By Betsa Marsh
Kim and Keith Tate nibble cheese and sip Blue River Blush at a corner table, a romantic interlude on a weekday afternoon. They’re taking a break at Scout Mountain Winery in Corydon, Indiana, a stop along the Hoosier Wine Trail.
“We’ve been coming from Ohio to try Indiana wines for five or six years,” Kim says. They liked the area so much the couple recently moved here: they now live outside historic Corydon, Indiana’s first state capital and the heart of a burgeoning wine scene in hilly, green Harrison County.
The Tates’ favorite that afternoon, Blue River Blush, combines Chambourcin Blush, Catawba and apricot juice. “You taste the fruit at the front of the mouth,” says winemaker Mike Schad, “then acidity on the finish. It’s one of my porch wines, for a hot summer day when we’re having people over for fruit and cheese.”
“I think Indiana is more wine-friendly than Ohioans realize,” asserts Keith, who’s followed Indiana wines for 35 years. “When I went to IU,” the 1980 grad says, “Oliver near Bloomington was the only winery in the state.”
Five wine trails now crisscross Indiana, promoting many of its 72 wineries.
Indiana has a long wine heritage, beginning with Swiss immigrant Jean Jacques Defour, who grew grapes in Switzerland County in the early 1800s. Indiana claims its Ohio Valley as the birthplace of the American wine industry.
Today, Margaret and Mike Schad at Scout Mountain are just two of the self-taught vintners creating their own histories in this rural pocket of southeastern Indiana, across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky. “We came here to grow apple and pear trees,” Mike recalls. “We made wine on our own for more than 20 years.”
The family blends the apple crush into one of its most popular wines, a light, fruity Apple Cherry. “If you taste it with chocolate,” Margaret says, urging her visitor to have a sip, “it’s like a chocolate-covered cherry.”
Scout Mountain wines veer to the sweet, following Hoosier tastes. “Eighty percent of Indiana wine drinkers want sweet wine,” new vintner Jamie Kraft concurs at Quibble Hill Winery in Depauw. “We went to all the wineries before we opened in 2014, and everyone was so helpful. I always tell people about the other wineries not to miss.”
Two of her neighbors, Best Vineyards and Turtle Run, claim spots on the Indiana Uplands Wine Trail, the state’s first. Best grows its own Chambourcin and Chardonel grapes for those vintages, then branches out to Spiced Apple, Peach and a summery Mango wine that’s so popular it’s sold year-round.
At Turtle Run, Jim Pfeiffer plants more than a dozen types of grapes – he even planted Traminette before it was crowned Indiana’s state wine grape. His grapes thrive on karst limestone soil and produce, along with those of his fellow Uplands Wine Trail vintners, “wines that compete with the best in the world.”
It’s all about technique and soil, learned from the late John Dome at Miami University. “He taught the nuances of wine, and the terroir,” Pfeiffer says. After a four-year search, he and wife Laura chose 88 acres outside Corydon in 1987.
Turtle Run specializes in reds and sweeter wines. “Color doesn’t matter, if you hit their taste buds right,” Pfeiffer says. “We pay close attention to what consumers want and do it very scientifically.”
The Pfeiffers follow European techniques, eschewing irrigation and added sugars. Freezing and filtration make Lost My Mind 2013 a sweet red without a cloying finish. Each Pfeiffer child has inspired a wine: Catherine’s Blend white, Max’s Small Batch Dry Red, and Joe’s Jammin’ Sweet Red. “Catherine has been designing labels,” her proud father says, “since she was 5.”
Like all the farm wineries in Harrison County, Turtle Run moves forward with family teamwork, offering travelers a leisurely glass of wine along the way.