The United States got a new American Viticultural Area early this year. It’s in the south-central part of Indiana, and it’s known as Indiana Uplands.
The AVA runs 110 miles from north to south. The line separating Morgan and Monroe counties forms the northern border, while the Ohio River at the Kentucky border forms the southern boundary. All told, it encompasses 19 counties, and its name has been in use geographically since 1920.
Winemaking in Indiana goes back much further than that, however. Historical records show that the Huber family planted grapevines in Starlight, Ind., during the 1840s. Within 40 years, a quarter of all wine being made in Indiana came from Indiana Uplands.
Of course, Prohibition halted all (legal) winemaking in the state, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that planting resumed. Oliver Winery, northwest of Bloomington, got the ball rolling, followed by Huber family descendants in the late 1980s. In 2003, several winery owners in the region got together and formed the Indiana Uplands Wine Trail—a path worth following if you’re seeking something a little bit off the beaten path for a “wine country” adventure.
Within the Uplands’ 4,800 square miles, there are 19 vineyards spanning about 200 acres. Seventeen wineries are within the AVA’s boundaries, and nine of them belong to the Wine Trail, offering visitors everything from welcoming tasting rooms to picnic grounds to full-blown tours.
Here are thumbnail sketches of the nine wineries along the trail…
- Best Vineyards Winery—Hosts a summer concert series that kicked off in June with “a little Skynyrd, a little Hank and a whole lot of good ol’ boy music” from the Concrete Canyon Cowboys. The estate offers a wide range of dry and sweet wines, including a number of fruit wines and a fortified elixir called Strawberry Flame—strawberries, Chambourcin grapes and brandy.
- Brown County Winery—Founded in 1985, this winery has two tasting rooms, one in the picturesque village of Nashville, Ind. (home to more than 200 unique shops and galleries), and one at the winery in Gnawbone, Ind. It produces a variety of dry, semi-sweet and dessert wines made from grapes, berries and other fruit. Fans of cold winter nights and warm fireplaces will love the Old Barrel Port.
- Butler Winery—This winery is the fourth-oldest in Indiana and has three locations: one in downtown Bloomington, one at the winery northeast of town, and one in Chesterton, Ind. Along with numerous dry, semi-sweet and dessert/fruit wines, proprietors Jim and Susie Butler produce a bottling called Cassis Noir—black currant wine with grape brandy added.
- Carousel Winery—As this story was being written, Carousel was building a new location and had not yet re-opened to the public. We’re guessing the move could have something to do with this website message that accompanied its original address: “Your GPS will not find us!” But Carousel’s wines are worth tracking down, particularly its double-gold winning Traminette and an unusual red called Winter Spice.
- French Lick Winery—Although it makes Pinot Gris and Merlot, the Doty family concentrates on hybrid varieties that are tailor-made for the Indiana climate: Vidal, Norton, Chambourcin, Leon Millet, Traminette and others. Its Crema Dolce dessert wine is a double-gold medal winner, and the Heaven’s View Port — named for the estate vineyard—is crafted from ultra-ripened Norton grapes.
- Huber Winery—The Huber family can lay claim to the longest historic roots in Indiana winemaking, and today offers a family-friendly experience. In addition to its tasting room, the facility is home to the Starlight Café (featuring appetizers, sandwiches, pizza and salads), the Family Farm Park (with mountain slides, mazes, a train and more), an ice cream factory and a cheese shop.
- Oliver Winery—The winery’s downtown Bloomington location is convenient and offers an imaginative small plates and dessert menu, but if you have the time, venture out to Creekbend Vineyard. There, cheese and other snacks can be purchased for a picnic, vineyard tours are offered and, on Aug. 24, the first Creekbend Bluegrass Bash will take place, featuring music by the Not Too Bad Bluegrass Band, the Whipstitch Sallies and the Indiana Boys.
- Turtle Run Winery—Proprietor Jim Pfeiffer has conducted more than 1,000 tours of his winery, and no two have ever been the same because he finds out what visitors want to know and then gives it to them. There are as many as 30 different wines available at any given time, and those who love turtles will love the labels. A free concert series runs most weekends during the summer months.
- Winzerwald Winery—Owners Dan and Donna Adams celebrate their German heritage, along with the Swiss and German heritage of the area, with their German- and Swiss-style wines, gift items and festivals. The wines include a Riesling blend called Lieblich, a traditional German May wine (Mai Wein), and a German mulled red wine with cinnamon and cloves called Gluhwein. The Adamses also operate a tasting room in Evansville, Ind.