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...???

Monday, April 13, 2009

Winemaking is work, sometimes

Ok, so I am getting grief from the regulars because we are out of two of our best selers, Bunker Hill and Fairmount. Last year we upped our production volume on these 10% to cover sales increases, but sales went up 15%!

So there I was on Sunday, checking the barrels on both the Concord and Niagara wines we make these out of. The 2007 vintage is long gone, I am waiting, impatiently, on the 2008. Making wines naturally as we do, we are a little handicapped. There are things you can add to the young wine to cause it to mature more rapidly, but we don't add chemicals to our wines. You can rack (transfer from barrel to barrel) the wines a bit more often, but this is more work and costs more money to do, since we use inert gases to reduce the impact of oxygen on the wine.

So it looks like, maybe, the new vintages will be available fairly soon, at least the sweet versions. It seems the sweet wines can be marketed younger then the dry ones, it takes more time for the good charactor of a dry wine to come forward, while the sweet ones seem to be more forgiving, flavorwise.

We hope to introduce a few special wines, in limited supply, fairly soon. It is very rewarding to see the excitment new wines bring to the eyes of my customers. I guess it is one reason I love making wine, finding that some people find great delight in drinking what I have made.

UPCOMING STUFF: We have a free workshop on home winemaking coming up April 26 at 4:30 pm; In May we will hold an open house for the winemaking area; June will be the bread-baking contest for both professionals and amatuers; July is free chocolate days; August is free cheese days; and September will be the cheescake festival; see our website for more information

Friday, April 10, 2009

Snarky Comments?

I was surfing my favorite wine blogs recently and ran into several that complained about negative comments about the Story Inn's Wine Fair. The jist of these complaints were that the author of these few sentences railed about the fact that the Story Inn was making a profit on this event. I thought about that issue a bit and I do not have any problem with someone putting on such an event nor making money on it. So I went to read the comment...

Anonymous said: "Well, I do not think having about half the wineries in Indiana there constitutes having nearly all of them there. Its a good turn-out, but the comment is very misleading.This is a money-making venture for Story. If you like this sort of thing go, otherwise go to Vintage Indiana or your local winery."

Hummm, seems the complaint centered on a comment made on the Story Inn's website were it reads "Nearly every Indiana winery" ...would be in attendance. On the same website they list about 15 wineries that have participated in the past, so it may be the writer knows there are presently 40 Indiana wineries and that 15 does not equal "nearly every...".

I watched a video on The Hoosier Wine Cellar where the owner of Story stated "About 30 wineries..." would be at this year's event. Now, 30 out of 40 is a very good turnout and whether we want to argue the semantics, -does this constitute "nearly every" winery- is up to you, dear reader.

I think you have to read all of the comment, the writer says to go if you like this sort of thing, otherwise go to Vintage Indiana or your local winery.

Now, the Oak Hill Winery is not going to be at Story now or in the future, I do not think a wine festival is evil, I have attended Vintage Indiana on numerous occasions and I will again. I will say these types of events are no substitiute for visitng the winery, seeing what they do and how they do it, enjoying the ambience of the location, etc. Also, you can't really give the wines a fair shake tasting in this kind of an atmosphere or by tasting that many wines in one day. If I were in charge, I would rotate the wineries that want to attend and limit how many can be there in a given year.

I suspect one question is why is there such a good turn-out of wineries for this event, compared to something like Vintage? There are a number of reasons, one is there is no charge to the wineries for coming. The wineries are the reason to go to the wine fair, so they quite wisely do not charge for a winery's space (yet?). The other is the Story people do a very good job of recruiting for the fair, we received at least two mailings and two telephone calls, encouraging us to come. None of this makes it a bad event, clearly the owner of Story knows what he is doing and is to be commended for this fine marketing effort for his business and the surrounding area.

My whole point is my suprise at the comments made against this anonymous writer for expressing his personal opinion of the event and the claims made in its marketing. Oh well, we all have our opinions, do we not? Hope it doesn't rain the day of the event...

Friday, April 3, 2009

I do not do politics...

But I am am struggling with the issue of the statehouse doubling the tax on wine. Its not like I am going to picket or write letters, its just ticks me off that they want to rasie a tax because they are running out of money to run the huge sports venues in Indy.

Now, they say that locally collected taxes will be used locally, only Marion County taxes will be used to support the Stadium and the Fieldhouse. So why do we (and you) have to pay more for wine, beer, and spirits because the guys running these places cannot spend the money right?

Ok, thanks, I am going to try to get past it now. On to more interesting things...

I heard from the Indiana Wine & Grape Council that there are as many as ten new wineries set to open in 2009, WOW! From 40 to 50 in one year, in this economy? The odd thing is most winery owners do not see this as a bad thing, since most (but not all) act as promoters of the Indiana wine industry as well as out own winery. I suspect the liquor and wine distributors and retailers will be not as happy about this as they might be. Too many of these folks see wineries as stealing a portion of their business, but in my winery I see people becoming new wine drinkers every day. That means there are more people visiting the retailers looking at wine, people who did not come in looking at wine before and I think that is good for the retailers, they need to see that we are feeding them more business then we are supposedly taking from them.

In our winery, we have been working hard trying to get the 2008 vintage ready to bottle. We are out of two of our big sellers, due to higher demand then we expected. We have a few old favorites made from Michigan grapes we hope are a surprise to our regulars and a delite to new visitors.

On April 25, we will host another free, 90-minute seminar, this one on home winemaking. We limit attendance to 20 people (its a small space people!) so resreve your space soon at

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Wow, a blog....

Ok, I know I am what many would term an "old guy", but even we old guys can learn a few new tricks.

It seems there are a number of people out there with a few minutes to spare and these people enjoy reading "blogs". In essence, the thoughts, ramblings, and expertise of someone who is willing to spend some time writing down their thoughts, ramblings, and, well, you know.

Why a blog? Well, several people have convinced me its good for business. Several other people have said they would enjoy reading a blog about a winemaker and a small winery. What appeals to me is the fact I can knock out something in a fairly short amount of time and keep connected with the above people, get news about wine, Indiana wine, and specifically Oak Hill Winery news and stuff.

It may take me some time to learn all the ins-and-outs of the system here, of the right and worng way to blog, but thanks for poking your head in and looking around. I'll try to make your time visiting worthwhile...