Indiana is not the first place I think when people talk about American wines. California, New York, even Texas; these are the places that spring to mind. What may not be known is that Indiana is one of the biggest wine-producing states, and it turns out the wine is rather good.
A 15-minute drive outside of Bloomington, you’ll find Oliver Winery, Indiana’s oldest and longest running winery. Beginning in the basement of Indiana University law professor William Oliver in the 1960s, his hobby soon became Indiana’s first winery in 1972 and quickly grew to be the largest in the state. More recently, the winery has named by the Wall Street Journal named it as one of the twelve wineries to visit in the United States – not that I needed another reason to come enjoy a glass of wine!
The carefully manicured grounds will greet you as you pull up. With limestone sculptures, a homage to the surrounding land renown for producing some of the highest quality stone of its type in the country, set among the gardens and small waterfall. While my friends headed straight to the tasting room, I decided to avoid the rush and wander the grounds before the sun set.
I wasn’t disappointed with the views.
Despite being on the main road, the winery offers a peaceful spot to stop and enjoy just minutes outside of Bloomington. You can wander the grounds or, during the summer, explore the Creekbed vineyard which frequently hosts events.
Whether you want to take a picnic on the grounds or relax on the balcony, or simply stop by for a taste, the winery is sure to please. There’s also free tours of the production facilities and barrel storage (above) on the weekend for the curious, and tastings available daily.
I had a blast talking with Kim C who guided me through the tasting. A quick wit and plenty of great analogies, Kim really helped me – a wine newbie – understand the varieties and techniques that went into producing what I was tasting.
My comfort is sparkling and sweet wines, so Kim took it upon himself to introduce me to a whole new world of whites and – gasp – even some reds. While I enjoyed many, there was one star which I couldn’t stop raving about.
Considered “one of the better-kept secrets in the world”, Vignoles are a difficult wine to grow as they need plenty of sun and are susceptible to disease. Yet one sip and you’ll understand why people persevere with growing these temperamental grapes. With notes of peach, pear, and apricot, there is a rich flavour but nice balance of sweetness and acidity. It’s the type of drink I could spend all summer enjoying, or, in the words of Kim, “I’d sit on a deck [with the Vignole], have some smoked gouda and I’m good.”
While chatting about the winery with one of the local girls, I was told that I had to try the Creekbend Vineyard Catawba, her favourite. I hadn’t heard of Catawba’s before as it’s a grape mainly found in the America’s, so I was curious to try.
The Catawba played an important part of American wine history during the early to mid-19th century as Catawba grapes were the most commonly planted variety in America. Even Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers and well known for his cellar and wine knowledge, called it his favourite varietal.
With a semi-sweet taste and notes of peach and strawberry, it’s a light, bright wine perfect for warm weather drinking.
There is a difference between the Oliver Winery and The Creekbed Vineyard varieties. The Creekbed Vineyard was set-up by Bill, Professor Oliver’s son, as a commitment to creating great wines using Indiana-grown grapes. With long, warm summers and well-drained limestone soil, the Creekbed Vineyard is known for making dry wine like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin, and Chardonel, as well as sweeter wines like the Catawba, Traminette, and Vidal Blanc Ice Wine – yes, Ice Wine! You can visit Oliver Winery’s Creekbend Vineyard, and it’s the host of numerous events throughout the summer months.
With sprawling grounds, it’s the perfect spot to wander before grabbing a bottle of the good stuff and settling in for a picnic, which is just what I did on a long summer evening. If you forgot to make up a picnic before coming out, stop by the tasting room to browse their range of gourmet foods, or pick a wine and have one of the staff pair the food perfectly for you.
If you enjoy a tipple or have an interest in wine be sure to explore the Indiana Uplands Wine Trail. The land on which the Indiana Uplands Wine Trail sits on is now part of a federally recognised grape-growing region, known as an American Viticultural Area (AVA), due to the unique blend of geography, soil and climate which gives the wine a defining character.
The trail also takes you through some of the most scenic areas of Indiana. From Bloomington to Brown County and Columbus (the three cities also making up Arts Road 46), to French Lick and down towards the Kentucky border in New Albany. There’s art, culture and great food to be found… and let’s not forget the wine!
Must try wines at Oliver Winery
- Creekbed Vignoles – considered one of the best-kept secrets in the world by staff, this Vignole has a beautiful note of peach, pear and apricots and a rich flavour perfectly balanced with sweetness and acidity.
- Creekbed Catawba – a grape native to the America’s, this semi-sweet wine has flavours of peach and strawberries. Light and fruity and perfect to pair with your next cheese board.
- Creekbed Traminette – a new release in 2015 for Oliver Winery, this semi-dry Traminette is a well-balanced wine with floral, fruity notes of apple and tropical fruit.
Now it’s over to you
Which wine region would you most like to visit?
What type of wines do you like best?
Let me know in the comments below!
8024 N. State Road 37
Tasting Fee: $4.67 per person, plus tax, for a guided tasting of up to 8 wines.
Read more about Indiana:
I was in Bloomington for TMS Showcase with Visit Bloomington.
All thoughts, opinions, and wine drunk are, as always, my own.