Hoosier Wineaux: A youthful entrepreneurial couple working together in Northeast Indiana

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By: Frank Piaskowy

Flavor 574 photo/Frank Piaskowy

Two-EE’s says it all when considering the winery in Huntington, owned by Eric and Emily Harris. The name not only celebrates the husband/wife partnership, but also reflects a business plan that focuses on relationships.

I met Eric last year at the Indy International Wine Competition where he served as a judge. He is a 31-year-old who won “Rising Star Winemaker” in 2013 and 2014 at the International Wine Channel TV awards competition. The honor is given annually to the most promising winemaker under the age of 35.

Emily received a Bachelor of Science in Interior Design at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. The concept for the winery (which was constructed and opened in 2013) was her senior project in 2010. The layout has inviting and sunlit spaces, with floor-to-ceiling windows that separate the tasting room from the production area.

Eric’s passion for winemaking and early mentoring came as a result of Dennis, his then future father-in-law. In 2000, the two of them, along with a Fort Wayne neighbor, began making wine in Dennis’ basement. Their friend, Larry Satek, was invited at one point to critique their amateur efforts. Subsequently, Eric was offered a job and worked at Satek Winery for several years.

In 2011, Eric made arrangements through family acquaintances who operate a winery in Clarksburg, Calif., to purchase grapes and use their facilities to produce his first commercial vintage. The grapes were harvested, crushed, vinified and racked over a two-week period. The wine was bonded and then shipped in new oak barrels to age in Indiana. It was this wine which eventually became the initial red vinifera portfolio in 2013.

To diversify sources and ensure adequate supplies, grapes have been utilized from California, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania since 2012. When selecting growers, Eric uses a vetting process that begins with personally liking them. Based on his experience and formal training at UC Davis, he quickly assesses their viticulture knowledge and commitment to vineyard management.

The 2012 vintage was produced at Briali Winery near Angola, thanks to fellow vintner Brian Moeller. After Two-EE’s opened in May 2013, 7000 gallons were bottled. Subsequent years have seen 16,500 gallons in 2014; 22,500 gallons in 2015; and with 30,000 gallons projected this year.

According to Eric, the greatest challenge at this point is “keeping up with demand.”  As I see it, the winery’s success has been based on a number of factors.

  • The wines are well balanced, approachable and interesting, whether vinifera or hybid grapes or other fruits. While dry reds are more reflective of his style, Eric acknowledges that sweet wines are the top sellers. According to him, it is “all the same task.” Currently, he has a blackberry wine being aged in bourbon barrels.
  • Unique varietal grapes are often chosen to avoid tasters’ preconceptions. Most of us are familiar with Chardonnay or Merlot, but when was the last time you had an Aglianico or Gruner Veltliner. I was able to barrel taste a terrific Tannat that will be released soon.
  • Affiliation with conscientious growers is a priority. Finding and using Indiana grown fruit is an ongoing process. Grapes are currently available from Noble County, but Dekalb County is an anticipated source in the near future.
  • Two-EE’s wines are available in retail outlets and restaurants from Fort Wayne to South Bend and as far south as Peru. Distribution in the Indianapolis market is anticipated later this year.
  • The winery and patio are a destination in themselves. When first approaching the property, one can’t help but be struck by the organic architecture of the design. The interior conveys a sense of openness, transparency and causal refinement.

Eric and Emily like to say their modern winery and appealing wines are a reflection of themselves as a couple. I suspect they would be in agreement with Seth Godin who said “people do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic.”

VIGNETTES:

  • To convert gallons to cases of wine, multiple by 5.04 and divide by 12. Using the formula, 30,000 gallons would translate into approximately 150,000 bottles or 12,500 cases.
  • A one-acre plot of Vignoles just west of the patio was replanted last year after the original vines didn’t survive the prior winter. The intention is to produce a late harvest dessert wine.
  • The patio was expanded from 720-square-feet to 3200-square-feet in 2014 because the volume of on-premise sales was unanticipated. Heaters and fabric walls have been added to allow for nearly year-round use.  During weekends, it is not unusual to have crowds of 100 to 200 patrons at any given time.
  • As their business grows, so does their family. The couple is expecting their first child this summer.
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