Join My Virtual Oregon Wine Tour


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Grape Sense was born in October of 2007. This column is my 207th since No. 1, which was an introduction. I’ve written about wine, food, wine travel, documented my wine travel, and much more.

grape-sense-logoI’ve heard from lots of readers the past nine years and have enjoyed watching circulation peak at approximately 300,000 homes at one point. Most of the papers carrying Grape Sense are in Indiana. I always pause in October to contemplate how well this effort has worked out. I also try to think of something different for the column.

I’ve written here. and for a couple of other publications, quite a bit about wine travel. I have not written much about social media but do refer to this wine blog quite often –

So this may sound crazy but let’s try this together. I want you to come along with me to the Willamette Valley Oct. 28-31. No, don’t go packing a bag because it’s going to be a virtual wine trip. I have gotten lots of questions through the years from Grape Sense readers about wine travel and many people would like to make a trip.

I am headed to Portland for a long weekend with some wine drinking buddies. I have documented these trips in the blog previously. But this time I’m going to take a different approach. I shall use my blog to journal more than just post a few photos and maybe a few observations.

I’m going to detail the kind of places our group of four is staying, how we’re getting around, where we’re eating, and of course our winery stops. I’m going to include what things cost, the distances traveled, and describe each experience with details beyond the glasses of wine.

I’ve never tried this approach but have seen others do it. The posts will be long but I think it will be a fun writing challenge. As a writer, you’ll notice much of this column is written today in first person. I seldom do that but I want you to come with me to Oregon and enjoy the food, wine and sites. I want you to do that on your home computer not as a passive observer but with me.

Visit the blog and read my “journal” entries then press the button at the top labeled “Leave a Comment.” Share what you think, or ask a question, get in on the experience by participating. Want to know anything about wine travel, just leave a question. I’ll answer in the comments section and hopefully we establish a dialogue.

You have a chance to understand our budget, our planning, and come away with a blueprint for a wine vacation of your own. Just go to on Friday, Oct. 28 and join my three friends and me in the Willamette Valley. I’ll be posting Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I’ll post a wrap-up of some nature late Monday. We’re taking that day to do some sight-seeing in the Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood.

One more thing, let’s make sure everyone understands the reach of our conversation. When you leave a comment the first time, leave the name of the town where you read Grape Sense.

Off we go on a wine adventure; come along with me.

Related Oregon blog content:
Archived Oregon-related posts
2014 Oregon  Wine Tour Photos




We’re All Searching For Good QPR


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There are magic words and terms in the wine world. One classification every wine drinker needs to know is QPR. QPR stands for Quality to Price Ratio.

grape-sense-logoQPR represents what every wine drinker is looking for regardless of the wine budget. Every wine drinker is or should be looking for wine which tastes above, or way above, its price point.

QPR wines can be found on grocery shelves, liquor stores, wine shops, and really fine wine shops. How about an example? Robert Mondavi has a couple of different labels for Napa Cabernet in the $20 price range. The wines taste like you should pay more.

Some of the best examples of QPR wines are second labels. Wineries selling their grape juice at higher price points sometimes have a second label for value-priced wine. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting less quality but it might mean you’re getting a little different fruit or perhaps grapes from a region other than the one the winery might be known for normally.

duckhorn-decoy-2011-merlot-sonoma-countyA great example of second labels from Napa is Decoy. Decoy is the number-two label for Duckhorn wines. Duckhorn is known for its marvelous single-vineyard Merlot wines. Those usually sell, full retail, for $95. But the Decoy label features a wonderful Merlot for $19.99.

Many of the famous French chateaux have second labels, a common French practice. It takes some research and work but second labels are well worth the effort.

But many Grape Sense readers buy most of their wine from groceries or local liquor stores with an occasional outing to a wine shop. So what’s on the shelf there that’s a good buy?

A recent discovery widely available in Indiana is Chronic Cellars. Chronic wines come from Paso Robles on California’s Central Coast. The background for Chronic Cellars is a good story. Two brothers who were raised in the heart of Paso wine country attended college and returned to Paso to work at Peachy Canyon winery, one of Paso’s best.

One of the slang terms often used by the brothers was “chronic” when referring to things they liked. They decided to set out on their own and offered up their first vintage in 2008. What you won’t find on their website is their wine-making pedigree. When they returned to Paso to work at Peachy Canyon they were returning home.

chronic-labelBrothers Josh and Jake Beckett’s parents own Peachy Canyon Winery. So again, pedigree matters. Chronic, now owned by Winery Exchange as of 2014, was a totally separate operation – not a second label. But the two brothers remain at the winery as winemaker and in marketing.

