Wednesday, December 30, 2009

In With the New...

As we begin our eighth year in business, we look forward to new things and old things alike, with enthusiasm. Any business must constantly evolve to survive, it must remake itself every so often to progress and mature its market. Yet we also want to keep that which has made us a success, the tone and tenor of our business, along with the familiar products our customers have come to like and buy again and again.

New things include our wines made with vinifera, or European heritage grapes. For years we have concentrated on native grapes because of their lower cost. The poor economy and a “grape glut” have depressed prices to the point we have been able to buy some of these premium quality grapes at reasonable prices. We hope to be able to continue to offer these, but who knows what the future holds for grape prices?

Other new things include our widening of our wine selection, at present over 20 different wines both sweet and dry. We tried a honey wine in 2009 and expanded our fruit wines as well. One point is that we have seen dry wine sales increase markedly in 2009 and this is a good thing. Dry wines are healthier and pair better with food then the sweet wines. I also think this represents our core customers’ tastes maturing and moving into a greater amount of dry wine purchases.

We are considering the possibility of expand our facility in 2010, its at the “how much will it cost” stage at this point, but our increasing sales volume is making it hard for us to squeeze the wine we need to stock into the space we have now. We thought about a move to another building in Converse quite seriously, but it seems the dollars and cents for adding on to the carriage house just makes more sense, if you see the pun there.

New wine labels debuted in 2009, the first that did not feature 19th century artwork. The one you might have seen is OLD BEN, which honors the stuffed steer that has been displayed in Kokomo for many years. The other label features a picture of the 1930-era water tower that had been a Converse landmark and trademark. We like labels with a local connection and when we introduce WATERTOWER in 2010 as a semi-sweet Gewurztraminer wine , we think both locals and visitor will like it.

What else will 2010 bring? Keep your eye here and we will do our best to keep you up to date. Keep in mind that starting January 1, we will be open only SATURDAY and SUNDAY until June 1, 1-6pm as always. See you in the tasting room!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

News & Views?

I just had a nice email from a customer who has some time off over the next week or so and asked about spending some time in the winery. I pointed out we are fairly busy during the Dec 26 to Jan 3 time frame, but there is always a few seats open in our sitting area. We offer wine by the glass plus our hot spiced cider (10% alcohol) and cheeses with salami and crackers. We allow snacks to be brought in as well, often there is a pretty good spread from table to table, I have been known to graze through myself from time-to-time, saves my wife making me lunch.

Business continues to be good, as expected. There seems to be a strong motivation to give gifts from local sources this year in particular. One customer said she always buys her friend a nice Merlot wine, but this year she is buying one of our red wines because there is a “story” she can tell about the wine. I appreciate customer who get-it that way, our naturally made wines are different and be made locally does make the unique.

I can recall vividly the moment, before we were open, we were discussing wine names and the thought of naming a few wines for local places of interest blossomed into naming all the wines for Hoosier towns and landmarks. I truly believe that is the a key part of our success, making a local winery truly local through the wines’ names.

I should mention the emails regarding blueberry have been mostly positive and we expect to have such a wine fairly soon, probably post-holiday-time. I have been able to just keep up with our present wine list, keeping enough bottled of what we have in stock.

I am sorry to say we have run out of MEAD MARION, our sweet honey wine, and it will be awhile before we have any more. We use local honey and make it naturally (of course) so it takes a long time to mature. I see we are almost out of an old favorite, PERU PEACH, which is over seven years old and the last of the start-up stock of wines we had when we opened. It took the wine three years to mature and I hesitate to start any wine that takes such a long time to become drinkable again. I have thought about a peach juice and white grape blend though, so we’ll see how that turns out next year.

I want to mention how much I appreciate the emails and public comments here on the blog over the past six months. I was told its takes about two years to firmly establish a blog’s readership, but I look at the blog simply as an extension of our website. A place for more information and insight into our business and winemaking philosophy. I do not imagine our blog will ever be what is called a “Big Read” in the world of blogging, bit we hope it does give you some more useful information and background on us.

See you in the winery!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Let it snow, a little? -Nah!

The Guy does not like wine. The question is, then, “What is he doing in a winery?” You can’t really ask that though, so we all just smiled and said, “Would you like to taste some?” Oddly he said “Yes!” Then he leaves with a case of wine for himself and as gifts. The question still hangs in front of me, why did he stop in a winery if he does not like wine?

Actually we get a lot of “Guys” who walk in the door, usually being towed by a wife or girlfriend,,who explain they do not like wine then end up liking at least one they try of our 20+ choices. I wonder why they start out saying they do not like wine?

I suspect what they mean is, “I have never tasted a wine I liked very much” which makes good sense. I also have the person who afterwards admits they were intimidated by the whole “wine experience” thing.

I know what they mean. I went to a fancy dinner a number of years ago and there were four forks, three knives, and two spoons next to my plate. I first thought there had been a mistake, but then I saw everyone had that many. Clearly I was out of my depth, so I watched a gentleman across the table from me and followed his lead on what to eat with which utensil. I never did use the fourth fork though, I understood the salad and dessert fork concept OK, but did they want me to use one fork for my meat and another for veggies? I am still a little lost, but how many fancy dinners do I eat at, huh?

Here we are, two-thirds the way through December and I have not keeled over yet, but we are working hard. The blueberry is still not ready and our new semi-sweet WATERTOWER has not made an appearance yet. Keep in mind after January 1 we go back to being open WEEKENDS ONLY until June 1. We are open Dec 24 and Dec 31 until 6 pm if you need anything!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Just Peachy! Or is it Blueberry?

So I have this nice little batch of blueberry wine I have been messing with, but I wonder, does anyone really like blueberry wine?

Very few people ask for it. They ask for blackberry, raspberry, cherry, even elderberry. So why make a wine few have asked for? Because its good!

For the past seven years we have featured PERU PEACH on our wine list and, like blueberry, it is not a wine asked for by a majority of visitors. Yet it has sold quite consistently over those years, especially in the summer when the thick, peachy flavor is quite refreshing on a hot day.

After this batch is gone, I do not expect to make any more. Why? Frankly I found the wine takes years to become viable and drinkable using our method of natural production. So if you really like PERU PEACH, stop in and get some right away!

But this is about the blueberry, what do you think? Will blueberry sell? Will people like a blueberry wine? I guess we could bottle a little and find out. What do you think? Click on “comment” below and leave your thoughts or send us an email at oakhillwinery@yahoo.com.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Trying to catch up!

The madness continues! I have a cramp in my right hand (cue violins) from all the corking over the past weeks. We got 340 gallons of Niagara juice last week, refitted our fermentation tanks, cleaned up generally and found (!) a barrel of Vidal we thought we were out of. Yes, it is possible to “lose” a barrel or in this case, mis-label it as something else. But that means we have another batch of WINDFALL, the marvelous, barely sweet Vidal wine so many of you enjoy.

I had tries to put off the delivery of the juice I mentioned, but the supplier was going to ding us with a storage fee if we did not get it in before January 1. So Saturday was shot messing with it and Sunday I just kept corking. A new batch of SWEETSER is in the tasting room, this blush wine is a bit more what I had in mind then the last batch, less sweet and more tangy I think.

The gift baskets and boxes continue to march out the door, I get more emails and calls asking us to ship wine, but we are not able to do that under present laws without a special permit. We decided the demand is too low and costs too high to be worth while, sorry! The lady from New Jersey will just have to vacation here next year, I guess.

In between sales rushes and bottling, we are talking about what’s going to happen in 2010. The new wine is in the tank, with a few exceptions, so we are looking at a possible addition to the building and some improvements to our seating area, a tweaking of the wine club too? If you have any suggestions, let us know. More heads have better thoughts then fewer heads, you know! oakhillwinery@yahoo.com

Friday, December 4, 2009

Lazy or Busy?

OK, so its been a while since I posted, but if you’ve been at the winery, you know why. December is truly a CRAZY MONTH for us and we do our best to keep our head above water, glub, glub, glub…

First, we did introduce the new Riesling as Sweet Salamonie this past week. This 2008 batch has a nice flavor, is 100% naturally sweet, but not too sweet! It is a tad young, less then six months since fermentation, but we feel the flavor makes up for its youth very nicely.

We are still beating (metaphor) on the Gew├╝rztraminer we started at the same time, we hope to get it out next week if it comes along as planned. This will be the aforementioned WATERTOWER semi-sweet wine; I love the spicy taste it has over the Riesling wines, a nice alternative.

The apple wine continues to ferment slowly, as expected. I am watching it closely so we do not lose the active yeast working on due to low temp’s. Yeast likes it over 65-degrees but I like the winery at about 62, so it’s a balancing act. Plus I have always felt low temperatures produce fruity tasting wines. Next week we will start a batch of Niagara juice on its way to wine-dom.

The holiday gift sales are going well, the wife has caught up as of today on her gift baskets, but every weekend we see a bunch fly out the door, so its like shoveling sand in the desert, it does not end until January!

The new red wines have found a good niche in our tasting list, by popular demand we bottled more of the OLD BEN Shiraz and will probably do the same for the WABASH VALLEY RED Pinot Noir. I think the Cab Franc will continue to improve with aging, maybe by next summer.

Be patient with me on posts here this month, I will try to keep up a weekly schedule, but as goes the business, so goes the blog. I guess it could be worse, not being so busy I could blog, huh?

Got a wine or winery related question? Send it to oakhillwinery@yahoo.com and we’ll address it here possible.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Its getting real now folks....

