Utopia a fine spot to seek out


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Dan Warnshuis made the move from California to find his ideal vineyard spot.

One of the real adventures of my repeated trips to Oregon’s Willamette Valley has been the discovery of new wineries. In many cases, it’s wineries I simply haven’t visited yet – while new ones continue to pop up.

One of the sub-regions I’ve not yet visited is Ribbon Ridge. Ribbon Ridge sets near the middle or eastern-middle of the valley. It’s small in comparison to most of the other areas with only 20 vineyards comprised of about 500-600 acres of vine.

Just like most of the valley’s other regions the Ridge is producing mostly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with scattered plantings of other grapes.

One of my most recent delightful discoveries has been Utopia Vineyards. Dan Warnshuis founded the winery in 2002 after working many years in California in the tech industry. His wife Kathy and daughter Erin are also involved at the winery.

Dan tends to his dry-farmed vineyards and was certified for sustainable viticulture in 2008.

I was recently sent samples of the Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir and the winery’s White Pinot. The Pinot Noir was one of the best I’ve tasted in 2020. I enjoyed the delicate rose and berry fruit flavors with a real elegant mouth feel and finish. $48 SRP, 91 points Wine Enthusiast.

The unicorn – or white Pinot Noir also scored well with several publications. The winery’s website described it as bursts of fruit with a great mouth feel.

Much of the wine from this small production winery is sold direct to consumer.Utopia is a stop you might want to include during any visit to the Willamette Valley. The family also has a beautiful vacation cabin rental amidst the vines with many perks.

An ode to the Tator Tot


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Need some life advice?

Bite off more than you can chew then chew it.” It makes a lot of positive thinking and common sense. Who said those wise words? Mark Twain? Maybe Winston Churchill? FDR? A founding father?


F. Nephi Grigg

No, it was F. Nephi Grigg. I can imagine the silence and blank stares. Grigg and his brother Golden fled Oregon in 1954 to Miami, Florida. They quickly found the new and opulent Fountainebleu Hotel on Millionaire’s Row. The hotel was hosting the 1954 National Potato Convention. Nephi found the hotel kitchen and reportedly bribed the chef to cook up his new potato concoction and serve them at  dinner  to the potato growers.



Steer Inn’s tots

The new potato product was cooked up and laid out as appetizers on the tables. “These were gobbled up faster than a dead cat could wag it’s tail,” Grigg wrote 35 years later. The golden potatoes had been cut into small pieces and deep fried. They were a huge hit.

Those golden potatos are now known as Tator Tots.

Nephi presided over his Tot empire until he sold the brand to Heinz in 1965 for $30 million. Heinz merged with Kraft Foods in 2015 and Ore-Ida presides over the Tot empire today. Many thanks to Eater magazine for much of the background on Tots. Grigg passed away in 1995 in Nevada.

image0 (5)During the pandemic I’ve made a weekly effort to eat out a time or two a week. Today it was back to the historic Steer Inn. I had one of the best breaded tenderloins I’ve had in years. Real pork, 1/2 in. thick, juicy and a crispy breading. The tots were crispy and not greasy. An American classic lives.

And a couple pandemic observations:

  • Kroger announced over the weekend that all employees in all stores must where masks. A visit to Kroger on 10th and Linwood yesterday revealed most employees had a mask. I saw a couple with no mask. And maybe even more disturbing several young men working in produce with their masks pulled down around their chin or neck. Some people just don’t get it.
  • Residents stuck at home must be doing lots of planting, lawn care and home improvements projects. I’ve had reason over last few days to run in and out of the three major stores – Home Depot, Lowes, and Menards. All three were packed at different times of day – packed. Home Depot seemed to be the only one enforcing how many customers can be in store. Two nights ago there was quite a line outside. I know, I was there two …. not a hypocrite just exercising my older journalism skills.


Life and times of social isolation


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We’re all adjusting to the quarantine at home and adjustments that go along with it. For years I was the editor of a small Indiana daily and wrote a week opinion column. Sometimes it would just be a collection of thoughts or observations.

Here we go:

I live alone but continue to work about 12 hours a week at a little retail wine shop in Broad Ripple. Getting out is a real relief. We’re not allowing customers in the shop just curbside pickup and  delivery. Because of my age, I ‘m not doing delivery and just staying in locked up in the shop filling orders and answering the phone. And if you’ve read about alcohol sales, yes business is booming.

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Speaking of alcohol and isolation, nine friends and I did a virtual wine tasting last night and had a ball. It was great time seeing old friends and talking wine. It’s really not hard; we used Zoom. But Facebook messenger and other platforms are out there to get a group together.