But the colorful labels and great value wine proved to be a hit, particularly with younger consumers. The winery makes 14 different wines.  The wines are very drinkable and surprisingly affordable. Take, for example, one of their best is Purple Paradise – a Zinfandel, Syrah, Petit Sirah, and Grenache blend. The wine has a satisfying dark fruit and chocolate taste with a balanced finish. Better yet, the suggested retail is just $14.99.

Chronic Wines are all over the state with a big presence in a couple of the supermarket changes. The wines stand out because of their labels but you’ll remember them for your taste. Chronic Cellars is one of the best value labels I’ve found in several years.


Boxxle Pricey, Elegant Idea


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Wine writers get sample wine, often unsolicited, and wine gadgets on a fairly regular basis. Just a few weeks back Grape Sense featured a look at Black Box and Bota Box wines. Shortly after that column was published a pitch for the Boxxle appeared in my inbox.

grape-sense-logoThe few of the boxed wines available in Central Indiana are decent enough wines. Boxed wine is great for that single glass on a Tuesday night with whatever is for dinner. The boxes aren’t particularly attractive but most buy the wine for convenience and not as a fashion statement.

But for some folks the tacky box is just a bit much. So leave it to a North Carolina banker to come up with something a bit more elegant. Tripp Middleton, the inventor, developed a taste for boxed wines. But all that marketing was apparently too much for his kitchen counter.


Easy pour for boxed wine

So in 2011 Middleton invented the Boxxle. Let’s get to it – essentially the Boxxle is a stainless steel container for your boxed wine and your kitchen counter. Slide the Boxxle in between the food processor and coffeemaker and it looks like any other shiny kitchen appliance.

Here is how it works. The consumer removes the bag of wine from the box. The flip-up lid on the Boxxle opens and a spring loaded platform provides the necessary mechanism to make the whole thing work. The platform is pushed down to near the bottom of the Boxxle and locks into place. The wine bag is inverted with the spigot at the top.

The spigot on almost all wine bags can be rotated. A simple 180-degree rotation of the spigot, a closing of the lid, which releases the depressed platform and the Boxxle is ready to go. The platform pushes up against the bag forcing the wine out the spigot at the shiny top.

It takes a bit of an effort to lock that platform down in place but it only took me two tries.

boxxle1Inventor Middleton struggled with funding the first few years when he tried to start manufacturing and bring the Boxxle to market. But since then plenty of money came on board and the Boxxle is widely available at spots like Bed, Bath & Beyond, Target, Amazon, Brookstone, Sharper Image, and more.

Anyone who has shopped for major appliances in recent years know stainless steel isn’t cheap and neither is the Boxxle. The suggested retail price is $99.99.

Do you need a Boxxle? Well, it’s probably not needed any more than a $200-$300 Riedel crystal decanter. But wine drinkers do like gadgets. It is pretty cool gadget. It’s easy to see how restaurants would love the Boxxle. A restaurant bar could use the Boxxle for a house wine without all the marketing there for every customer to see.

If you buy a lot of boxed wine and want a great looking dispenser, Middleton came up with one. With holiday season approaching, it would make a great gift for a wine drinking friend who buys their juice by the box.

Another Winery Distilling Spirits


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Distilled spirits like whiskey, bourbon, brandy, and more have become the rage in the adult beverage world of late. Indiana has been part of the boom with distilleries starting to pop up and more on the drawing boards.

French Lick Winery is the second Hoosier winery to jump into the fray with initial releases of their Spirits of French Lick products this fall.

grape-sense-logo“Ted Huber and I have been talking about this for about 10 years because we both wanted to make bourbon,” said John Doty, owner of French Lick Winery. “I’ll be honest, Ted has a lot more pull in the legislature than I do so he did the lion’s share of getting that law changed in July of 2013. Our distillery has been in the planning ever since.”

Huber’s Orchard and Winery has been in the business for some time and built a building specifically for the distillery. Earlier this year, Ted Huber confirmed more construction is going to be needed for his booming business.


Fench Lick’s still.

French Lick is uniquely positioned to do just as well as Huber’s, a tourist destination near Louisville but with few other attractions in the area. The French Lick Winery and Distillery is just across the street from the fabulously renovated West Baden Springs and French Lick Springs Hotels. French lick also boasts a a casino, prestigious 18-hole golf course, and a water park.

