Hoosier wine making a mark

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By: Marshall V. King

Jennifer Shephard/The Elkhart Truth

Brian Moeller of Fremont, Ind., is a self-described “bio-nerd” who has cared for his family’s golf course and driven a dump truck. But he’s also a winemaker who uses practices he calls “eco-groovy.”

Down the road and around the corner, Larry Satek is a former chemist overseeing Satek Winery, which has won medals and acclaim.

An hour to the west near Bristol, Dave Muir, an engineer with a family orchard, is practicing the craft of putting grapes into a bottle.

In a world where bottles and labels crowd the shelf, these Indiana winemakers are looking for a way to get into the glasses of consumers.

“I always like to say we’re centrally isolated.”

Indiana isn’t synonymous with winemaking, but people are learning what the state can produce and what’s good. A new trail linking seven northeast Indiana wineries can help.

“It’s difficult. People still think Indiana only makes sweet wine, and we do so much more,” said Jeanette Merritt, marketing director of the Indiana Wine Grape Council. “I guarantee people will walk into a winery in the state and find a wine they like.”

Indiana has 73 commercial wineries and five wine trails, including the newest WINE Tour.

Merritt worked with Moeller, Muir and those at five other wineries. They’ve created WINE Tour, a trail of seven wineries in the northeast quarter of the state.

The idea developed at a meeting several years ago, Muir said. After seeing other wine trails, winemakers started talking and opted to put together a trail east of U.S. 31 in the northern half of the state.

It took time, money and effort. Even now, it’s still new enough that linking the wineries in terms of how they send customers to each other is still a work in progress. But it’s helping.

“We have benefitted from it,” said Muir, who operates Fruit Hills Winery & Orchard, 55053 S.R. 15, Bristol, with his wife Michele and their son and daughter-in-law Nathan and Brittany.

The trail is a celebration of the diversity the wineries offer.

When Satek Winery opened in 2001, there were 20 wineries in the state. Some have come and gone since then, but overall the number has grown.

“We’re carving out our spot on the world market,” said Shane Christ, associate winemaker for Satek.

The Indy International Wine Festival attracts a couple thousand wines annually from 37 states and 15 countries. But the last two years, the Wine of the Year has been from Indiana, Merritt said.

At Satek, the business keeps growing on the patch of glacial gravel in northeast Indiana. “There are some great varieties that do very well here and make world-class wines,” Larry Satek said.

The trail is a celebration of the diversity the wineries offer. They can all take the same grape – picked locally by Amish girls or imported from California – and make different wines, Christ said.

The goal is to attract visitors from Indianapolis, Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland. “We’re perfectly situated for that,” said Larry Satek. “I always like to say we’re centrally isolated.”

His son Jason said visitors are more likely to come for two wineries than for one. Seven makes the loop even stronger.

Every winemaker has a story of how they got there. At Briali Vineyards, Moeller made his first wine from his own grapes. And he’s working to make wine from grapes not treated with chemicals, though he’s not interested in paying for organic certifications.

“I will never claim it will make a better wine,” he said. “What happens is you’re not polluting the groundwater and you’re not disturbing that ecosystem in the soil.”

Like many Hoosier winemakers, he’s making arrangements with growers in Michigan, California and Washington and producing wines from them. He can do the chemistry – the art – of winemaking. “I do a lot of experiments here just for my own learning curve,” he said. He’s putting white wines in bourbon barrels to see what happens.

Frank Piaskowy, a wine expert from Goshen who organized the visit to Satek and Briali, called Moeller a “Claude Monet of Indiana wine.” He’s willing to take risks and try things as he produces excellent wines.

Muir harnesses the family orchard and that experience to make food-friendly wines, Piaskowy said.

Satek’s wines are technically sound and produced from a winery with a solid business model.

Each of the three takes a different approach, but they all work. And you can taste how well.

Merritt said the education about Indiana wines will continue, and people can buy good wine locally. “Indiana’s local. For those who want to support local agriculture, local food, we have that answer.”

Marshall V. King is managing editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at 574-296-5805, mking@etruth.com, on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Take the full WINE Tour and taste for yourself what Indiana winemakers bring to the palate. 

Wineries of Indiana’s Northeast

Fruit Hills Winery & Orchard
55503 S.R. 15, Bristol
574-849-9463

Briali Vineyards
102 W. S.R. 120, Fremont
260-316-5156

Satek Winery
6208 N. Van Guilder Road, Fremont
260-495-9463

Two EE’s Winery
6808 N. U.S. 24 East, Huntington
260-672-2000

McClure’s Orchard/Winery
5054 N. U.S. 31, Peru
765-985-9000

Tonne Winery
101 W. Royerton Road, Muncie
765-896-9821

Country Heritage Winery & Vineyard
185 C.R. 68, LaOtto
260-637-2980

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