Wow, what a weekend! I do not know if it was the great weather; the Nouveau wine tasting notice I emailed everybody; the approaching holiday season; or a combination of all these. We were very busy this weekend for whatever reason and it kept us hopping.

The Nouveau wine tasting went very well, everyone seemed to enjoy the novelty of trying young red wines, chilled. I was surprised at the number of calls and emails we got asking if we would have the wines available after Saturday or even the weekend for trial. We only bottled a very small amount of these wines, but there is still a case or two of each left, so we will have them as long as they last.

I think I was most surprised at how well they sold, being young as they are. Some folks bought some to use in their own nouveau wine tasting with friends, as a bit of a novelty. Others genuinely enjoyed the wines and bought some for drinking. We warned all to keep in mind the flavor of the wine is not stable; these wines should be bought and drunk with 60 days, at last, in my view.

My wife has been constructing gift baskets at a pretty good clip the past week or so. She is focusing in on the popular $25 price point and will spend this week working on the more expensive baskets. It is quite nice to hear all the favorable comments about our baskets, the funniest one being, “These baskets are too cheap!”. I remind people we sell gift baskets as a way to sell wine, we are not a gift basket company, we’re a winery.

I am working on a sales promotion we’ve used before, the three-bottle gift box. We will offer it with either three bottles of regular production wine, or with two bottles, an Oak Hill Winery wine glass, and wine opener for $27.95. In years past, these handy packages have been popular with the “we forgot to get a house-warming gift and don’t have time to get anything else” crowd.

In the Prove-Me-Wrong category, I had gotten a call last summer from a gift supplier who told me she had a hot item, "cork cages", and I needed a bunch of them. Now I thought that was a stupid idea and said no. Then we went on vacation and saw these things all over the place. My wife enquired at several wineries as to their success in selling these unique items and all agreed they were good sellers. I expressed my skepticism and did not order any. I had several customers ask for these things in October, so I ordered a few and they look nice, seem to do the job they are assigned, but I still think they are silly and will not sell. Prove me wrong…

A new wine? I am working on a wine I had not expected to be ready for distribution until late winter, but it seems to be coming along pretty well. My wife says, “Bottle it!” I am not yet sure, but will play with it over the next few days and see what I think. The big issue with wines that taste good ahead of schedule is whether that flavor is stable and will remain, or will the wine move on to a different flavor structure? Watch here for the POSSIBLE release of our new “WATER TOWER” Gew├╝rztraminer, semi-sweet wine.

We have a few dates left in December for parties, check out the website at www.oakhillwines for more details…

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Apple's Smell!

So I stopped by Hainlen’s Orchard the other day and ordered our apple juice for next year’s batch of KOKOMO CIDER. We went and picked it up Wednesday evening, pumped it into fermentation barrels so it can start the long journey to becoming apple wine.

As I walked into the store at the orchard, the apple smell hit me right between the eyes. I had vivid recollections of youthful visits to similar places with my parents. I glanced at the baskets filled with the many varieties: Rome, Winesap, Yellow Delicious, Macintosh, and many more. An older couple was picking through a bushel of red apples, choosing the biggest and best for a gift basket. I walked through the store into the back room, the coolness and aroma becoming almost a tactile sensation.

I sampled the new apple juice, unfiltered and un-preserved. There has been a lot of complaints about the fact that orchards can no longer sell raw, un-pasteurized cider. It seems there are real apple cider connoisseurs, who feel the raw cider has a much better flavor then the pasteurized stuff. As a winemaker I have to buy it raw, since the pasteurization process makes it impossible to ferment. It has been suggested that is one reason cider lovers miss the raw cider, it does not turn into a nice hard cider in the fridge anymore. Humm?

Last night we finished up labeling the Nouveau wines for our special tasting this Saturday (1-6 pm). This is a first for our winery, but we felt since we were going to offer European “vinifera” grape wines next year, we might try following the European tradition of the Nouveau wine release. If you’re planning on coming, remember we have very short supply of these wines, but will have tasting all day Saturday the 21st.

I think you will be pleased with these very young wines, we tried some of the Shiraz chilled the other evening and I was very happy with its flavor. We hope you’ll come by and try it yourself!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Anger Management

I think on of the great joys of owning a small winery, as compared to a big one, is you can make small batches of wine and see what people think of them without making your life too complicated.

One of the problems of making small batches of wine is people who like them often come back wanting more after you’ve run out. You suggest they might try something else, they insist they want more of the now long-gone wine. You mention you might make some next year and they seem appalled they might have to wait a year to get more of this small batch of wine. In toto, we appreciate the support but find the whining aggravating; All out of proportion with what we should. I need to have a glass of wine and mellow out.

A case in point is a wine we have been making for a number of year, BORDERMEN, a cranberry-grape blend we have each fall. We typically make a 100 cases and it sells quite well in November and December and is gone by January. I have been asked about 100 times, “When are you going to have Bordermen again?”.

I am happy to say we have bottled the first of the 2008 vintage of this fine wine and it is in the winery ready to be tasted and bought. I popped in the winery one afternoon and asked our staffer, “See we got Bordermen, now they will quit complaining!” She replied, “Well yes, but this batch does not taste like last year’s.”

Now, this wonderful employee is great at her job and I often over-react, but to avoid a stroke or possibly a murder rap, I left the building. Of course the new wine does not taste exactly like last year’s, it’s a new batch, a new vintage, its all new and bound to be a bit different and she knows that. Most wines taste a bit different year to year, its one the the things I like best about wine, the variety and the hunt for a great wine every year. Its was just a harmless comment and I got over-wrought by it. Mellow, mellow, mellow, and have a glass of wine.

So help me stay out of trouble and anger management classes: when we run out of Bordermen this year (or next), don’t ask me when we’ll have more. Ask my wife…

Friday, November 6, 2009

Nouveau Release, Yea or Nay?

Ok, we gave them a try, a barrel tasting with some friends and I think, YES! We will have a release of our new 2009 vintage red wines on Saturday, November 21. So what is that all about?

In a previous post I talked about the tradition of Nouveau wine releases in Europe and how they are celebrated on the third Thursday of November. These wines are typically served chilled, unusual for dry wines, and are described as light in character and simple in flavor. What that means for sweet wine drinkers is they should give these refreshing selections a try, they might just be surprised. Plus, its a great excuse for a litle party!

These wines are great to chill and serve with cheese and crackers, they compliment Italian foods with red sauces very nicely. I found them to have enough body to play well with hamburgers or pot roast.

We will have a very small supply of these wines bottled for sale on the 21st, but it is a small supply. Why? Because these wines I expect will be very nice in 12 months, or rather now nine months as serious dry red wines for next season.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

More on Missouri wine

The tour of selected Missouri wineries continues: We headed out on a Saturday to hit several wineries in the St. James area, enjoying decent weather and expecting crowds. We were surprised at how few people we found out on this delightful autumn day.

We wanted to hit a few old favorites and a new spot or two. We headed for FERRINGO’s winery, located in an old barn just outside town. In our last visit in 2007, we met the owner who had suffered a recent stroke. As we turned into the drive, we found the old name was gone and new sign, TWO SQUIRREL’s winery, was in its place. A gentleman working outside said the winery was not yet licensed, but should open in the next month or so. I hesitated, thanked the man and pulled out of the lot. I wanted to ask, but decided not to ask after the previous owner.

We headed on to the next stop, HEINRICHHAUS vineyard and winery, well out in the country. The owner was born in the Rhine Valley in Germany, speaks with a thick accent, and has some strong feelings about wine and winemaking. Heinrich only makes dry wines, typically has five to six for sampling off an old oak wine barrel in his small tasting room. Its best to taste all the wines or you may get “The Look” when you say you don’t care for reds or whites. His wine is excellent, unique, and the experience is well worth the drive up his long, narrow lane.

We had never stopped at ROSATI winery and vineyard, in the very small town of Rosati, so we drove the short distance to see what they had. We drove along rows of grapevines, for mile after mile ad when we got to the winery, it was closed! The sign said “Winery Museum open 2010”, so we headed back into St. James proper.

We always enjoyed visiting the ST JAMES winery, it is one of the largest in the state and has a different approach to wine sales. Their wine tasting is self-serving, you grab a small plastic cup and pour a sample of whatever of the many wines they offer. The prices grab your attention, from $3.99 to $12.99 a bottle with generous discounts for case purchases. We talked with some of the staff who agreed they get a lot of questions about prices, but their whole concept is to sell a lot of wine and build a strong and loyal customer base. They distribute their wine nationally, so you can find it even locally.

All-in-all, we found a lot of great wines and bought a good bit ourselves. We enjoy this annual visit to the wine country of Missouri, but there are many more wineries we have not visited, including a wine region south of St Louis that is gaining national recognition. We’ve got to work that in next year, maybe?

NOUVEAU WINE TASTING: We are planning a tasting of the 2009 vintage wine on Saturday, November 21 during regular business hours of our three dry red wines. Watch here for more information!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Break Time is Over

It was a long rainy week in the hills of Missouri but we had a good time anyway. In the nine days we were away we visited 15 wineries, several wine shops, and met some interesting people. It was a different trip for us because we hit the wineries on the weekends, we usually hit them on a weekday, and you get a different experience between those two choices.