“A lot of distilleries specialize in just one or two spirits,” Doty said. “We’re going to be unique in that we already have an Italian restaurant and have the winery. We have so many people who come in and want beer or cocktails so we’re going to make a wide selection of spirits so we can pour them in our restaurant.”

John and Kim Doty started small in 2008, and have grown, with the wine lineup now reaching 23. “We’ve always been customer driven with our wines,” he said. “We visit so many wineries and so many wineries are guilty of making wines the winemaker or owner likes. You go to distilleries you see the same thing.

“It doesn’t matter what I like, it’s all about what the customers like. When you come in we want to have something you will like. We want the same with our distillery.”

spirits-of-french-lickTo achieve that goal Doty is determined to offer a variety of spirits. “We’ll concentrate on what we think we can keep up with like the vodka, Aquavit, and specialty bourbons.”

He wants to do some unique offerings like oak whiskey and buckwheat bourbon. “We won’t make a lot of these but enough for our tasting room. Most of our whiskies and bourbons are 51- to 60-percent corns and rest of the flavoring will be these flavoring grains.”

Doty was able to hire a master distiller Alan Bishop who hopes to see the product line expand to fully occupy the 18,000 square feet set aside for the distillery.

The Doty family is growing some of the grain and plans to grow even more. What they can’t grow they plan to source locally whenever possible.

During a late summer visit the vodka was on the winery shelves while other products were tasted for a VIP preview event. The winery plans an Oct. 15 grand opening for the Spirits of French Lick .


Black versus Bota Box Wine Battle


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You’re a wine drinker and you’ve passed them in your local grocery. You look at them with curiosity, puzzlement, and perhaps even disdain.

Grape Sense LogoIt’s time to lighten up to box wines and enjoy the often tasty and economical solution to wanting just one glass some nights. Boxed wines are better than ever before and shaking off the past negative images of swill in cardboard.

There is no point trying to convince anyone the grocery boxed wines are super, high-premium wines because for the most part they are not. Some brands will advertise that way but it’s misleading. Two of the most prominent in the Midwest are Black Box and Bota Box.

A definition or two is in order before going any further. The boxed wines come with an air-tight plastic pouch inside with a pour spout attached. Generally, once opened, the wines will last a month. The container holds four bottles of wine.  Different companies do offer different sizes and various price points.

IMG_1521Now some advice about handling the boxed wine. I suggest refrigerating it after opening to make it last as long as possible, particularly if you’re going to keep it four or five weeks. If you’re a regular wine drinker, it’s probably less necessary to stick it in the fridge. The wine is in a sealed plastic pouch so it gets no air whatsoever. No air is a very good thing for storage but not so much for drinking. Pour your glass of wine from the box and let it set a bit before you drink. The box contains 20 five-ounces pours.

Black Box has been a long-time player. Black Box got its start in 2002 with the promise of super-premium wine in an environmentally friendly box. Black Box is a leader in the business and sells for around $23. You can find it for as low as $19.99 in many places.

The Black Box menu includes Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Malbec, Shiraz, a red blend called Red Elegance, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvingon Blanc, and Reisling. The wines have been listed by Wine Enthusiast 27 different times as a “Best Buy.”

Go online for lots of reviews and you’ll see the Merlot is often the highest rated. In small market Indiana, all I’ve found is the Cab and Chardonnay. The Cabernet is a satisfying glass of wine with soft fruit, correct Cabernet flavor, and an ever-so-light hint of tannins. It’s quite drinkable.

The Delicato Family Vineyards company of brands from Manceta, Ca., offers Bota Box. The Bota lineup includes Cabernet, Merlot, Old Vine Zin, Malbec, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Chardonnay, a blend called Redvolution, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Moscato, and a second blend called Blackhawk.

The Bota Cabernet was a bit sweet but probably likable for newer wine drinkers. I didn’t find it to be correct in flavor profile for Cab but there was certainly nothing wrong with it. I bought the Bota Brick which sold locally for $9.99, a smaller version of the standard box.

Keep in mind most of these wines are blends. In California, for instance, a wine only has to include 75 percent Cabernet to be called Cabernet. And let’s face it, this isn’t Napa Cab.

I’d rate the Black Box significantly better for regular wine drinkers and Bota a good starting point for a beginner. Black wins the nod for overall quality.

Check the blog from time to time as I intend to explore more boxed wines. All stores have them. Many Meijer stores have a large selection.

