Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Who Knew Southern Indiana Wine Country Was So Beautiful? – A Visit to Huber Winery

Vineyard at Huber Winery, Indiana
(Tues., July 28, 2015) Who knew Southern Indiana was so beautiful?  I had flown from San Francisco to Indianapolis and rented an SUV to drive two hours south on Highway 64 to the Uplands AVA of Indiana. My destination was Huber Winery, the largest and oldest winery in Indiana. Situated only a few miles from the Kentucky border, this part of Indiana is graced with gentle rolling hills, green valleys filled with orchards, rows of corn and vineyards.

As soon as I turned on State Road 60, I saw charming farmhouses surrounded by large emerald lawns - many with small ponds featuring fat white ducks or chickens wandering around the yard.  Every few miles a tall church steeple signaled a small town or village, with tiny stores selling fruit or local wares. I was delighted because I realized this was another one of the enchanting parts of rural America that made wine. There are so many parts of this country where winemakers are creating beautiful products that the rest of the nation does not know about.  Nothing delights me more than discovering a new land of wine.

The state of Indiana actually has over 80 wineries now, but just 9 in the Uplands AVA. Huber was established in 1843 by Simon Huber who came from Baden-Baden, Germany, and began planting orchards and vineyards. Today Huber is still family run with Ted and Dana Huber at the helm. I had met them earlier this year at a conference in California and they had invited me to visit.

About Huber Winery

Tasting Room at Huber Winery
The estate is very large with 1000 acres of various crops, including peaches, berries, apples, corn, rye and 85 acres of winegrapes. They specialize in cabernet franc, blaufrankisch,traminette, and vignoles, but grow many other varietals as well, including an amazing tannat, an old world style cabernet sauvignon, chambercin chardonnel, and seyval blanc.  In addition to the winery, they have an award winning distillery producing some of the best American brandy I’ve ever tasted, a large store that sells fresh fruit and vegetables, and an event center.  The Wine Club is very active with over 1200 members.

Total wine production is around 50,000 cases per year, including about 5,000 cases of fruit wine that is only sold locally. They hire around 70 full-time employees and swell to over 150 during harvest. Ted explained that their strategy was to create a sustainable family business that could create revenue year-round, rather than just based on winey harvest.  Because of this they also offer many other seasonable products, such as pumpkins and apples in November and Christmas trees in December. Their most profitable segment is events, explaining the very large event center where they host corporate meetings and more than 80 weddings per year.

Fruit Market at Huber Winery
Interestingly they have a 3-way alcohol license that allows them to produce and sell wine, spirits, and other alcoholic beverages in the event halls.

Viticulture Farming Methods

The landscape is gently rolling hills with a mixture of clay, rock and limestone soils.  Since they are warmer than other parts of Indiana, they can grow more vitis vinifera varieties, such as cabernet franc and merlot.  However due to the humid summers and some heavy rains, they must spray with sulfur or other sustainable sprays every 14 days during the growing season to prevent powdery mildew. Probably the most interesting viticulture practice I saw the planting of Christmas trees in the small valleys between the vineyard blocks, because the frost forms in the valleys and it is too cold for grapes, but perfect for Christmas trees!

Wine Tasting Highlights

I enjoyed tasting more than 15 different wines and spirits during my visit, and cannot list all of them here.  However, some of the highlights are as follows:

2014 Seyval Blanc – grassy nose; lemon zest on palate, refreshing acid, and hint of sweetness. Similar to sauvignon blanc, but ends with a bitter edge. 86

2013 Chardonnel, Barrel-Fermented – nose of ripe apple; follows through on palate with complex spice. Very soft and creamy with high acid.  Very pleasurable, with medium length finish. Would be hard to distinguish as chardonnel in a blind tasting of barrel-fermented chardonnay. 89

NV Valvrin Muscat – beautiful floral nose, white nectarine on palate; bone dry with amazingly high acidity.  Very refreshing. Great for a summer day. 90

NV Harvest Rose – beautiful dark pink color from syrah base; fresh strawberry and floral nose with dry palate and crisp acidity. Makes for a refreshing summer aperitif. 89

2014 Vignoles – soft floral and peach nose; mango and peach fuzz on palate; velvety body with very high acid (.9) and only 11% alcohol.  Very similar to a high-end German Riesling.  Well-made and delicious. 94

2010 Heritage – this was my favorite. A truly surprising, complex and Old World style blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and petit verdot, barrel aged for 14 months. It had rich earth, mushroom, black fruit, spice and cedar notes with tight, but finely structure tannins, and a very long finish. This would be fun to put into a blind tasting with Bordeaux and Napa blends to see if anyone could guess it came from Indiana.  I bet not! 92