I played it safe with a pairing, using citrus notes as the common flavor between the wine and the food. I opened a bottle of Napa Valley sauvignon blanc, eagerly anticipating the crisp acidity after a wintry day of cold temps and dark skies. Pairing it with a roasted cauliflower dish — featuring capers, roasted garlic, and lemon juice — drew out the wine’s zippiness (citrus notes) even more. It was an ideal match.
There should be caution in relying on the whole dish, however, when selecting a wine. Instead, look at a quality or two within. For a pizza, my go-to pairing is a bottle of peppery malbec or syrah, to enhance a spicy tomato sauce but not overpower the cheese or toppings. This is actually when the whole white-wine-goes-with-fish rule gets tossed out the window. Is the cod topped with olives or a red-pepper sauce or curry? Take note, because those flavors are often paired with a red wine.
An example of pairing opposite flavors might lie in aperitifs and snacks. Although salty and spicy, a sweet prosecco washes them down quite well. And with leaner meats such as turkey and chicken, the apple notes in an Alsatian riesling bring out the meat’s subtle, juicy layers.
Other tips when pairing food with wine include keeping an eye on the food’s fat and sugar levels. Is it a juicy steak or wedge of chocolate cake? It would be a crime to match a light-bodied red wine that has a delicate profile — such as Beaujolais, from France — with either of these indulgent foods. Similarly, a pungent cheese needs a big, bold wine. And with a salad of lettuce greens, the oaky nature in, say, a Spanish or Italian red wine or even a Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon will mask the vegetal qualities in the salad.
The fun in wine pairing is to remain open to the unexpected. This past winter, while at Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, Calif., I experienced a pairing I never imagined I’d fall in love with: butternut-squash risotto with a pinot gris produced in nearby Russian River Valley. As fall squashes and pastas often are served with fruit-forward red wines, this threw me. But I loved how the pinot gris brought out the squash’s bright notes and creamy texture of the risotto.
Head to Healdsburg for a balanced experience By Kristen K. Tucker
Until I visited Northern California earlier this year, I did not know how broad the term “Wine Country” was, or that visitors define it by many different destinations. There are more than 400 wineries in the area north of San Francisco — a vast selection from which to choose. A growing number of visitors are choosing Sonoma County over Napa Valley, and, more specifically, Healdsburg. Wine Enthusiast named Sonoma County among its 10 best wine travel destinations for 2012.
In the heart of Sonoma County, Healdsburg dates to the mid-1800s when it was a stop on the heavily-traveled route from San Francisco to the gold mines of Northern California. The town developed around the square, which remains the hub of activity today and is just a short drive or bike ride to the nearby wineries of the famous appellations — Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Alexander Valley — that surround Healdsburg. Combined, the three valleys are home to more than 150 wineries.
Michael and Margy Hungate of Evansville, along with a friend, visited Healdsburg in April 2012. “We chose Healdsburg based on the reputation of the wineries in Dry Creek Valley,” Margy says. “It did not disappoint. It had rolling hills with vistas of beautiful vineyards everywhere you turned. We were pleasantly surprised with local, organic growers who were thrilled to give us tours and tastings as if we were part of their family. Our stay at the H2 Hotel was just as lovely with a quaint feel and an accommodating staff. We ventured out to local restaurants and loved every meal we had. We can’t wait to get back to Healdsburg!”
Locals talk about their town in terms of the new Healdsburg or the old. Before 2001, the town had family restaurants and just a sprinkling of visitors from outside of the area. Then the posh Hotel Healdsburg opened on the town square along with celebrity chef Charlie Palmer’s acclaimed Dry Creek Kitchen, followed by galleries, boutiques, wine tasting rooms, high-end eateries, and, of course, tourists. Yet despite Healdsburg’s chic new trappings, it remains a simple country town.
I stayed at the Grape Leaf Inn, a lovely 1900 Queen Anne Victorian just four blocks from the town square. The inn is surrounded with gardens and century-old evergreens. The rooms are very nicely appointed, comfortable, and small. Breakfast was delicious, and each afternoon, the inn’s speakeasy — behind a bookshelf in the breakfast room — opens for complimentary wine tastings. (The inn’s owner also owns wineries.)