The best part of boxed wine is enjoying one glass at a time. Don’t underestimate the quality until you’ve tried them. I would love to hear from regular Grape Sense readers if you have thoughts on other brands. I’ll share that in a future column.



2016 A Strong Hoosier Vintage


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FRENCH LICK, IN. – Learning about wine means spending time in the vineyard. The next best thing is talking with the men and women worrying about rainfall, leaf canopy, and sugars in hot August fields.

Grape Sense LogoThe Indiana Uplands, nine southern Indiana wineries in the state’s only AVA, held its annual Uncork the Uplands tasting event the last weekend in July at the fabulous French Lick Springs Hotel. Muck like plants, flowers or an herb garden in many Hoosier backyards, the 2016 growing season has been a strong one.

“This year everything is growing, growing, and growing,” said Bernie Parker, vineyard manager for the 55-acre Creekbend Vineyard of Oliver Winery. “We’ve been applying some fungicides because of the wet weather. We’ve had more than eight inches of rain in July and we normally have half that.

“We have a great crop out there and as long as it dries out in next five to six weeks, we’re going to be harvesting a great vintage and full crop.”

Easley Winery 1

Traminette being delivered to Huber winery in 2014. The whites come first.

That’s really good news for the Oliver operation. Late frost cut the 2014 Creekbend crop by 70 percent and the 2015 crop by about 30 percent.

The story is very similar regardless of vineyard size. John Doty, owner of French Lick Winery, said the 2016 crop is going to be excellent. “We’ve had plenty of rain but it can rain another couple of weeks. Then it needs to quit raining; if it quits raining last two weeks of August and first of September I’ll be a happy man. We have a beautiful crop hanging.”

Doty’s 8-acre vineyard is actually in Martin County on family property on the hillside of one of the highest points in the area. The vineyard suffered some trunk damage to Chambourcin vines and lost a planting of Tannat over the past two years with the early chill but 2016 appears to be delivering a stellar crop.

Butler Winery also benefit from location during bad weather years. Butler sits atop a hill just north of Bloomington. Jim Butler said his 6 acre vineyard is better suited to withstand a late frost because of its elevated position.

“We have a great crop,” the veteran Hoosier winemaker said. “We’ve had a lot of rain, but if it dries out, and that’s what we look for in August and September, we’re in great shape.”

Times have been good in recent years for most Hoosier wineries despite the two years of frost damage in a few areas. Wine sales across the country continue to rise and Indiana wine quality continues to improve.

Winemakers across the state are now at a point where they’re ready to push the envelope and try new grapes. Butler is experimenting with the cold-climate Marquette. Doty and others are planting the hardy Norton grape. Ted Huber, in the state’s southern-most region, continues his work with traditional Bordeaux-style varietals.

A warm and dry late summer will apparently deliver one of the best crops of recent vintages for Hoosier wine drinkers.


‘Uncork’ Shows Indiana’s Best


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Indiana’s top wine event is unquestionably Vintage Indiana held in Indianapolis in early June each year.

Vintage Indiana brings 30-plus Hoosier wineries to Military Park in Indianapolis and gives thousands an opportunity to sample hundreds of Indiana wines. Unfortunately, the event was nearly drowned out this year with a day of heavy downpours. (Pun intended).

Grape Sense LogoIndiana’s second-best wine celebration might be Uncork the Uplands, Saturday, July 30, French Lick, IN. Uncork celebrates the nine wineries of the Indiana Uplands Agricultural Viticulture Area or AVA.

The AVA thing is significant. The Uplands is the only AVA in Indiana. If you’re a wine drinker and like Pinot think of the Willamette Valley’s Dundee Hills, or Howell Mountain in Napa. An AVA is a federally-recognized agricultural area which produces quality grapes for quality wines.

The 6th annual event runs 4-7 p.m. at the wonderful French Lick Springs Hotel. Last-minute tickets are $60. Wine fans can find a lot more information on the official website Unfortunately, getting a hotel room in French Lick on this summer weekend might be tough. The two resorts are sold out. But there are other small chain hotels nearby.

The event features wines from all nine wineries. Visitors have the chance to talk to winemakers and winery owners. Past Uncork events featured plenty of small bites of food and even entertainment. The 2016 early evening wine tasting is the first not to be held at Oliver or Huber wineries.

French Lick is a great location, though a bit of an effort to get there in the Hoosier heartland. French Lick Winery will become something of an official/unofficial host. The Doty family has a long history with Indiana wine and the Uplands event. The French Lick Winery is using the Saturday event to introduce its new distillery. The VIP event is sold out but signals another Indiana winery entering the competitive distillery business. Ted Huber has been the real pioneer among Indiana winemakers to jump into the distilled spirits business. French Lick seems like a natural with the two fabulous, Indiana landmark hotels and a bustling casino.