First, many wineries offer abbreviated tasting lists on the weekends due to the volume of customers, limiting tasting to six popular choices. We sweet-talked our way around that though; they appreciate the dry wine drinkers who buy more then a bottle or two. Second, there is often live entertainment in open air venues or even karaoke as we found in one case. Third, parking is a real pain at the larger wineries and you have to do some walking from your car to the tasting room. Here are a few places we visited:

We wanted to visit MONTELLE winery located just outside Augusta to try their new vintage Dry Vignoles, but we were too late! The 2007 vintage had won best Missouri wine in 2008 and the new batch got hammered as it was bottled and put on the market. We did enjoy their wines very much, this new winery is partnered with an old favorite of ours, AUGUSTA winery, and we know the winemaker pretty well. Montelle is designed for the big crowds, the people looking to spend an hour or two, they offer a nice place to taste, drink, and even eat while sitting on a hilltop overlooking the wine country scenery.

Next was AUGUSTA winery and there was a line to get in at opening. This winery above all others we visit anywhere has consistently offered exceptional wines at very low prices. They have a strong offering of dry reds and whites with case prices well under $10 a bottle.

We skipped the other local winery, MOUNT PLEASANT, since we have never been real fond of their wines. It’s a beautiful setting and a huge place, but we also heard they were the first winery in the area to introduce paid tasting! So we drove by and headed towards BIAS winery and micro-brewery. This place is way off the beaten path and up a narrow lane, it’s small and quaint, but had a large crowd of folks who looked like they were settled in for a while.

BLUMENHOF winery, near Dutzow is a nice newer winery with good wine. We had a mission to stop there because my wife had made friends with an employee the previous year and promised her a bottle of our wine she thought sounded good. They were cranking up the music as we left and the parking lot was filling, everyone had a picnic basket and was headed for a table.

We headed for Hermann with its numerous wineries and another must-visit place, STONE HILL winery. We always enjoy stopping here and tasting their many wines, Stone Hill is one of the big players in MO wine and has tasting rooms around the state. They also have a great eatery called the Vintage restaurant, but it was packed and had a long waiting list.

Passing by many other wineries, we headed towards St James where another cluster of wineries awaited us. Watch here later for an update on those wineries and how it rained almost all week. But now the vacation is over and we are back and headed into the busy season, ready to get it done! Lots of new stuff coming, so stay tuned…

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Busman's Holiday

So we are getting amped up for a trip to Missouri this weekend, we’re going to hit as many wineries as we can in two days along the Missouri River. I was asked recently why we enjoyed visiting other wineries while on vacation from our winery.

I think this goes back to one of the key points in owning a winery. I have met people who thought owning a winery was “cool” (Sure); I have met people who think there is good money in the winery business (Wrong); I have met people who want to be their own boss (Reasonable); and I have met people who thought it would be an easy business to run (Crazy).

Finding work that speaks to a passion you hold in your heart has to be a dream for many and a goal for some. For many of us who own wineries we do this because we love it, we love the wine business, we love wine. When you can make a living off your passion, life is good.

But for us, we have not reached that goal; we cannot yet live off the winery financially. Every year is better then the year before and we have met our financial goals set five or more years ago. When we started thinking about a winery, it was a dream. As it approached reality, we were able to see our plan was reasonable and measurable. We hit our first year sales goal and five out of six years we have exceeded our expectations, following that plan. We have adjusted the plan, adapted our methods, and moved forward. The light at the end of the proverbial tunnel has gone from dim to quite bright. The business is a passion for us.

But when we think about vacation, we always ask, “What wineries can we visit?” because wine is truly a passion for us, not just the business, but enjoying wine itself. When we go to Missouri, we search out the outstanding wines, those that make us smile. We want not just the average, but the outstanding.

Last year we were surprised to find a Dry Vignoles from Montelle Winery was the best wine we tried and we came home with a case. Strangely, we would have not even tried it had not an employee at another winery pointed it out to us. She said it was a fabulous wine and well worth the drive out-of-the-way to visit the winery and try it. She was right and we all loved it.

A great side benefit from our taking several winery tours each year is we can give visitors to our winery advice on where to go for weekends and vacations to find the style of wines they might prefer. In a future post, I will give a sketch of what we have found in our travels: Where to find the best sweet, off-dry, dry white, dry red, and just about every kind of wines you might want.

LOVERS OF KOKOMO CIDER: Keep in mind we only have 200 gallons (1000 bottles) this year of our popular sweet apple wine. The locally poor 2008 apple harvest kept us from getting as much of this wine as we usually get, so if you are planning on serving this delightful wine as a hot-spice holiday treat, come in and get you supply soon!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bitter Wine

It is said by many that an aged wine is a better wine. But that is a broad statement which is not true in general terms. For example, the vast majority of sweet wines do not improve with age, it’s our recommendation you should not buy more of our sweet wines then you can drink in six to 12 months.

The issue as to whether a dry wine improves with age is a bit of a trick question. It can be said that wine CHANGES as it ages without argument, the question is whether those changes are improvements, -does the wine taste better today then it day a year ago? Only much experience and taste-testing will answer this question.

I recall the example of the man who paid over $3,000 for a bottle of an 1898 French wine at auction and gave it as a gift to a dear friend, who was a bit of a wine enthusiast. The wine was opened on a special occasion and found to be bitter, quite undrinkable. The recipient of this “fine wine” was said to say, “A bottle of wine is very much like a human being. In its youth its shallow and thin, but can be interesting to some. As it matures, it gains fullness and complexity, as well as a wider circle of admirers. But too often at the end it can be sour and distasteful. Such is too often life for us all.”

As I have aged, I have found this story to contain a fair amount of truth and relevance. This week I heard of a dear friend who had been fighting cancer successfully, until now. The cancer has spread and the outlook is bleak.

The taste in my mouth is sour over this, I believe a part of who we are, is who we know. Our friends are the landscape of our life, adding color and interest, flavor and tenor. Take them away and we become less.

A crucial part of this process is we may impress ourselves into this situation. We can feel and see the grief of the family and knowing the inevitability of life and its end, we see our future grief and hurt. We cannot avoid it, it happens to all and that is the sourness of ageing for humans.

Like the old wine, as we age the potential for a bad ending increases. Yet I think the people who surround those we lose suffer in some ways more then the patient. At some point, the suffering ends for the patient. For those who cared, the hole in our hearts remains for many years and with time the bitter taste will diminish, never gone but manageable.

Those of us who remain must move on to other "bottles of wine" knowing they will not be bitter and joy can yet be found in many. We move on knowing that is what our dear friend would want us to do and we hold close the memories of the many bottles we shared during their too short time with us. Yet still we do grieve…

Monday, October 12, 2009

Reading the Customer's Mind

One of the ongoing challenges we face as a small business is the question, what else do we want to sell besides our wine? When we were considering opening the winery, we talked to a lot of small winery owners to get advice and input.

One consistent comment I heard in the way of advice was, “Don’t spend a bunch of money on accessories!” It was suggested that too often you tied way too much money up in do-hickies and gadgets that only a few people might want to buy. Your money was better spent on items directly related to wine and wine drinking that are proven winners, sales-wise.

Let me tell you, even a small place like ours gets many calls each week from salespeople with wine-related stuff they want us to buy from them so we can sell. Recently, I had a call from a guy who sells wine and grape themed jewelry, he claimed we could make “big money” selling his stuff. Yea, right.

We have made some good choices and a few bad ones. We bought a bunch of glass cutting boards, those have not sold well, but I still like them myself. We recently brought in a new wine bottle stopper made of silicone, rather then the old plastic models we had been selling. They are supposed to last longer and give a better seal. We’ll see…

I have always been cheap when it comes to corkscrews, preferring a simple $10 model to the $25 fancy-pants gizmos some people use. We have sold a few of the fancy ones, but at least one broke the first time it was used and it took me three months to get a replacement.

We have always had a few artists and craftspeople whose goods we sell on consignment during the gift-giving season. This year we have some hand-painted glasses and wine bottles that are beautiful and have been selling very well! They have been very popular as wedding gifts I notice and I suspect they will continue to sell well as we get farther along in the year.

Keep us in mind when you are shopping for that hard-to-satisfy friend or relative, where else can you find locally-made joy-in-a-bottle that makes a great gift?!?

Friday, October 9, 2009

hot-n-spicy wine?

The cool weather has taken hold and I think we might need to whip up a new batch of our sweet apple wine, KOKOMO CIDER. Its been a best seller for many years here and we hope the 2009 version will live up to expectations.

The interesting thing is, we sell a fair amount of KC in the spring and summer, it’s a refreshing warm-weather drink. But sales go through the roof beginning in late fall through the holiday season. The key is adding a few key spices and warming the KC up a bit. It has been called wassail, hot-spiced cider, a hot toddy, and even “Super Cider”.

We do offer some cider spices, made right here in good old Indiana from a company called Marion-Kay, plus a recipe on how we make it taste for samples here in the tasting room. Many people make it in a sauce pan in advance, make a gallon or more, then heat it up in crock pots when needed. It stores surprisingly well for a week or more.

We expect to introduce our new Kokomo Cider in the next week or so, so stop by and check out how the new batch tastes cold and hot-n-spicy .

Friday, October 2, 2009

Honey, where are the TV trays?

The mess has officially begun! Every fall we dig out the boxes of stuff we need to build the gift baskets we sell by then bunch load and thus, we lose our dining room.

Oh, for those of you who do not know, we live next door to the winery. We do all the winemaking, sales, bottling, and tasting in the old 1894 carriage house we converted into our small winery. The problem is its really not big enough, so we do a few things in the house and one that always makes a big mess is the gift basket assembly area i.e. the dining room table.

For the last three months of the year I eat among bows, ribbons, grass packing material, wine glasses, and all the do-hickies that we put in the gift baskets, Boxes and boxes of stuff, piled six to seven feet high, its an obstacle course to just get through the place.