There’s plenty to do in Healdsburg, but the reason you’re there is wine. Here are five wineries, of the more than 400 Sonoma County wineries, I enjoyed.
The Mauritson family of Mauritson Wines has been farming in Sonoma since 1868. Winemaker Clay Mauritson makes wines from the vineyards he tended as a teen.
“You’re familiar with the Rockpile appellation?” Mauritson asks our group.
Straddling the ridge between the two arms of Lake Sonoma is Rockpile AVA, one of the newest appellations in California. Mauritson’s great-great-great grandfather first planted vines on the Rockpile valley floor in 1884, shipping every ounce of his wine back to Sweden. The family’s Rockpile ranch grew to 4,000 acres by the early 1960s, when all but 700 ridgetop acres was taken by the Army Corps of Engineers to develop Lake Sonoma. The steep hillsides and rocky terrain seemed mainly suitable for sheep grazing and wild pig hunting. It was not until the early 1990s that the first acres of modern-era vines were planted and thrived, revealing that Rockpile held great potential for ultra premium mountain fruit.
Mauritson’s wife Carrie poured tastings of their 2011 Mauritson Zinfandel from the Dry Creek Valley (well balanced and full of high toned fruit), 2012 Mauritson Sauvignon Blanc, also from the Dry Creek Valley (bright and fresh with hints of key lime pie), 2010 Rockpile Cabernet Sauvignon (broad and complex tannins will allow this wine to gracefully age for 9 to 11 years), and 2012 Rockpile Uncle’s Block Zinfandel (both lush and powerful).
Lambert Bridge Winery is a small, family-owned winery established in 1975 in the Dry Creek Valley, making it one of the oldest post-Prohibition wineries in the valley. A pairing lunch in their Candlelit Barrel Room was divine. Chef Bruce Riezenman, one of California Wine Country’s most sought-after chefs and a frequent speaker on food and wine pairings, presented lunch and Lambert Bridge wines with comments from Lambert Bridge winemaker Jennifer Higgins and certified sommelier Summer Jeffus.
Higgins explains their passion is to craft small lots of artisanal Bordeaux-style blends and varietals. “We get to source the best vineyards in Sonoma regardless of their appellation,” Higgins says. The winery produces 8,000 cases annually spread across 12 to 16 wines.
Lambert Bridge wine is sold through the winery and in select restaurants in San Francisco, Atlanta, and New York.
Selected as one of Wine & Spirit magazine’s Top 100 wineries in 2013, Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves specializes in old vine zinfandel and Rhone-style varietals. Bella’s wine caves are tucked into steep hillside under its prized Lily Hill Vineyard, the crown jewel planted in 1915. The tasting room is nestled at the back of the entertainment area within the caves; 5,200 square feet are reserved for barrels and production.
Founded in 1972 by David Stare, Dry Creek Vineyards was the first new winery in Dry Creek Valley following Prohibition. The ivy-covered stone structure recalls a country chapel and is framed by tall shade trees and a lush lawn where guests picnic. Dry Creek Vineyard has a long track record of producing some of California’s finest fumé blancs and zinfandels.
Drinkers of sauvignon blanc perhaps have purchased a bottle of Dry Creek — you’ll recognize the sailboat on the label — at Evansville’s Winetree Liquors. (Dry Creek calls itself the Official Wine of Sailors for purely personal reasons — the Stare family’s love of sailing.)
Dutcher Crossing Winery proprietor Debra Mathy often can be found welcoming guests with Dutchess, her golden Labrador retriever and official greeter.
A lover of bicycles since childhood, Debra’s last gift from her father, a successful Wisconsin businessman who encouraged her to buy a winery, was a high-wheel bicycle showcased on all of Dutcher Crossing Winery wine labels.
During my visit, winemaker Kerry Damskey led our group to the vineyard for a lesson in pruning. A strong advocate of blending, Kerry is advancing a new category in California with Dutcher Crossing’s Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah wines. Although the blend has been done for decades in Australia, it is a new concept in California.
