Ohioans can be loyal to a fault.
How else to explain why we Buckeyes look to in-state attractions almost exclusively for our short-trip travel and leisure excursions, often ignoring captivating destinations that are close – sometimes even closer – to home?
There are plenty of winemakers, restaurant owners and tourism officials in the mighty state of Indiana who would like to change that mindset. The welcome mat is out at the state line, and Indiana is inviting Ohioans to come and enjoy a taste of Hoosier Hospitality.
Here are some ways you can make your trip to Indiana even more enjoyable – and delicious.
Let’s start with wine country – because, well, that’s always the best place to begin. Indiana, much like Ohio, has a fascinating and eclectic collection of more than 100 wineries, many of them producing estate-grown wines that span the spectrum from sweet to dry.
In Southeast Indiana – not far from Cincinnati – a consortium of seven artisan wineries has joined to create the Indiana Wine Trail (IndianaWineTrail.com) in a quadrant of the state that is producing some of Indiana’s most interesting wines. (Sure, there’s a casino down there, too, but we’d rather talk wine than blackjack strategy…)
Some of these Southeast Indiana wineries are tucked into rather, shall we say, bucolic areas accessible only by narrow county roads unblemished by center lines and lane markings. But these destinations are worth the effort.
Consider Ertel Cellars (ertelcellarswinery.com) outside of Batesville, where the tasting bar opens up to a spacious and elegant restaurant that overlooks the winery’s 14-plus acres of vineyards.
Ertel serves up more than a half-dozen estate-grown wines, including an excellent Chambourcin Dry Rosé, fresh and European in style; a solid Vidal Blanc with a delicate balance of sweetness and pleasant acidity; and a Traminette (Indiana’s signature wine grape) made in a crowd-pleasing, semi-sweet style. The winery also brings in Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from California’s Alexander Valley to produce a big, strapping red with plenty of fruit, a firm structure and a rich, almost choclatey finish.
Ertel also makes an array of fruit wines, including a captivating cherry wine bursting with up-front cherry flavors yet finishing with a tartness that begs the next sip. Mark your calendars now for this winery’s 13th Annual Festival on Oct. 4-5.
A scant 16 miles away in Sunman, Indiana lies Holtkamp Winery, which captured the 2018 “Farm Winery of the Year” designation from the Indy International Wine Competition for its wines’ sterling performance in the competition’s judging. The winery also operates a tasting room across the state line in Cincinnati, but that’s for city slickers. Besides, co-founder Doug Holtkamp notes, the Indiana winery is “only 35 miles from downtown Cincinnati.”
Highlights from the Holtkamp wine-tasting menu include the “Arborea,” a white blend of 50 percent each of Seyval Blanc and Cayuga that is refreshing and balanced (“That’s my favorite,” Doug confided); a Vidal Blanc that is vibrant with fruit but finishes dry; and an Avery Red that spotlights the winery’s estate-grown Noiret, a grape that has a black-pepper streak not unlike syrah. Holtkamp’s version deftly uses a bit of residual sweetness to balance out the pepper.
Other wineries that are part of the trail include Lanthier Winery in historic Madison, where guests can tour an art gallery and stroll through French-style gardens; Madison Vineyards Estate Winery, which boasts a bed-and-breakfast nestled in the vineyards; The Ridge Winery in Vevay, with a deck that overlooks the Ohio River; Stream Cliff Farm Winery in Commiskey, which shares a venue with an herb farm and restaurant on land that has been in the same family for six generations; and Thomas Family Winery in Madison, located in an 1850s stable and carriage house two blocks from the Ohio River. It even has its own bakery. Mark your calendars for the Indiana Wine Trail’s “Fall Haul” on Nov. 2-3.
No wine-focused trip to Indiana would be complete, however, without a visit to the Hoosier state’s oldest and largest winery, Oliver Winery & Vineyards (oliverwinery.com), located in central Indiana about 9 miles north of Bloomington.
Founded in 1972 by Indiana University professor William Oliver, who started making wine as a hobby while teaching aspiring attorneys, Oliver Winery’s growth has been remarkably swift. It is one of the 50 largest wineries in the country today, and it may be on its way to becoming the largest winery east of the Mississippi. Just this summer, Oliver boosted its production capacity by about 30 percent with the addition of a 28,000-square-foot building, to help accommodate the collective thirst of the 400,000-plus people who visit the winery each year. In fact, Oliver was rated by Travel + Leisure magazine as one of the top 25 wineries to visit in the U.S. in 2017.
The winery produces dozens of wines across a range of dry to sweet. Oliver makes one of the best dry reds in the state from Chambourcin grapes. Two relative newcomers to Oliver’s lineup, Cherry Moscato and Apple Pie wine, have quickly emerged as customer favorites.
The winery’s picturesque grounds include a pond, patio, wooded landscape (gorgeous in the fall), and a family-friendly picnic area. And keep in mind, Oliver’s “Live Music Sundays” extend through the end of October.
Other Indiana wineries to fit into your travel schedule include (but are not limited to) Huber’s Orchard, Winery & Vineyards (www.huberwinery.com) in Borden; French Lick Winery (www.frenchlickwinery.com) in, yes, French Lick; and Owen Valley Winery (www.owenvalleywinery.com) in Spencer; and Chateau Thomas Winery (www.chateauthomas.com) in Nashville, Indiana.
Let us not neglect the heart of the Hoosier state. Unlike Ohio, where the “three C’s” metropolitan areas divide hometown and sports-team alliances, Indiana has one major city to call its own: Indianapolis, home of an NBA team, an NFL team and, apparently, some car race. And it also is home to a an increasingly cosmopolitan and eclectic dining and entertainment scene. Here’s just an amuse-bouche-sized taste of the city’s dining landscape.
St. Elmo Steak House is the city’s tried-and-true, classic, throwback beef palace, a downtown landmark since 1902. with a deep, extensive wine list appropriately heavy on California and French reds. Signature menu items include a shrimp cocktail with sinus-clearing cocktail sauce and “Elmo Cola” that blends elements of a Manhattan and a bourbon-and-coke. And don’t miss St. Elmo’s sister restaurant, the more casual Harry & Izzy’s.
And speaking of sister restaurants, Milktooth, a breakfast-and-lunch restaurant that has scored several national shout-outs for its founder Jonathan Brooks since it opened in 2014 – and it now has a companion restaurant of sorts, Beholder, to satisfy the dinner hunger. Opened in 2018, the new restaurant offers a six-course tasting menu chock-full of inspired menu creations.
Bluebeard started its life as a bakery located inside a 1924 factory warehouse in an historic Italian neighborhood in downtown Indy. Named after a book by Indianapolis native Kurt Vonnegut, Bluebeard opened in 2012, and quickly attracted national acclaim from the James Beard Foundation. The eclectic menu is enhanced by a sommelier-selected wine list, craft cocktails and local beers.
Other fun (and new) dining options include Love Handle, which recently moved to a high-profile spot in downtown Indy; and Public Greens, which grows its own vegetables next to the flagship restaurant and recently added two new locations.
These three web sites will make planning your taste of Hoosier Hospitality a breeze: Visit Indiana (www.VisitIndiana.com); Visit Indy (www.VisitIndy.com); and the Indiana Wine Trail (www.IndianaWineTrail.com).
And don’t feel guilty, Buckeyes: You’re not being disloyal. I guarantee your regular haunts back home in Ohio will welcome you back with open arms, no questions asked.