My last post was about the general dishevelment and filth at two 10th street Indy E. 10th street general merchandise stores. I posted the column to one of those neighborhood posting boards. I got a sympathetic response and a smackdown. One area resident called me a wine snob (egads!) and took me to task because the poor people working their certainly must be overwhelmed. Well, my point was aimed at ownership and management not the local workers. I suggested in these times of unemployment and with 8,000 stores nationwide perhaps they could hire at least one person to keep the place clean and organized. Very snobish, indeed.

image1 (4)I suffered a heart-breaking loss in early March when my pet Corgi of 13 years left me for RIP – running in paradise. I weighed getting  another dog and eventually came around to the decision that it would be a good idea. I adopted a dog from an animal rescue group, Arpo, and he arrived yesterday. He’s a bit of a mystery 2-3 years old, housebroken, reserved and shy. Sake (yes, named after the Japanese wine) also loves sitting right beside me or in my lap. I’ve heard lots of ideas of what his breed might be. He’s a small guy at about 25lbs with very long legs. A neighbor thinks he has some golden retriever in him. Our adventure begins.

drawing bloodFriday was a big day and I make note always in case anyone in a similar predicament ever wishes to talk. It was the third anniversary of my autologous stem cell transplant. I had two rounds of lymphoma first in 2015 and again in 2016. The doctors and I selected a transplant of my own white cells to try to keep me cancer free for the rest of my life. Though an exhausting and difficult 30 days, 3 years is a significant mark of remission.

image0 (4)Holy gas prices caped crusader! (sorry for the ancient culture reference) All around Indy anyone out can see gas prices are way down. Imagine my delight when I found the cheapest of all just down the street! It’s been a long time since we’re seen $1.15 a gallon!





Why we can’t have nice things


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While writing about wine over the past 13 years I seldom went really negative. I wrote a few harsh restaurant reviews. I tasted some bad wine and said so. But more often than  not I wouldn’t go out of my way to trash anyone.

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A typical aisle’s floor in Store #2 Not an example but nearly every aisle.

But, I got mad yesterday. Here we are in middle of a pandemic when face masks, gloves and disinfectant are a big part of our lives. Cleanliness and respecting others’ space is an expectation.

With very few businesses open it seems to me, and  I’d like to think others, that these places would be bending over backwards to earn their customers trust and continued support.


So okay, here we go. I live on Indy’s eastside near Little Flower and Irvington. It’s not the best side of town by most standards. The area certainly struggles with crime and violent crime. But there has been a big change the past few years. New retail businesses are popping up and doing well. The problem is the old standbys are letting us down.


Honestly, one of the less-cluttered aisles.

I needed a small electrical connection that I thought would be easy to find. I visited two general merchandise stores which feature a wide variety of goods at low prices. You know these places. And in economically depressed areas they flourish. Need a better hint? I went to two and they both have the word “Dollar” in their name.

The newest store,  less than a year old, was filthy with merchandise scattered around the floor. That building was completely redone to accommodate the current business. I was was seriously shocked at the mess. A little internet search showed Indiana has 428 of these stores. The second wasn’t quite as messy, though not orderly, but was even dirtier than the first. Using the net, I learned there are 48 of these stores in Indiana and 8,000 nationwide.

Photos don’t lie, these were taken about 10:30 a.m.  yesterday.

These places are probably slammed with business. I suspect they have a hard time hiring and keeping employees. But it’s hard to understand running a commercial business without daily upkeep. Both of these general merchandise stores are large corporations. How about hiring a part-time worker or two in every store to keep things clean and organized? You can provide a job or two for people who are out of work and maybe show a little respect for the community you serve.

Customers are shopping the shelves clean, there has to be profit. It’s time for these places to provide the dignity of a clean, safe shopping environment.

Some are thriving with carryout


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IMG_0436Some local restaurants are doing really well, it seems,  restricted to carry-out, deliver,  and curbside delivery.

As I’ve written here several times my goal writing more now is to highlight local, and primarily locally-owned restaurants.  I  have been trying to throw in some comment and observations on life during the Coronavirus shutdown.

Last night (April 2) I visited King Dough Pizza on Highland Ave. The Bloomington-based company arrived in Indy with great fanfare. KD sits on the square in Bloomington and has long been considered a hot spot.

I visited twice shortly after they opened here and thought it was pretty great pizza. Last night I ordered an 8-inch Margarita pizza with pepperoni. Upon arrival, clearly business has been good as the accompanying photo shows. And the server said they have stayed pretty busy.

image0 (2)I never like writing really negative reviews especially considering current circumstances. The pizza last night did not measure up to my two previous visits – very doughy and a bit on the salty side. Still, was tasty and I WOULD recommend to others.

