By Rich Warren
Located just outside Bloomington, Indiana, Oliver Winery is now the 28th largest winery in the country. Its origins were quite humble, however, growing out of a winemaking hobby in the basement of Indiana University professor William Oliver. After he opened a winery in 1972, growth in the family business was rapid and exponential. It now produces 800,000 cases of wine per year that are distributed in 40 states and shipped nationwide.
As Oliver Winery celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, it’s proud to say that it’s the oldest and largest winery in Indiana. It’s also proud of the accolades it’s received. Its wines have been covered in the Wall Street Journal, and Travel and Leisure has rated it as one of the top 25 wineries in the country that’s worth a visit.
Oliver produces about 35 wines running the gamut from bone dry to very sweet. About 10 of those wines are estate-grown at the winery’s nearby Creekbend Vineyards, where unusual varieties like Crimson Cabernet and Vignoles are grown alongside better-known grapes like Vidal Blanc, Traminette, and Chambourcin. The 54-acre vineyard, located at the same latitude as California’s Napa Valley, enjoys a hilltop location with limestone bedrock and soils underlying it, creating ideal conditions for grape growing.
Oliver partners with other vineyards around the county in locations where those particular grapes thrive better than they would in Indiana, like the Sauvignon Blanc it produces from grapes grown in the Monterey region. The winery’s biggest sellers include its Moscato, coming in flavors like blueberry, cherry, and lemon, as well as its crowd-pleasing Sweet Red, a wine produced from Concord grapes that’s consistently among the top selling wines in Indiana.
The beautiful, park-like setting of Oliver Winery’s campus is most likely what draws upwards of 100,000 visitors per year. With a charming lake, wooded areas with winding trails, and thousands of blooming bulbs, visitors enjoy just sitting outdoors at picnic tables or Adirondack chairs enjoying the view. From April through October, the winery will provide a cheese and charcuterie spread for outside picnicking.
Inside the spacious tasting room, a large timber frame structure with tall windows overlooking the beautiful scenery, visitors can purchase bottles or flights of wine, and then enjoy them on several covered patios overlooking the lake. A guided wine tasting experience inside what feels like an underground wine cave is also available with a nice variety of Oliver Winery’s wares offered. The guide for my own tasting was Jim Seaver, who holds a Ph.D. and teaches the history of winemaking. His overview of each of the wines we tasted was quite thorough! Note that because of the volume of visitors Oliver experiences, reservations for the wine tastings are almost essential, especially on the weekends.
A new experience Oliver started offering this year is a combination tour and guided tasting. Visitors walk through the production areas, looking at the 20 towering 35,000-gallon storage tanks. Afterwards, several wines are served alongside some tasty snacks. On my visit, we enjoyed Oliver’s unique Lavender Cucumber Chill, a Blueberry Moscato, a wine called Peach Pie (you could even taste the buttery crust!), and the winery’s top-selling Sweet Red. This experience, only offered from Friday to Sunday, is also best reserved in advance. The tastings are adjusted seasonally, so perhaps you’ll enjoy Apple Pie wine in the fall.
Between the two experiences I had during my one-day visit, I tasted a substantial number of Oliver Winery’s finest wines. I found them delightfully flavorful and enjoyable. Many were a sweeter style, but balanced. Make a stop here, and you’ll surely agree that this beautiful winery is worth a visit! And if you’re not ready to head for home after your visit to Bloomington, wind your way through the beautiful rolling hills of southern Indiana and visit the eight other wineries that are part of the Indiana Uplands Wine Trail. It’s worth a road trip!