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 ( 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