Now, I am not complaining. Its great when someone comes in during the winter and says, “A friend gave me a gift basket with your wine in it and we decided to come over and do a tasting!”

I have to laugh when I remember the harried guy who came rushing up the stairs, burst into the tasting room, and said in a loud voice, “Honey, we’re golden, they do have gift baskets!” It seems someone forgot to pick-up a house-warming gift and halfway there it dawned on them they had nothing with which to warm the new house.

My favorite though will remain the solid looking, gray-haired man with a mustache who came in and said, “I had never tasted your wine before, figured ot was all sweet. The I got a gift basket from a business friend with your dry reds and I thought they were good. So here I am to see what you’ve got in toto.” Made me think of the actor Ronald Coleman and a heavy English accent. He would have made a great butler, but acted more like he had one himself.

So, pay attention to the gift baskets next time you are in, $19.95 to $49.95, my wife went to a lot of work to make them, so take one or two home!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ponderings and Rackings

I guess Fall fell today, with lower temp’s and gusty breezes. I noted the leaves turning, almost overnight, from green to golds and reds. I note new TV shows are also turning up, like those leaves I noted, even more old shows are starting new seasons. Yet I find my joy in the slippery goo I scrub from the bottom of my fermentation barrels. Yes, I did watch a bit of football and PBS’ new feature, The National Parks, by Ken Burns.

Both football and TV have their devotees and fanatics and those who do not share these affectations find it hard to understand the devotion, the obsession. I was asked Monday by a coworker at my day-job if I had a restful weekend and I laughed. I mentioned I had worked myself to exhaustion or at least to extreme tiredness. My day job is often more relaxing then winemaking and I like my job a good bit. But winemaking is my obsession.

As I pumped the new wine from barrel to barrel, it frothed and foamed. As the fermentation slows almost to a stop, a move into a new container injects some air and evident energy into the almost-wine. It reawakens the remaining yeast to action and the last bit of sugar contained in the fluid is attacked and transformed into alcohol and CO2. The almost-wine is a step closer to becoming what we hope it will be.

I revisited the barrels I had filled (racking we call it) a few days ago and opened the lids and stared into the still almost-wine. I took a few drops and set them on my tongue, the yeasty nature speaking the words, “Not yet, not yet!” Of course a wine newly fermented was not yet wine of a drinkable nature, but there is promise in those tastes.

Winemakers tend to be optimistic about new wine, we look for the good in the new vintage, --oh that we would do equally the same in our dealings with people. Every month for at least six months I will taste the almost wine and tracks its maturity and progress as it turns into a worthwhile beverage. Pride in our craft drives the hope that we have done something more then average, something that people will find pleasure in drinking.

This year I have an exceptional pride in our wooded Seyval Blanc, I feel it is more then just good and worthwhile as a serious wine. We have many wines I feel this way about, but I keep quiet when asked because that’s just an opinion, not a fact. Let the taster make his or her own judgment because in the end, it’s the taster’s opinion that counts.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Beaujolais or Bust?

Work, work, work! Yes, I have been busting the chops a bit in the winery (whaaaa!) No pity huh? Well, that’s OK, its what it is after all. Its funny how you can have a true passion for your work but still have days work sucks. But I suspect that’s true of many people, good days, bad days.

So the juice is fermenting and the wine is getting bottled and we are getting tight on space in our little 25’ x 30’ winemaking area. We keep talking about adding on, but I am a bit cheap, so I keep squeezing in barrels, tanks, and other stuff.

This weekend we will start to consolidate the fermenting wine into new barrels. You cannot fill a tank or barrel full because fermenting juice foams up quite a bit, some more then others. Once the primary fermentation is done, you need to transfer all the almost-wine to full tanks and barrels, where it continues to make its way to becoming drinkable wine. We have six different batches that are ready to move, so my weekend is pretty much scheduled.

On top of that, we are behind in getting the new fruit wines bottled, blackberry and red raspberry in particular. We did get a new wine on the shelf, an off-dry, slightly sweet Vidal we call WINDFALL you might want to try. The new version of SWAYZEE is on the shelf, a great food wine with the barest hint of sweetness. The new dry red, HANGING ROCK is a Foch we are very happy with, we hope tasters like it too.

We have had a lot of requests for our BORDERMEN cranberry wine and we hope to have that out before November. We should be able to keep up this fall with all the fruit wines, once we get them back on the shelf.

We have pretty much all the 2008 vintage on line now and are hard at work on the 2009. We hope to have some surprises for you when you come back in six to nine months to see the first of the new vintage. I was asked the other day whether we would have a Beaujolais Nouveau style wine to offer this year. Oh, what is“Beaujolais” you ask?

It’s a French tradition of drinking the first wine of the new vintage which began a long time ago, but became popular in the early 20th century. The release and process is regulated by law in Europe but not here, so here in the USA when a winery talks about its Beaujolais wine, it’s the first release.

Typically, these early French wines are light in character, often served chilled (!), and fruity in taste. It seems the concept of having a Beaujolais party on November's third Thursday (19th this year) is more about having a party then the wine itself. Half the fun is knowing people around the world are doing what you are doing, drinking red wine before its time.

Now, back to the question “Will Oak Hill Winery have a Nouveau style wine this year?” I don’t know yet, but I was thinking we might see if any of our new reds were drinkable by the 21st, the third Saturday in November (we’re not French, after all) and we just might have a barrel tasting that day…?? We’ll see, keep checking back and we’ll let you know!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Grape New Year

The phone rings, the emails ping-pong back and forth. Prices, brix, acid, and juice-or-fruit questions fly around. Its harvest time and we are scrambling to buy the best fruit and juice to make the new season’s wine.

I admire farmers in general but in my line of work I especially admire vineyard owners. A few days can make for a better or worse crop in terms of when-to-pick; a late rain can dilute the sugar; no sun can inhibit ripeness; and so much of these factors are out of control of the owner.

They can be smart and they can be just fortunate in weather, rain, bugs, and timing. The difference for the wine made from the fruit can be huge and the financial rewards are also up in the air. Some vineyard owners grow for wineries and some grow for their own winery, only their excess is available to us other guys.

But we are happy when we find some great fruit at a good price. I never complain about prices because I know how much work growing grapes is, if the price is too high, I don’t buy. Most often the higher priced fruit comes from the independent growers, they have no winery to subsidize the grape growing. I try to buy at least half my fruit from these folks, they allow small wineries to make great wine through their efforts, they deserve whatever premium they can get for the work.

I love the smell of yeast in the morning, it smells like, victory! Ok, I also love the smell all day….

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cheesecake Details and more

So what is the Cheesecake Festival all about? Well, before we opened we visited many wineries and asked them about many things, including promotional events. Wilson Winery in Delaware County mentioned their BIG EVENT was their own cheesecake making contest, we liked the idea and set up our own the second year we were open.

It was well attended and everyone liked sampling the home-made cheesecakes and the commercial entries as well. The next year I sent a press release out to the surrounding newspapers a few weeks before the event, hoping to get a mention so we could get more entries. The Kokomo Tribune has a very nice entertainment section every Friday (called “Friday” interestingly enough) and the editor is a bright and delightful young lady named Erin Shultz. She called us and came out for an interview and brought a photographer and told us they’d run “a bit” in the Friday newspaper about the event.

They ran a front page “teaser” on both Wednesday and Thursday; then had a large photo of wine and cheesecake on the cover of the section. The article was several pages and clearly, people read it. Over 400 people showed up for our second cheesecake festival. We had people waiting to get in line; to get in the door; to get in line for a taste of cheesecake and wine. We had customers who saw we were swamped and pitched in and helped service cheesecake. I think this big turnout was what helped make this event so big.

I still send out press releases, but we don’t get a quite the response from newspapers these days we did then and honestly, I am glad. Our little building can’t really handle 400 people and that many stresses me and the staff out.

Saturday is also Converse Homecoming Days, a nice town festival in its own right with a parade, vendors, contests, etc. Check it out at:
http://townofconverse.com/homecoming-flyer-2009.pdf

Oh, the entries, yes. If you want to enter the contest, commercial entries can be dropped off Friday or Saturday by 2 pm (open 1-6 both days). Amateur entries can be dropped off Friday all day and Saturday by 4 pm. We suggest you use disposable pans, but we will have any non-disposables ready for pick-up by Monday. There will be a form to fill out and all award winners will be contacted, grand prize winners will have their photo taken and posted in the winery for a year.

I must mention we have Chad Shrock coming by to perform his wandering minstrel show of celtic-to-elvis music from 2-to-5 pm. Come buy and enjoy his show, like all special events at the oak hill winery, its free!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Red hands at night...

Ahh yes, I have them now! Working with red grapes tends to dye your hands a deep, dark, shade of maroon and this does not even consider your clothes. Red wines always stains and yes, we have special cleaner to remove red wine stains, but these are work clothes. The red stains are a mark of honor or at least of effort put forth.

Truth be told this is the work that really makes you take notice of what shape you are in and how old you are. Certainly we use pumps to move most of the juice around, but that still requires a good bit of physical effort.

Recently, we got in a load of white grape juice from out-of-state and the vineyard had frozen the juice to keep it from fermenting while in transit. The unseasonably cold days and nights we have been having did not thaw the containers out as they have in the past by the time they hit our building. The result was grape juice slushy and the first thing to freeze and last thing to thaw is the water portion of the juice.

Now an old hand like myself should have known that, right? Well, I was tired and did not think it through very well. So when I went back the next day to check the sugar and acid level, one tank was 29-brix (very high sugar content) and the other was 16-brix (somewhat low). SO… --I got the pump out and started pumping from one tank to the other until I had a nice 22-brix balanced across both tanks.