There is another event coming up that seems to get less attention. Indiana wineries pour their wines throughout the Indiana State Fair, 1-9 p.m., each day of the fair, Aug. 5-21.

State Fair attendees, who are also wine fans, should definitely stop by the Grand Hall across from the Indiana Farmers Coliseum. The event showcases wine and Indiana beer. Attendees must be 21 to enter.



Celebrating an Important Milestone


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Everyone has milestones in their life. Think of events like birthdays, anniversaries, new job, retirement, a first date, maybe even getting fired or divorced. As a society we’re pretty good at celebrating life’s events.

Grape Sense LogoToday’s Grape Sense represents the 200th piece I’ve written since starting an every-other- week newspaper column in October of 2007. At one point I had 23 newspaper in three states, it is a few less now but something I view as a great achievement and I’m proud of what I’ve done with this idea.

Milestones deserve, no let’s make that require, celebration. How else would Grape Sense propose a celebration – but with wine, of course!

Writing 200 columns about wine hasn’t always been easy but always enjoyable. I don’t really run out of ideas as often as fall short with the proper motivation. I’m working on that.

My celebration wine will be one of two choices. I’ll either open a bottle of Rochioli Pinot Noir from Sonoma’s Russian River Valley or Joseph Phelps’ Napa Valley Cabernet. Those are two great bottles of wine. The final choice will come down to what’s for dinner!

The point here is to celebrate your life and celebrate whether you feel like it or not. Time goes fast and pausing to really reflect on certain points in your life is rewarding and sometimes even educational. No, you don’t have to go out and find a $65 bottle of Cabernet. Just find something you know is really good.

Find a wine you really like and enjoy it. It doesn’t matter if it’s red, white or pink. It doesn’t matter if you Happy Milestone Grape Sense readers! Column No. 201 is just two weeks away!

Indiana Restaurant Wine Award Winners

If you’re a foodie and like wine, you certainly appreciate a good wine list. There are plenty of good wine lists in Indiana but not a lot of great ones. I’m often shocked by the number of really bad wine choices.

WineSpectator Best of Award LogoThere were only four Hoosier restaurants recently recognized with a Wine Spectator Best of Award Excellence. That’s the second-highest honor. Indiana had no Grand award winners (the top honor). The awards of excellence went to McGraw’s Steak, Chop & Fish House, South Bend; Peterson’s, Indianapolis; St. Elmo’s, Indianapolis, and The Capital Grille, Indianapolis.

The third-tier ranking of Award of Excellence found a few more restaurants – most of them in Indianapolis including, Black Market, Fleming’s Steakhouse, Fogo de Chao, Harry & Izzys, Morton’s

Steakhouse, Ocean Prime, Seasons 52, Shula’s Steakhouse, Sullivan’s Steakhouse, and Tastings (a wine Award of Excellence winners elsewhere around the Hoosier state, Ciao Bella, Schererville; Heston Supper Club, LaPorte; Ford’s Black Angus, Terre Haute; Janko’s Little Zagreb, Bloomington; Joseph Decuis, Roanoke; LaSalle Grille, South Bend; Tapastrie, South Bend; Carriage House Dining Room & Gardens, South Bend; William B’s, Michigan City.

Gaining an Understanding of Burgundy


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The Grape Sense newspaper column has often focused on introducing new wines, new price points, and an education focus about wine.

There is no bigger educational high point in wine understanding than Burgundy, France. Burgundy is home to a confusing geography, hard to find wines, and most of the world’s most expensive single bottles.

Grape Sense LogoNormally the focus is on value wine. But on occasion a look at other prominent wine regions helps with perspective. Additionally, I just returned from leading a wine tour group in Burgundy – my first-ever visit as well.

Burgundy lies southeast of Paris where the whites of Chablis and silky red and whites of Burgundy have a history going back hundreds of years. Many of the vineyards and wine making facilities date back to the time of Romans. Many of the vineyards and ancient winemaking efforts were started by monks in the early 12th or 13th century.


Nothing like getting in the vineyard

Burgundy is a place for history. Perhaps the first educational point to get out of the way is a reminder that most all of France doesn’t tell you what grapes are in the wine on their bottles. You have to have a very basic understanding. In Burgundy reds are Pinot Noir and whites are Chardonnay.