“The brightness and aromatics of Syrah are the perfect complement to the rich denseness of Cabernet Sauvignon,” Damskey says. “At Dutcher Crossing Winery, our signature wine is a vineyard designated Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah blend — the first of its kind in Dry Creek Valley.”
When You Go:
– Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau • 707-433-6935 • healdsburg.com
– Grape Leaf Inn • 707-433-8140 • grapeleafinn.com
– Hotel Healdsburg • 707-431-2800 • hotelhealdsburg.com
– H2 Hotel • 707-922-5251 • h2hotel.com
– Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves • 866-592-3552 • bellawinery.com
– Dry Creek Vineyard • 800-864-9463 (winery) • drycreekvineyard.com
– Dutcher Crossing Winery • 707-431-2700 • dutchercrossingwinery.com
– Lambert Bridge Winery • 707-431-9600 • lambertbridge.com
– Mauritson Wines • 707-431-0804 • mauritsonwines.com
A Toast to Friends
Sullivans’ love for wine inspires annual Napa trips, home wine cellar By Kristen Lund
In the fall of 2001, Sandy Sullivan and Gretchen Miller, both of Evansville, decided to surprise their husbands, Dr. David Sullivan and Dr. Mike Miller, with a vacation to Napa Valley, Calif. On Sept. 8, they arrived in wine country. Three days later, planes in the hands of terrorists crashed in New York City, Washington, D.C., and rural Pennsylvania. The couples cut their trip short by a day to head home to their young children — but not before stopping at one last winery.
“It was a weird, eerie feeling,” Sandy recalls. “They were pouring their best wines because nobody knew what tomorrow was going to be like.”
Despite the unforeseen ending to the getaway, that trip to Napa inspired the couples’ passion for wine, as well as a new tradition. Every year since 2001, the Sullivans, accompanied by the Millers, and some years other couples, have made an annual trip to California’s wine region to experience the stunning scenery and world-class wines. Before their first visit to Napa, “we didn’t know that much about wine at all,” Sandy recalls. “It’s amazing how quickly after you start tasting wine that you develop a palate.”
The Sullivans and Millers — who prefer to travel to California in the fall, when grapes are harvested — typically visit two to three wineries each day. Sandy chooses their destinations by researching online, reading magazines such as Wine Spectator and Food & Wine, and studying the wine lists at fine restaurants in California.
“We always look for smaller boutique wineries where we can go in and sit with the owner or the winemaker,” Sandy says. “It makes it more personal.”
“They’re always excited about sharing,” adds Gretchen Miller. “It’s an art to them, and they’re proud of their product.”
One of the group’s favorite destinations is Amizetta Estate Winery, a family-owned vineyard and winery outside St. Helena, Calif., that is named for the family matriarch — whose name has Native American roots and means “little friend.” Located atop a mountain, the winery overlooks the hillside vineyards and a nearby lake, and visitors can sit outside for picnics. Tastings and tours are private and led by the owners, Amizetta and Spencer Clark, who launched their vineyard in 1979.
Another winery the couples enjoy is El Molino, also in St. Helena, Calif. El Molino, founded in 1871, offers only two fine wines (a chardonnay and a pinot noir) and is one of the Napa Valley’s oldest wineries.
Through their travels, the Sullivans developed such a love of wine that they decided to include a wine cellar in their McCutchanville, Ind., home, which they built in 2005. The room is underground and doesn’t require temperature regulation, since the changes in temperature are small and slow enough as not to affect the wine. (On a recent afternoon, the temperature clocked in at 54 degrees.) The wine cellar is decorated with bottles signed by winery owners and winemakers, and a heavy wooden antique door from Europe — purchased at an antique store in Springfield, Mo. — adds a dramatic touch to the entrance.
The Sullivans’ wine cellar includes some white and sparkling wines, but mainly red wines, from pinot noir to cabernet sauvignon. Most of the wine comes from their trips to California and enrollment in wine clubs at wineries they have visited, such as Amizetta, Scribe Winery, Schramsberg (known for its sparkling wine), Pride Mountain Vineyards, and Modus Operandi Wines. The smaller boutique wineries, Sandy explains, often don’t sell their wines to distributors, so they are not available for purchase in Evansville.