Now we just have to wait for the temperature to come up to about 75 degrees and we can add the yeast, then its just another short 6-12 months and it will be wine! Patience is the key in winemaking; oh, and sanitation too.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Indiana Cheese or Cheesecake?

We are coming up on two special events held fairly close together: "Cheese Days" at the winery will begin Saturday, August 29, from 1-6 pm and go until you guys eat all the cheese. What are Cheese Days? We buy many pounds of several specialty cheeses and when you come in to try our wines, we give you free samples to eat along with the wine.

Now, the cynical will say, “You are trying to sell us some cheese!”. Actually, no. While we do sell cheese to anyone who might want to nibble a bit here at the winery, cheese sales represent about .00001% of our business volume; Ok, I made that number up, but its not like cheese sales is a part of our master plan, we sell a little cheese because people expect to be able to buy a chunk of cheese to have with their wine.

Normally we keep a few pounds of cheese in our cooler for customers. We would like to find a regular line of cheese we can stock and sell that is unique and pairs well with our wines. A few years ago we teamed up with an Indiana cheesemaker from southern Indiana, but they stopped selling wholesale. Last year we tried another Indiana maker, but had problems buying wholesale from them because we were not Kroger. Marsh, or Walmart. This year we are trying another Indiana brand from Berne (www.swisslandcheese.com) and we hope you’ll like them.

On Saturday, September 12, we will have our most popular event, the Cheesecake Festival, with free cheesecake samples (yes, it goes with dessert wines) and a cheesecake contest for professional and amateur entries. Watch here next week for more details!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Not-so-pithy Comments on our Michigan trip

We visited several wineries in southwest Michigan this past weekend, a few in northwest Michigan this week and I thought you’d like a report on what we found. Starting on Saturday, August 15, I got irked right off...

We stopped by Lemon Creek, but they wanted $5 for five tastes. Then we went to Round Barn, an old favorite, where they also wanted $5 for five wines, plus one dessert wine, and one vodka taste, - - -the trick was you could also get five tastes at their “sister” winery (Free Run) up the road for that same fee.

We walked out of both since I have a problem (read prior posts here) with fee-based wine tasting AND short wine flights for tasting. I talked to one tasting room manager who was apologetic, explaining why they charged and limited tastes. First, they get hundreds of visitors on weekends and pouring that much wine is expensive (boo-hoo! – my comment). Second, because the wineries are so close together, they worry someone who tastes a lot of wine at each winery will be too drunk to drive.

A basic responsibility of pouring wine samples is you may not pour for someone who is under the influence already. This limit of four, five, or six wines for tasting is supposed to help this problem; it might give them some help in a court case where they are being sued for negligence? Ask a lawyer, but I think better training is the answer…

Hickory Hills was the first winery where we tasted wine and we were very pleased with its efforts. The whites were above average and the reds very good. The tasting room had a window that allowed us to watch them bottling that day. The setting is modest and the tasting room is a bit small, but they got it going on where it counts, the wines were great.

Tabor Hill is the "big monkey" in this part of the state, St Julien’s covers more ground, but Tabor Hill is as well known regionally as ST.J. The tasting room and restaurant are nice, but not great. The tasting room seems geared towards groups and the tasting crew acted a bit bored with their repetitive job. The wine was good, we were limited to six tastes (no charge!). We found several good buys there, but the whole feel of the place was not to my taste. They featured a gourmet chocolate line made in Florida (?) and I thought their tasting room was a bit small for a winery where its known to pack-them-in on the weekends.

Our last stop this day was Founders Cellars, a brand new winery in Boroda, literally a week away from their opening celebration and not yet done decorating. But they were selling wine, so we did a tasting (no charge, no limit) and we met the winemaker. It seems he was formerly with Tabor Hill, then moved to Kentucky where he opened a winery for a number of years. Actually, a good bit of his wine on hand was from his Kentucky winery and labeled as such, but he has a few locally vinted wines already. Good wine, nice folks and reasonable prices too.

Later in the week, we stopped by a unique winery called Douglas Valley, near Manistee. They advertised the fact they were 100% organic based and they were selling lots on their 640-acre land for vacation homes in which you had to have an organic fruit or vegetable plot of one acre or more. I was trying to get whether this was a housing development using a winery to sell land or a winery selling land using a developer? I should say the wine was good, I especially liked their hard cider.

Our last winery jaunt was through the very popular Traverse City area, where wineries are springing up all over the Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas where they grow grapes and cherries like we grow corn and soybeans. I’ll mention just a few of the more then 25 wineries in this area less then 30 miles across and 20 miles tall, we hit a few of our favorites and one new one.

Chateau Chantal is a favorite because it looks the way my winery would look if money was no object. Sitting on a hill overlooking more then 100 acres of vineyard, you can see water on both sides of the peninsula. The tasting room is well designed and handles a crowd well. The wines are top notch, both red and white. The tasting staff gives everyone six tokens to use for six tastes, so we were limited, but our pourer seemed to forget to take a token for each taste, so we got eight.

Next we went to a small winery making superior white wines, Bowers Harbor. I have been drinking their “unwooded” Chardonnay for many years and it is one of the wines I buy without much regard to price (almost no regard). We tried our six allotted tastes and our server was quick to offer a couple more.

The last stop I will write about is a new winery on the Leelanau Peninsula called 45 North. I wanted to stop there in particular because the owner had stopped by our little winery a few weeks prior and bought some wine. It was a huge surprise when we learned the owner hails from Warsaw, Indiana, just about an hour from our place! This winery is not yet complete, the tasting room is not yet done and there is much landscape to finish. The wines are finished, however, and I would like to recommend the 2008 Pinot Gris, which is one of the best I have tasted.

As an Indiana winemaker, I encourage fellow Hoosiers to visit our local wineries, but if you happen to pass a Michigan winery, it might be worth a taste, unless they charge you! J

Your anonymous comments can be made by clicking the “comments” right below this post…

Thursday, August 13, 2009

On the Road Again?

So this weekend we’re going to take a little wine tour of our own, we’re going to hit some of the SW Michigan wineries to see what they are up to. This is an exciting time in the wine biz, we are about a month out of harvest and the forecast is good here in Indiana and in Michigan.

We talked about trying some mainstream grapes as a trial this year and we are going to move ahead with that, focusing on red wines and rhine-style wines. I feel our weakest line has been our dry reds, we’ve had some good ones, but there are not a lot of red grapes that make great dry red wines that grow well in the Midwest. So we are going to take a shot with some Shiraz, cabernet franc, and pinot noir. Small batches, so we will keep those interested up-to-date on “when” they can try them and even buy them if they like’em.

I have been toying with a new batch of Foch I think might do well as a dry red wine, but my intent was to release it as a semi-sweet. Our last batch of SWAYZEE was made with Chancellor grapes, but the batch before that was Foch. Both grapes have a nice flavor with a bit of sweetness. I was very happy with the Chancellor, but it was a test batch (120 gallons) I tried at the urging of a supplier. I had a few folks disappointed that the Swayzee was not a Foch, but many liked the Chancellor version as well or better.

We tend to be flexible with the grape we use for an established label, but we keep that wine in the same style as prior versions. There are a few exceptions due to popularity, like FAIRMOUNT, BUNKER HILL, KOKOMO CIDER, and JALAPA. We have so many people who walk in and ask for these wines by name, we hesitate to monkey with them much, although we always suggest a tasting.

So a future blog will talk about what we learned on our swing through SW Michigan’s wine country, we expect good things!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

into a glass and darkly...

Staring deep into a glass of wine can be mesmerizing. White wine shows shades of gold and amber, of straw and wheat, the light beams through making the glass glow.

Red wine varies from light reds like a stop light to deep purple-black that absorbs the light more then refracts it.

Occasionally, we see small specks floating about the wine, some so small so as to barely visible. We look closely, is that a dead bug? No, just a speck of something left from the winemaking process. Is this something we want to swallow? Is it harmless? The answer is yes, but this begets the further question of why they are little specks in the wine?

Wine particles can be missed by the filtration process or are created when they precipitate out of the wine after bottling. We see this a good bit in our wines since we do not use the “fining” chemicals used by most wineries, preferring to offer “naturally-made” wines as a healthy alternative.

But we continue to learn. Recently we purchased higher grade filters for our bottling line that we expect will have a significant impact on the amount of residual particulate matter in the wine.

The degree to which a winemaker filters his wine is one of personal preference, some winemakers TIGHTLY filter the wine, as low as .45 microns for white and fruit wines. Others do not like to filter below 1, or 5, or even 10 microns for fear of damaging the flavor of the wine.

Filtering is just one process a winemaker can use to affect the appearance of the wine, most use various chemical additives to stabilize the wine, to cause the wine to drop out any possible solids that might fall out in the bottle.

We feel filtering by itself does not significantly deteriorate the flavor of our wines, so we will move forward with our new filters and see what effect it has on the appearance of our products.

For several months we have been using synthetic corks in our wines and with generally good feedback. We’d like to hear from more customers if they like, dislike, or don’t care about this new cork we are using. Can you get it out of the bottle with little problem? Write me and next time we’ll see what you readers write about corks… at oakhillwinery@yahoo.com

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

I was reading a Dilbert cartoon book last evening and one series caught my attention. Dilbert asks his boss to choose between two options, diametrically opposed. His boss says, “Do both!” to Dilbert’s frustration.

