No disrespect to California, but Indiana actually lays claim to the first commercial wine-producing region in the United States. Swiss immigrant John James Dufour settled into the southeastern region of the state along the banks of the Ohio River in the early 1800s, producing the first “New Switzerland” wine with his family around 1806-1807.
The Indiana wine industry flourished until the mid-1860s when diseases ravished the vines and men abandoned their farms to join the Civil War ranks. During the 1920s and 1930s, Prohibition only hindered matters further, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that Indiana wine producers started to find their footing once again and a renaissance began.
These days, Indiana wine is alive and well with prolific operations scattered across the state offering award-winning products and memorable tasting experiences. The Indiana Wine Grape Council, formed in 1989 and based at Purdue University, seeks to enhance the state’s economic development by establishing a successful wine grape industry through research and market development. And designated wine trails make it fun and convenient to explore the varietals and producers within several geographic regions.
Indiana Wine Trail
In Dufour’s neck of the woods in the Ohio River Valley, the Indiana Wine Trail traverses three southeastern Indiana counties, taking in six artisanal wineries in total.
The charming riverfront town of Madison provides a historic backdrop for Lanthier Winery and Thomas Family Winery, with Madison Vineyards Estate Winery to the north, home to a schedule of monthly Twilight Tasting wine dinners. The Ridge Winery along the Ohio River Scenic Route nestles into the tiny town of Vevay just upriver. Ertel Cellars Winery makes its home to the north in Batesville, and Stream Cliff Farm Winery, situated in a former blacksmithing shop, marks the westernmost point on the trail in Commiskey.
To complement the vino, Ertel Cellars maintains a full-service bistro open for lunch and dinner, and Stream Cliff Herb Farm and Tearoom serves gourmet lunches from April through October. Visitors who want to stay over amid the vines can check into the Madison Vineyard Estate’s on-site bed-and-breakfast.
Indiana Uplands Wine Trail
With locations studded across the south-central portion of Indiana from Bloomington and Brown County down to French Lick and Uniontown, the Indiana Uplands Wine Trail was created to give the wines and winemakers of this region their own platform from which to shine.
The Indiana Uplands was the first established wine trail in the state, and has grown from seven to nine wineries since its inauguration in 2003. Today, the trail boasts a membership that includes Huber’s Orchard, Winery & Vineyards, Oliver Winery, French Lick Winery, Butler Winery, Brown County Winery, Owen Valley Winery, Winzerwald Winery, Turtle Run Winery, and Best Vineyards Winery.
The Vintage Cafe at French Lick Winery is a good place to find a wine-friendly menu and housemade Italian fare in a relaxed atmosphere. Huber’s Orchard, Winery & Vineyards also runs the Starlight Café on its grounds, in addition to a cheese and ice cream shop. For overnighters, the historic French Lick Springs Hotel and West Baden Springs Hotel both offer resort-style accommodation, ideally positioned at the wine trail’s midway point.
Hoosier Wine Trail
Showcasing seven southern Indiana wineries set among picturesque rolling hills near the I-64 corridor between Lynnville and Clarksville, the Hoosier Wine Trail launched in 2012 to foster the making, growing, selling and appreciation of Indiana wine. The current list of participants includes Mystique Winery, Monkey Hollow Winery, Pepper’s Ridge Winery, Blue Heron Vineyards & Winery, Indian Creek Winery, Scout Mountain Winery and River City Winery.
“Overall, our wineries are small, friendly, earthy and family-owned,” says Blue Heron’s Lynn Dauby, a member and past president of the Hoosier Wine Trail. “Each winery features some or many Indiana-grown grape wines. Each of us has a label we call “˜Hoosier Red’ that utilizes the Chambourcin grape.”
For sustenance, the Wollenman House in Ferdinand does double duty as an off-site tasting room for Monkey Hollow “” don’t miss the house salad made with fresh grapes. Time a River City Winery visit for lunch or dinner to enjoy brick oven-fired pizzas and other upscale bistro offerings. Wind down a day of tasting at the Blue Heron’s Farm House Bed and Breakfast, a sweetly remodelled 1937 bungalow a mile from the tasting room, or at Scout Mountain’s cozy rentable cottage hideaway.
Indy Wine Trail
Radiating out from Indianapolis in the centre of the state, the Indy Wine Trail encompasses six wineries in a variety of settings. Inspired by the Finger Lakes wine-producing region in New York, several local wineries banded together to found the Indy Wine Trail nine years ago.
This path runs through both urban settings and rural properties, giving trailblazers a change of scenery to enjoy along the way. Participating wineries include Buck Creek Winery, Cedar Creek Winery, Chateau Thomas Winery, Easley Winery, Mallow Run Winery and Simmons Winery. Here, visitors can taste a diverse line-up of products from European-style dry wines to sweet, fruit-based sippers perfect for the summer months.
Simmons Winery bakes up pizzas and other casual fare seven days a week. On the weekends and during special events, Cedar Creek, Chateau Thomas, and Mallow Run offer food service, and food trucks are a common sight during seasonal concerts at Easley and Buck Creek wineries. Other wine-friendly restaurants abound throughout the metro Indianapolis area. Or, visit one of the many local farmers markets to pack your own homegrown picnic.
Cardinal Flight Wine Trail
Just to the north of Indianapolis, this brand-new Hoosier wine trail entity pays tribute to Indiana’s state bird. Blackhawk Winery and Vineyard, Harmony Winery, Hopwood Cellars Winery, Madison County Winery and Vineyard, and Traders Point Winery are the trailblazing participants.
Although the southern portion of Indiana is where Hoosier grapes were originally grown, the northern section of the state also houses its fair share of wineries and vineyards, from the Chicago region across to South Bend and Angola down to Indianapolis. For a full map and directory of Indiana wineries, visit Indiana Wines.
Header image © French Lick Winery
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Written by Amy Lynch