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

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


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 ( 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 ( 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, -

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....