It gave me pause as I have been pondering whether to jump in and make some vinifera wines or stick with native and hybrid grapes we’ve been using since we opened. The answer was so obvious I am surprised no one suggested it! “Do both!”

Now that is not as simplistic a thought as you might guess, especially with a small winery having very limited space and storage capacity. But if we do it on a reasonable scale, I think this could work. We will produce a line of vinifera wines to offer in tandem with our regular fare. Of course, we will have to limit how much we make, but this is a solution to allow the customers to taste and decide which they prefer.

One suggestion that a reader did make was to offer both naturally-made and more conventionally made wines. We have been offering low sulfite, naturally made wines since we opened, although there is some frustration with suppliers who sulfite their juices in storage. We’ll address the issue of what impact the “naturally-made” angle of our wine has had on sales and the effect it has on market in an upcoming blog.

Now, does anyone have a really good Pinot Noir recipe? :)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Six Years already?

Yes, we've been open here for six years now, plus two more making wine and remodeling the carriage house, plus two years before that planning and pondering whether we could be successful. But the place has been open to the public for six years...

The traditional sixth anniversary gifts are candy, iron, or wood. Now, we are not wrangling for any gifts ourselves, but we are looking forward to having a nice party for our customers 1-6pm on Saturday, August 8th. I will not promise we will have any candy, iron, or wood for you either, but we will have some fun things going on.

From 1-5 pm we will have free tours of our modest winemaking area at the top of each hour (1-2-3-4-5 pm); We will have live music from 3 to 6 pm outside, under the deck. Chad Schrock is returning to the winery with his unique blend of celtic and modern music, playing mandolin and guitar.

We will be introducing an oaked version of our popular white wine, MISSISSINEWA WHITE, made with Seyval Blanc and spending many months soaking in Hungarian Oak. We’ve been sneaking some sips from the barrel and its going to be good, if I do say so myself. But we only made one barrel, so don’t miss it!

There will be some other stuff happening and some other surprises. We hope to see you there…

Friday, July 24, 2009

Your opinions do count

You guys are funny, no really. 17 emails so far and there is truly no consensus as to what direction the wine drinkers think the wine-maker should go. I love the comment “I think you should keep making sweet wines”, which of course we will. Another thought, “Does it matter what grapes you use, does it make much difference?” The answer to that is “YES!”. Even within the native American grapes, we see a surprising variance from year-to-year on what the juice tastes like and what the wine you make from it tastes like.

Take the sweet (2008) Concord wine we make called “Bunker Hill”, its our best seller and has been since our first year. This vintage is lighter in color (red garnet?) then last years wine, yet it came from the same vineyard. The flavor is pure Concord, but it does not have the intensity or volume of flavor we’ve had in past vintages. Yet some people say, “Like this batch best!” and others say, “Its good, but not as good as last year”.

In my discussions with regular customers, I try to convey the swing it is to start making wines from the European varietals as opposed to the native or hybrid grapes. One person said, “Are you afraid to compete head-to-head with the Big Boys?”. Well, yes and no. My feeling has been I can buy a chardonnay anywhere, but a good seyval blanc is harder to find. I think small local wineries should look at making different wines, wines consumers can’t buy elsewhere.

Yet, there is the question in my head, “How good of a cabernet could I make?” So the thought process goes on, what do you think? Send us an email or click on the “comment” below, no need to register, you may post anonymous or not.

Monday, July 20, 2009

To Vint or not to Vint?

So, we were discussing what grapes we wanted this year to make next year’s wine from? What are the issues and what are the choices? For a small winery it is difficult to make long-term commitments with a particular vineyard.

If a vineyard can produce a couple of tons per acre and we want two tons of a certain grape, what are they going to do with the other six tons? Hopefully sell it to another small winery? We small wineries need to look hard at banding together so we can buy the whole output of a vineyard, assuring them of a fair price and no hassle in disposing of the harvest. But thats another post...

What many small wineries do is buy their juice from large juice resellers, who buy a lot of grapes from a lot of vineyards. The question we are facing right now is what path to take for our better wines and the harvest drives that a bit. Availability and price are key...

This spring we were offered the chance to buy “vinifera” grapes (chardonnay, cabernet, reisling, merlot, etc) at a very good price from a juice supplier who claims high quality PLUS low prices to even us small guys. The vinifera grapes are what the Big Boys make their wines from; the public knows them and asks for them.

For more then seven years we have been promoting hybrid (Foch, Baco, Vidal, Vignoles) and native American “labrusca” grapes (Concord, Niagara, Catawba) and learning to maximize the flavor using our old-fashioned, natural methods.

So, do we try to make Oak Hill Winery versions of the classic French grape varieties, or do we stick with the less traditional grapes we have been venting for over seven years? What do you think dear reader? You may comment below (click on “comments”) or email us at oakhillwinery@yahoo.com.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What grapes from where and when?

So we are pondering our choices for the fall grape harvest. Like most wineries, we do not have our own vineyards, so we seek out vineyard owners and see what grapes they expect to have for the upcoming harvest.

Small wineries like us face the most difficult challenge. We do not have the capacity to buy the whole production of a typical vineyard, so we are often there to ask for a “ton or two” of grapes. We are often called by vineyard owners at the last minute, “We’ve got some extra…” and we appreciate that.

Our own press/crush facilities are small, so we prefer to buy juice for white and fruit wines to simplify the process. Red grapes for serious wines are still necessary, although there are some “cold press” wine-juice producers doing an admirable job of extracting color and complexity in juice form.

When all is said and done, a number of our sweet wines are made with straight juice from juice-suppliers who do a great job of providing excellent quality products at good prices. There are very few wineries in Indiana who do not buy some juice from one of the numerous outlets, although we all prefer to buy locally grown fruit.

What does that mean for the consumer? It’s a fair comparison when you look at buying vegetables or meat or even pasta, there are many sources for these menu ingredients. Some cooks prefer certain suppliers products to get the desired outcome (been watching the Victory Garden too much?). Other chefs give us excellent entrees with ingredients from our local market. This means its up to the consumer to decide what’s important when they make a wine buying decision.

What decisions are we pondering at the Oak Hill Winery this year? Watch here for our next posting…

Monday, July 13, 2009

Notoriety

The primary inspiration for my blog here was two-fold: (1) the fact I wanted my regular customers to be able to keep up with what is and is not happening at the winery; (2) and I enjoyed reading several of the wine blogs that centered on Indiana and Midwest wine specifically. I liked to whole concept of a blog once I got used to it, old dogs, new tricks?

In particular I have enjoyed reading the Indiana Wine Blog (http://indianawineblog.blogspot.com/) by “Charles”, an attorney based in here in Indiana. I had read his blog for several weeks and then checked into the blogspot website for information on having my own. I had tried to keep up a blog on our regular website (www.oakhillwines.com) but found the method tedious, having to use my website program to update it regularly. Blogspot lets you update from any computer at any time and that worked for me a lot better.

The website keeps track of the number of visitors and views each day and its great to see the number grow as time goes on and more people find it. Thanks you for visiting the blog and I will work to keep it up and worthwhile for you to visit, wine is a passion, but writing is a chore.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Winery Vacations?

Have you ever thought about taking a whole vacation built around winery touring? I have, I see those European travel shows where they cruise down the Danube or the Rhine and hit the many wineries perched on the backs of these historic rivers.

I have thought about a swing through France, Italy, or Spain visiting the big and the small, chateau’s and wine cooperatives. The variety of tastes, the scenery, and the people.

Well, I have done this very same thing in Missouri, in Michigan, and in Indiana and found much the same, except no castles of course. This summer we will be visiting a favorite spot, the Traverse City, Michigan area, where there are dozens of wineries in a 30 mile radius, too many to visit in a day or even a weekend.

We will take our annual Missouri fall trip in October and we are considering hitting some old favorites, but quite possibly visiting a new part of the state where we will find a whole different style of winemaking. Of course, we often find a variance in styles from winery to winery within a region or area, but the local fruit often drives a general style with the individual influence of the winemaker making a wine good or great.

One of the driving forces behind the promotion of wine trails and regions is to make it easy for consumers to plan wine-themed trips and vacations. Some folks spend a day, many a weekend, but a few will spend many days making visits to theses wineries and having a great time doing it.

If you’d like help planning your own get-away, we ‘re always happy to make a few suggestion, stop in or email us anytime, oakhillwinery@yahoo.com - www.oakhillwines.com

Monday, July 6, 2009

Summer Event List

Ok, I got a good bit of email asking, "When are these great events of yours?" so heres the list:

Special -Free- Events at the Winery

CHOCOLATE DAYS: Saturday, July 25 we will begin offering free gourmet chocolates with our wine tastings for as long as the good stuff holds out! If you've never had a great red wine and a piece of chocolate in your mouth at the same time, you need to try it!

SIXTH ANNIVERSARY: On Saturday, August 8th we will celebrate our 6th anniversary! Watch our website and blog for announcements on special happenings that day! WINE CLUB: special invitations coming for that evening's special celebration, just for Wine Club Members!

CHEESE DAYS: Saturday August 29 we will begin offering a variety of cheeses with our wine tastings as long as it lasts. Wine and cheese were born to be together, stop in and pick you favorite pairings with our localy made wines.

THE CHEESECAKE FESTIVAL: Saturday, September 12th. Yes, this is our biggest event. Customers bring in cheesecakes for judging and visitors judge the commercial entries. Cheesecake and wine, you say? Oh, yea, this is a great time and the best attended event we have each year. Its also the same weekend as Converse Festival, so come and spend the day...