After that, it gets complicated. There are approximately 100 specifically designated wine growing regions or AOCs. The wines are named for the region and its growing characteristics or terroir.

An example would be Gevrey-Chambertin which is a small village and surrounding vineyards south of Lyon but north of Beaune, the heart of Burgundy. My group tasted four Gevrey Chambertin wines at Domaine Rene Leclerc. The four wines came from four different vineyards – with a difference in soil, slope, and micro-climate – even though all lie in the same region.

And, the wines had slight differences. The area is known for wines of more structure and slightly more pronounced tannins. We tasted different in the earthiness you get in Pinot Noir and a slightly different level in the spiciness on the wine’s’ finish in your mouth.

Okay, it’s pretty geeky for a wine novice.

A fact that surprised some of us was the production breakdown. In the U.S. if someone says the word Burgundy people think of red wine. Actually Burgundy is planted with 60 percent white wine grapes. The whites were consistently silky and elegant. The better white wines were rich with a full mouth feel while maintaining that silky texture.


… and then you taste!

Good Burgundy seems to start around $50 or asmore in the U.S. So indeed, not the normal focus of Grape Sense. But they represent some of the best wines in the world and certainly worth a try.

Burgundy is also one of the ultimate trips for wine fans. The walled-village of Beaune is a delightful home base with legendary wine caves beneath the city streets, the famed Hospice de Beaune, and wine tasting shops, Michelin-starred restaurants, and charming hotels throughout the city.

European wine travel requires advance planning. A trip to Burgundy is really the ultimate for real wine fans.

Wine Travel Depends on Region


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For wine lovers nothing is more fun than a day visiting tasting rooms or maybe even wine travel.

Depending on where you go, there are some things you need to know. It can be a Saturday on the road, a trip to the coast, or a dream vacation to Europe to enjoy wine. But all wine trips take a planning.

Grape Sense LogoThe easiest way to start is using the internet to find a wine trail close to home. Indiana has several wine trails. Figure out your geography and plan on visiting no more than about three wineries. That is advice not a standard. Needless to say a designated driver is always a must. But tasting at more than three wineries can impair your judgment. I also find that when I hit a fourth winery in a day I’m suffering ‘palate fatigue.’

After you’ve hit some Hoosier wine trails and you get the tasting room fever, try neighboring states. I admit I’ve visited just a couple Ohio wineries, none in Kentucky or Illinois. But I’ve visited Michigan wine trails three times and they are delightful. You can plan an easy trip into southwestern Michigan and choose from many different wineries. A great weekend trip would be up to Traverse City, a great food town, and visit the really good wineries of Leelanau County and Old Mission Peninsula. The wines are surprisingly good.

If you wish to travel east, check out the wineries of upper New York State, the Finger Lakes Region. Virginia wines are also gathering more accolades with every vintage.

If you’re ready to head west there are more options to cover than space allows. Wine mecca for those of us in the U.S. is Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Napa, in particular, is one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world. But Napa is very commercial and very expensive. Lean on advice from friends who’s visited Napa to plan your trip. Look at every winery’s website and see what fits your tastes.

Some Napa wineries, the very best, usually accept guests by appointment only. Many welcome walk-in visitors daily as well. But also be aware that the big winery names you know don’t come cheap. All wineries in Napa charge a tasting fee. Many will have 2 or 3 tasting levels.

Be prepared if you want to taste the very best wines or at the very best wineries to shell out big bucks. The better Napa wineries charge $50-$100 for a tasting. And unlike many Midwestern states, that tasting fee will not be refunded with a purchase. But if you’re going, be sure to do at least one premium tasting to learn more about what the fuss is all about.

Oregon’s Willamette Valley is an awesome wine tourism region. It’s not as busy as Napa or Sonoma but growing fast. Tasting fees are going up but still nothing like Napa.

Finally, some advice about going to Europe – particularly France or Italy since that’s where I can share the best advice.

Wine tourism remains new for both of Europe’s Old World Wine regions. Planning is essential for winery visits in both countries. Only the biggest, most commercially-motivated, wineries have open tasting rooms as we know them. A call or email is necessary to secure an appointment.

It’s wise, and not cheap, to engage a wine tourism professional to plan your trip and accompany you – especially if you don’t speak the native language. Most wineries vigorously engaged in tourism will have English-speaking staff. But if you want to visit a smaller winery, you can’t count on English-speaking staff. Such wine guides can charge up to $500-$1000 a day but they will take care of every detail.