Of all the interests a couple could develop together, why wine? For the Sullivans, wine is all about making memories with friends. “It’s the bringing of friends together and the fun times you have,” says Sandy.
Wine education is a self-guided process By Kristine Hansen
The world of wine is so vast that even the most seasoned sommelier — wine-speak for a wine professional — is continually on a learning curve.
One way to put a spark in a self-guided education about all things vino is to be immersed in tastings. Individual palates can be coached into discovering what varietals each person enjoys most. They may, for example, be buttery chardonnays from California’s Santa Maria Valley or smoky, dark-fruit malbecs from Mendoza, Argentina. Others prefer certain regions, even while considering the same varietal. A pinot noir from Germany is completely unlike its counterpart in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, for instance.
Local wine bars and restaurants such as Winzerwald Winery’s tasting room, The Wine Vault, and Ruby Moon Winery’s tasting room host a variety of opportunities to taste to the heart’s content. These range from winemaker dinners where the presiding host is familiar with the winery’s terroir (another wine-speak term for sense of place, that unique soil in which grapes are grown, as it varies from region to region, involving materials such as limestone, clay, and sand) to organized tastings where the admission price rivals that of a bottle, except visitors sample a dozen wines.
Savvy tasters bring a notebook along and aren’t afraid to mark up the spec sheets (information about the wines poured) provided at the tasting. That way, they’ll remember that fantastic fruit-bomb or delightfully oaky cab for their next dinner party.
If time and money allow, traveling to the origin is the best way to expand wine education. Wine regions are, of course, in areas surrounding Evansville but also in spots around the country such as Texas Hill Country, New York’s Finger Lakes region, and Napa and Sonoma in California, as well as up-and-coming regions in the Golden State such as Temecula just north of San Diego County.
Never will I see port the same way now that I’ve flitted in and out of port houses along the river banks in Porto, Portugal, nor will I fail to understand the “Rutherford dust” acclaim given to Napa Valley’s Rutherford appellation since my car’s tires spun down its gravel roads after tasting fine-grain, dusty tannins in the region’s cabernet sauvignons.
In planning a trip to a wine region, it’s important to first determine when tasting rooms are open. Particularly in Europe, and lesser-traveled regions even within the U.S., tasting rooms are open by appointment only. This is not to say it’s a snooty vibe, more like the person staffing the tasting room is also driving a tractor through the vineyards, typical of a small-production winery.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from my jaunts to wine regions around the world is that wineries are approachable, and this includes the winemaker. During a slow January in Napa Valley, I was stunned when Tom Rinaldi — winemaker at Provenance Vineyards — approached me in the tasting room to invite me to an impromptu tasting in the barrel room. While traveling through the Left and Right Banks of Bordeaux, France, I was shocked to see how available the winemakers were, often appearing in work boots and overalls, not the crisp dress shirt I might expect.
In a tasting room or while shopping for wines, shoppers will be confronted with the awards and points that a wine may receive. While it’s never a good idea to buy solely based on awards and ratings — as there are many wineries that do not enter competitions or solicit reviews — it’s an excellent primer when deciding among wines. Operating on a 100-point scale, generally speaking, a wine that receives a score greater than 87 is considered to be superb.
Publications such as Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and Wine & Spirits, along with esteemed wine evaluators such as Robert M. Parker Jr., widely recognized as the most influential wine critic in the world, and Stephen Tanzer, editor and publisher of International Wine Cellar, use this point scale to print hundreds of reviews each month.
Another way wineries will generate buzz is to enter wine competitions. Among the country’s most significant are San Francisco International Wine Competition, the New York International Wine Competition, and the San Diego International Wine Competition. Medals are awarded to outstanding wines at these competitions, and news of that trickles into the wineries’ marketing materials, meaning you’re likely to see a shelf talker at your local wine shop bearing the news.