Other stuff: Ok, so I had problems painting this weekend, it rained Saturday and that screwed my whole schedule up. I'll get back on it and get it done sooner or later....

Friday, June 26, 2009

Summer Time Fun

I was in the winery yesterday and a lady came up and told me how much she enjoyed our wine and the winery and she would be back again and again. I am never sure just how to say “thank you” to comments like that, the two words by themselves seem inadequate. Wine making is a something of a personal thing you share with your customers, our wine is a product we sell, but our philosophy and methods are very personal.

I remember when our first six months in business was wrapping up, we’d had a great beginning and the holiday gift-buying crowd had encouraged us. We were sitting around and talking about what we could do to grow and maintain our sales momentum. I said I was less worried about sales then I was disappointing both repeat and new customers, so many people had said so many nice things about our business and how it was good for the community. I felt we needed to balance these kinds words with actions.

When I suggested regular free events I the winery to our informal “marketing committee”, the discussion turned to how we could leverage these events an maximize wine sales. I said, “No, the free events are our way of saying THANK YOU to our customers.” One of the people there said, “You don’t mind if you sell a little wine too, do you?” Well, of course not, but my response was that was just a side benefit.

So we set up our now familiar rotation of free events. January thru May we offer free in-house seminars on wine related topics, like home winemaking, planning winery vacations, wine basics for beginners, and so on. June through September we would have events to tickle the taste buds. June is the bread baking contest; July we have certain days we offer free samples of gourmet chocolate; August we pair our wine & free cheese samples; and in September, our biggest event, the Cheesecake Festival! Now, we do not offer special events October through December because we are just too busy, but that’s when many new wines are introduced, so its still worth a visit then.

So, I hope you did not miss the bread baking contest on June 27th, but if you did, be sure to watch the website for the dates of our other special events at www.oakhillwines.com.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Limited tasting or "Flights, Good or Bad?"

So you stop into your favorite winery and the well groomed tasting room employee asks the usual, "What kinds of wines do you enjoy?" You tell them you like most all wines and you see them hesitate before responding, "Great, what are your favorites?"

You tell this capable pourer you like dusty dry reds and sinfully sweet fruit wines, plus everything in between. The taster-facilitator says, "Glad to hear it, we would be happy to pour any eight wines for your tasting flight, here's our wine list."

Why have some wineries taken to limiting their customers free wine tastings? Many reasons are given, many are the same as mentioned in the previous post regard paid tastings. Too many pours for too few sales, people coming in for a free tasting and buying nothing, among others.

One issue for many wineries is drunk driving liability. In our small winery we presently are offering nine dry and ten sweet wines. If we pour one ounce samples (a suggested amount) we have provided more then two glasses of wine, enough to have someone be over the legal limit. At our winery, we shoot for about 1/2 ounce samples, two good sips, and only about one glass of wine. Of course, not every one tries all our wines, so they get much less then a full glass in total.

In the wineries I have visited that offered "flights" or limited our tasting, the numbers are between four and eight wines. They suggest you and your spouse share different samples, effectively doubling your tastings, but the amount poured is generally shy of what two people would need for two good sips each.

Like we all things, a balance is needed. One lawsuit lost would put a winery out of business, so we owners must reflect a concern for our livelihood. Yet, over-limiting tasting can limit sales, so the balance must be sought. What do you think? Comment here (see below) or email me at oakhillwinery@yahoo.com.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Paid tastings? pro and con

We offer free winetasting and we always will as far as I am concerned. Many wineries are reconsidering paid winetasting and/or limited tastings as a policy and even a few have adopted such measures for their own business model. What are their motivations?

I will keep the respondents names and wineries unmentioned, I do not ask such questions with the intent to "out" someone on the Blog, but I know its useful information for many.

First, most wineries who now charge (excepting states that require it) do so due to what they describe as "large numbers" of visitors who taste and do not buy. Three wineries mentioned specifically bus tours that use their winery as a "rest stop" on trips to or from somewhere else. One person stated that they had a bus stop by recently with over 40 people on it. Most of them used their restrooms, about 2/3 of the bus people tasted wine, the sales were a total of eleven bottles. Another winery employee complained that they get alot of gambling-boat bus tours that seem to just want to 'catch a wine buzz' as part of their trip and typical sales is less then one bottle per three people tasting. (Our little winery averages just shy of two bottles sold per person tasting).

Two wineries I talked to said they had "several groups each day" that tasted wine, but did not buy. In one case I asked specifically, "Everyday you are open, you expect to see more then ten people who taste, but do not buy?" The answer was a resounding "YES!". The majority of the wineries I talked to tell me they see few people who do not buy after tasting and that is pretty much what we see as well. We generally have less then one person per week who tastes, but does not buy, for whatever reason.

I think it is open for discussion as to whether or not a winery location tends to have it have more non-buyers. A location in a shopping center or downtown with foot traffic will certainly have a higher percentage of drop-in tasters, who do so on a whim, who choose not to make a purchase. The point here is (IMHO) that you chose the location due to higher traffic, do not be surprised at the result of that traffic, more looker/tasters who do not buy.

The main point I carry forward is that free wine tasting is the very foundation of the local winery business. Charging for tasting is certainly the right of the owner, but your business is not growing to your satisfaction after instituting such a policy, I can tell you why sales are not climbing.

I have gotten several emails on the issue of limited tastings (flights) and will get to those in the next installment of this Blog. Please keep in mind our annual BREAD BAKING CONTEST is June 27, 1-6 pm, we will have free bread samples to go with the free wine tasting. All commercial entries must be in by 2pm day of the contest, amateur entries by 4 pm. Email me for more details @ oakhillwinery@yahoo.com or www.oakhillwines.com

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Pay to Taste - evil or good?

So we were on a tasting tour or wineries a few years ago, up near Traverse City, MI, and I took my friends into a favorite winery, one of the big ones. The greeter says "You can pick up your tasting glass over there. $5 each person." I was stunned, I had been there the year before and there was no charge or tasting limits, except for their "premium" brandies and sparkling wines in a special room off to the side.

I turned to my buddies and said, "Sorry guys, they want $5 for a tasting, how about we move on to the other ten or twenty wineries up here that do not charge?" We moved on...

A few states, including Ohio, require a fee be paid for wine tasting, its usually $1 for six, what some call a flight of tastings. The number in a flight seems to vary from place to place, but thats not a big issue.

The question is, dear reader, what effect will paid tasting have on you, as a regular visitor to a winery? What effect would paid tasting have on the nouveau wine taster when he peaks in the door and sees they want $5 for a tasting, limited or no?

What sells wine at our place is the tasting, I would guess 50% of our sales involve wines that the test-taster would not have selected based on description (we'll talk about that) beacsue they generally do not find that wine as good, when tried in the past. Many of our regulars have moved from sweet to dry wines because we encouraged them to keep trying to find a dry wine they liked. Would they have done that for $5 a visit?

Next time we will consider the reason why wineries do charge for tasting, other then when required to by law. Feel free to comment (click comment below) or email me at oakhillwinery@yahoo.com

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

hot weather, good grapes

We took a nice trip up into Michigan for the holiday weekend and we happy to see many new acres of grapes being planted in the southwest portion of the state. Due to the Lake Effect on this region, this area produces very fine white wine grapes like Riesling, Traminette, Vidal, and Chardonnel.

We stopped at a local Michigan winery I had not been to for a long time and were surprised they limited tastings to five samples, yet offered more then two dozen wines. The hostess suggested we share the one ounce pours between us to spread our tastings a bit wider, yet I thought they should drop to 1/2 ounce tastes and give us ten choices.

The hostess said the limit was the owner's policy, not the law. I think its a bad idea myself, I will hesitate to return to that winery knowing I can only try five wines on a given day. I am not courting a free wine buzz, I just think the winery is limiting its sales and hurting return business with such a severe limitation.

Where should you draw the line? Its a fair question, many wineries allow open tasting, some limit it to flights of six to eight wines, a few even have started charging for as few as six tastes. The other consideration is inebriation, how much wine can we serve a customer reasonably at a taste test? I'd like to know what you think, either email me at oakhillwines@yahoo.com or place a comment here (click "comment" below) as to what you think.

Next time we'll address the issue of paid tastings specifically, so be thinking about what your stand on this hot issue is...

www.oakhilwines.com

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ok, there it is now...

When last we talked, there was a question about to be or not to be. Well, we still don't know for sure where we are, but there are a couple of things we do know. First, we did bottle a small sample batch of the dry Vidal and it is a big hit, we called it Pipe Creek Falls and it was well received over the weekend. The dry Riesling, Iron Bridge, was also introduced and described as a good light wine, easy on the mouth.

I had a new barrel sample of our RiverWalk, a dry red made from Cabernet Franc and Chambourcin, that I offered to a few of the Wine Club members for their comments. They said it was good, better then the last batch (you love to hear that) and one test-taster said it was the best wine we had ever made! I guess I'll have to bottle some of that pretty soon.

We have made some small changes in the tasting room recently. We picked up an antique nine-foot oak bench and used it to expand our seating area by about a third. While it has never been our intent to operate a bar in the traditional sense, we have found we are getting more repeat business from folks who like to share a bottle onsite and hang out for an hour, enjoying the atmosphere our little winery has to offer. The Wine Club folks also seem to enjoy the seating area, we see some of these people almost every week!

As we approach the summer season, we look forward to our hours expanding from the present "weekends-only" to a full seven day schedule (1-6 pm) starting June 1. We have our three regulars returning and we are on the lookout for a "weekender" who would work a few (2-3) days each month on Saturdays or Sundays. We need someone with an reasonably open schedule, can work with us through December 31, and is good with people. let us know if you are that person!

www.oakhillwines.com - oakhillwinery@yahoo.com

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

To be or not to be...

