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March 23, 2013

Howard Hewitt: Designation will bring new level of winemaking

The Indiana’s Uplands region being declared an American Viticulture Area is good news for all Midwestern wineries.

The U.S. wine industry is driven by tourism. For those who take wine seriously and want to learn more about wine, hitting up AVA-designated areas assures a level of serious winemaking and even quality.

Michigan leads the way in the Midwest with four AVAs: Fennville, Leelanau Peninsula, Lake Michigan Shore, and Old Mission Peninsula. Ohio has four AVAS: Lake Erie, Isle St. George, Grand River Valley, and Loramie Creek. Illinois has the Shawnee Hills AVA and shares the Upper Mississippi AVA with Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.

The Ohio River Valley AVA is shared by Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. Kentucky has no other designated grape production area and Indiana did not until the Uplands announcement.

“It just kind of affirms what we already know that we have some excellent grape growing regions and they’re unique here in the Midwest,” said Bruce Bordelon, Viticulture Specialist at Purdue University. “The Uplands region is different than southwest Indiana. Posey County and Gibson County have different climate and soils. There really is a difference in the (grapes) that we grow and the quality that we get between regions. It’s those little minor differences that makes vintages special and make our varietal-labeled wines special.”

Oliver Winery, near Bloomington, IN., is one of the Midwest’s largest. With production in the 400,000-case range business is good. But Oliver embraced the Uplands news every bit as much as the other eight wineries in the Uplands.

“It allows us to qualify as a true viticulture area and raise the level of awareness that there is something special about this region,” said Kathleen Oliver, Executive Vice President. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to capitalize on that by saying there is something really unique about these wines. We are producing great quality wines; we can do it just like Napa and Sonoma. We are something special. And it gives us the opportunity to look for a more premium price.”

The nine established wineries in the Uplands AVA are Best Vineyards Winery, Elizabeth; Brown County Winery, Nashville; Butler Winery, Bloomington; Carousel Winery, Bedford; French Lick Winery, West Baden Springs; Huber Winery, Starlight; Oliver Winery, Bloomington; Turtle Run Winery, Corydon; and Winzerwald Winery, Bristow.

Jim Butler, Butler Winery also near Bloomington, spent nearly 10 years working to achieve the AVA designation. He agreed that Indiana has a niche with white Traminette and red Chambourcin wines that are grown throughout the Midwest and excel in the Uplands region. But he also sees other wines doing well and a future for more traditional plantings.

“Late harvest Vignoles and Vidal does wonderfully,” Butler said. “We’ve been doing Chardonnel. I think we’re going to see some more viniferas (think traditional wine grapes) planted. “It takes four years to plant a vine and then get your first crop. It’s going to be a decades-plus process to zero in on those varieties that are going to give us the product that we want.”

The 4800-square-mile Uplands AVA stretches from the Morgan-Monroe County line near Bloomington south to the Ohio River. The east-west boundaries run from Jasper in Dubois County to Knobstone Ridge near Starlight, overlooking the Ohio River Valley.

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, Ind., writes about wine every other week for 22 newspapers in three states. You can contact him with questions or comments at: hewitthoward@gmail.com

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