I really like dry Rieslings. I try to get a trip into the Michigan southwest and northwest wine countries every year to see what they got new each year. The last couple of years I have stretched the wine-grape budget some and bought a bit of Riesling we could have it in our line-up, even for a few months. We make some as an off-dry, or maybe more of a semi-sweet, somewhere in there sweetness wise. We make some in a dry style and its has been boffo the last few years.

This year I am quite happy with how the semi-sweet is turning out, but less happy with the dry. But mine is only one opinion, I ask my guinea pigs (?) what they think and they say, "Its greeat!" (sorry Tony). So I am going to bottle a little of the dry this week and let the customers feedback whether they like it too.

We will also be releasing a dry Vidal in the next few weeks, its is only nine months old, but seems to be coming along very nicely. A few test-tasters think I should blend it into a semi-sweet due to the nice fruit it shows in the mouth, but I cannot decide.

Another good example is our new (and last) batch of 2007 Bordermen, our cranberry blend wine. I was working alone in the winery, making it up following my recipe for the blend and when I was done, it did not taste right. I messed with it some more, no better. It was darker and tarter then is was supposed to be. I adjusted the sweetness to try to get a balance of the flavor, could not get it right.

It was getting late and I was tired, so I started from scratch, just as if what I now had was what I had to work with, -since it was! I tweaked it a bit and tasted it again, it seemed better. Then the wife came home, I offered her a taste and she said, "Humm, not the same as the last batch, what did you do different?" Duh! If I knew that, --well you know. So I went ahead and bottled some and everyone said "This is great!", so I guess sometimes it just happens and sometimes you make it happen. This the last of the 2007, i takes a good year or more for the cranberry to be ready, so we'll be without Bordermen for a while once the present stock is depleted.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Son of Snarkey Comments

OK, so earlier we heard about the evil Story Inn...

Wait, I think it was the evil anonymous commenter, not the Story Inn that was evil, whatever. The gist of the story was Story's advertising "nearly all" of Indiana wineries were going to be at the Story Wine Fair, while in reality about half were actually there. A correction needs to be made also, this year the Inn charged the wineries $100 each to participate, last year it was free.

The result? Great weather and a tremendous turn out made this years fair a huge success by most reports. "Most" you say? Well, as with all things the comments are both good and bad. Some wineries reported near sell-outs on the sweet wines they'd brought along, others reported very modest sales, although it seemed that was in the dryer wines that sales were less impressive.

One complaint I heard from one winery was Story was selling beer onsite. They do have a bar in the restaurant, but the impression (not fact) was they had an outside place selling beer, more or less in competition with the wineries selling wine. That ticked some people off.

The only complaint I heard from any attendee was, "There was alot of people there!", and that's a hard thing to complain about. The 2009 Story Wine Fair was a success and those who were not happy can choose not to attend next year, winery or wine drinker alike.

I do hope Story will be a bit more truthful in their marketing efforts in 2010, they got a good thing going on and there is no reason to muck it up with such inaccurate advertising, honking off people who should be helping them promote the event.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

irked over oil

Ok, I recognize this is a wine-related blog, but give me a minute to get this out of my system.

Oil prices went up roughly ten percent Monday-Tuesday of this week. Every gas station raised their prices more then ten percent by end of the day Tuesday.

Yet CNN reports: "The nation's stockpiles of crude are at their highest levels since 1990, while demand for oil is down nearly 11% to its lowest level since 1999."

Does this make sense to anyone? Its should because this constant price changes allow gasoline suppliers to make alot of money when they can raise the price of on-hand product they paid alot less for. What really galls me is they all do it at once, which shows there has to be some form of communication between the gasoline companies, thats not right!

OK, I am done now, thanks!

More wine news in the near future...

Friday, May 1, 2009

a rose by any other name

Its been about eight years ago since we first started talking about wine label names. I had spent hours considering what to call the wines and I had wandered numerous stores and wineries considering what worked best. One choice is to use a simple varietal name, like "Seyval Blanc" or "Niagara"; yet this seemed a little uninspired to me. Plus, if I changed what grapes I chose to use or could get, I'd have some unusable labels.

Fanciful names have caught on big in recent years, some using "impolite" words or slang terms to catch a shoppers interest. We do not sell our wines anywhere but at the winery, did not plan to distribute to stores or restaurants, so pure "shelf appeal" was not a consideration. But yet, I wanted a name our customers could relate to.

I began to make a list, Ii wanted 24 names to start with. I realized by using generic names I could use almost any label for almost any wine. So went the list, cool sounding names like "Zenith" (OK, not a a TV?); "Fraternity"; "Wistful" (descriptive?); and so on. Within a month I had my 24 names and we went on with making wine, re-habbing the carriage house, and developing marketing plans.

At some point, someone said, "How about "Converse" for a wine name?"; "Nah, that's a tennis shoe...", then my mind started thinking about other local names that did work, maybe, just maybe...;

So we decided to go forward, using local names of towns, points of interest, and Indiana rivers as our wine names. Its was one of the best ideas we had, yes, "we", because when I started asking friends and family, they are said "YES!" and made a few suggestions, some of which I actually used.

To use a label name, you have to get it approved by the federal government. One amusing point here is the government does not charge anything for wine label applications and approvals. How they missed that one, I have no idea. Some names are zapped because someone else is already using it, although there must be some latitude, possibly by location, since I have seen duplicate names before.

I am working up some new names for wines in years to come, if you'd like to make a suggestion, send it to us here at the winery by email or postal carrier, we don't pay anything but I'll slap a label on a white t-shirt and give it to you if we use your idea! So generous...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Sunshine on my shoulder

Now we have had a piece of summer dropped on us, at least a few days. This can really help with grapes; a warm, early spring with lots of sun and warmth. Of course, a day of frost and a drop below freezing can smack the buds hard enough to kill a huge share of the crop.

A comon question in the tasting room is "Do you grow your own grapes?" and we do not. What suprises most people just how many wineries do not grow their own fruit or, those who do have some vineyards, grow a very small percentage.

Is this a good or bad thing? There is a preference among many winemakers I have talked to to use local fruit, but using out-of-state suppliers is not just an economic decision. Indiana's vineyards cannot produce more then about 200,000 gallons of juice a year, well under the one million-plus gallons of wine produced in-state.

But for myself, it comes down not to just the dollars, the land, equipment, labor, etc. I am no farmer and I know enough about grape growing to talk about it, but not enough to actually do it, beyond the few vines we have in our yard. Vines are very labor intensive, with little mechanization possible, so alot of stoop work is called for beyond the knowledge and assoicated costs.

It is an interesting fact that while California has over 1/2 million acres of grapes (Indiana under 500 acres), less then ten percent of California wineries are 100% estate grown. Estate grown means they grow their own grape and make their own wine from those same grapes. Of the 90 percent remaining, less then 50% have producing commercial vineyards, the grapes they grow around the place are just for ambience.

When you consider that about 45% of all US wineries are located in California (2700 of 6000 in 2008), that speaks to the fact that all winemakers are not farmers and not all farmers, or winegrape growers, are not winemakers; at least commercially.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Its about time...

Yea! The statehouse did drop the statewide alcohol tax increase under what was described as "extreme pressure" from the public. I suspect the pressure was from the distributors as much as any actual public response. It seems the tax has remained the same since 1981 and Indiana has the lowest level of taxation in the midwest, alcohol-wise. I think they might have considered an increase, but not a doubling of the tax as a good compromise.

After much effort, we are happy to announce Bunker Hill and Fairmount are back in stock. Its the 2008 vintage and as with every year, the flavor is slightly different. We enjoy getting fruit from Michigan when Indiana-grown is not available, the flavor is great, and its got its own unique charactor. My favorite point in Michigan Concord grapes is how RED they are, not the traditional deep purple, but a bright red. This has to do with the soil they grow in, more sand then dirt, so the mineral up-take is different. Its very pretty in the glass...

There's still a few places open for the free home winemaking seminar next weekend, so let us know if you'd like to come.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Purple Hands

Working in the winery is something you have to love, otherwise you do not want to own a winery. You have to like scrubbing gunk out of barrels; you have to like cleaning and then re-cleaning the same barrel until it smells clean and fresh; You have to like scraping encrusted crystals off the side of your barrels, then cleaning it again; You get the idea...

If you can't do the scut-work, don't start the business! Yes you could hire a person to do this work for you, but if they slack even a little, the effect it will have on your product will cause you to go back and clean those barrels twice more yourself!

Yes, I am talking about us little guys, the small mom-'n'-pop wineries. I visited a large winery recently and watched the seven people running the bottle line and talked to the four guys who handle cleaning and warehouse duties. I think I was most envious of the forklift, I could really use one to save me some work, but those things are expensive to buy and keep-up. Oh well.

I did have a bit of good news in the winery this week, we have been tinkering with a new dry white wine, a blend of two different grape wines I was not quite satisfied with. A primary motivation for blending is to make a better wine out of wines that individually are unremarkable. Sometimes blending in as little as 5%-10% of one wine makes another wine come alive or adds a missing attribute, making it so much better.

Oh, yes! One of the other downside of working in the winery is Purple Hands. I am trying to jump-start the Concord wine and in the process of racking it almost any red wine, you tend to get Purple Hands, and Purple Pants, and Purple Shirts, and even Purple Socks. I wondered if Prince could do a song about that...???