I had written here before about the small boutique wine shop where I work being open through all of this. Here is a story from today’s Star on the topic.

My experience has been similar. We’ve been pretty busy with lots of customers expressing surprise and gratitude that we’re still open. I guess alcohol is essential: Let the jokes begin.

On a personal note, many friends have asked about my work status. I check two of the five boxes on those at risk. Right now I’m perfectly healthy and doing all the suggested preventative steps. The company ownership has expressed concern  about its older workers and suggested we take off for awhile. I continue to play it by ear and will work tonight. Next week’s schedule has me down to two days. So ….. we’ll see.

Previous coronavirus related posts:

Essential? #Carryon;Carryout

Coronavirus is a strange time

You’ve got to order some carry out


Essential? #Carry on;Carry out


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It’s quite fair to say what’s essential to you may not be essential for me.

In these confusing times there seems to a very, very broad definition of essential businesses. Running some necessary errands this Tuesday morning on Indy’s eastside I saw a number of business open that surprised.

IMG_0425I saw a hair braiding business, donut shop, and vacuum sales and service store all open. Hmmmmm …

Just so no one can call me a hypocrite, I work part time in a retail wine shop and we remain open. I’ve continued to work my four short shifts each week and will until the numbers explode. I check off two of the five risk factors but I’m playing it as safe as possible. Is wine essential during these times? Well, I’m sure that could provoke some interesting and fun answers.

It seems that a near complete shutdown would be more advised. The problem is no one has put me in charge yet.

Carry on; Carry out

My most recent carry out experience was Friday so I’m a little tardy. If you haven’t discovered His Place on 30th just east of Shadeland you’re missing out. You can read all about the place on the link above. From fried chicken, fried fish, bourbon creamed corn, and red velvet waffles you can’t go wrong.

image0Chef James “Mackie” Jones is an experienced catering chef who puts out the best soul food in the city. And if you like it fried, His Place rock.

My personal favorite is the Friday Fish Fry with fish, fries, cole slaw and a drink. You have a choice of 3-4 different kinds of fish. I like the catfish and it’s wonderfully coated and crispy.

Go out and support these small businesses which are so vital to our community. And, I’ve been leaving a bigger than normal tip!

Previous coronavirus related posts:

Coronavirus is a strange time

You’ve got to order some carry out

Coronavirus a strange time


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INDY EASTSIDE: It doesn’t take much looking to find the dramatic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and scrambling business interests.


Little ice cream at Kroger

A quick trip to a nearby Kroger store shows they’r’e struggling to keep up. I visited the Kroger at 10th and Shadeland which was busy but not jammed. There was plenty of empty shelves. Meat supplies seemed decent but ice cream was cleared out. Fruits and veggies seemed plentiful but don’t go looking for a biscuit. Lots of other examples but that’s a good clue.


take-out-day-gfxI noted here last week that I wanted to visit locally-owned restaurants for carry-out over the next few weeks. Those small places work on very small margins. I hit the legendary Steer Inn on 10th near Emerson. You may remember that Guy Fieri of Food Network‘s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives paid the Inn a visit a few years back.

image0 (1)It’s a great breakfast spot and has a darn good hamburger. They’re also known for their homemade pie but I’ve never tried that temptation.

Support these small food outlets now and especially when they reopen.

A lot of people are still trying to figure out what will and will not be open starting tomorrow. I’ll make note here of the interesting ones.

A final coronavirus note: I had heard household thermometers were scare. So between the Kroger and the Steer Inn I stopped at two national-chain drugstores and neither had a thermometer. I’ll have  to keep looking.

Thanks for reading – now, go wash your hands!



You’ve got to order some carry-out


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INDY, MASS AVE. – The unfolding crisis of small restaurants, donut shops, and coffee joints is not really going to be felt until the unfolding Coronavirus crisis passes.

These businesses are the backbone of our economy just as much as Boeing, Apple, and GE. Such businesses are run by your neighbors, common town folk, and struggling entrepreneurs.

The enforced closing, now just a few days in effect, is going to be devastating if you don’t help. That’s right – you.

I grew up working in my Mom’s small restaurant in our small town. I watched her work 10-11-12 hour days for years. The business did well but no one got rich. Restaurants work on margins less than 10 percent and most often in the 3-5 percent range.


Bru Burger’s hamburger and fries.

In other words, they can’t survive many bumps in the road. Those bumps are Hoosier-size potholes for at least the near future. But you can do something about it. I’m retired and work about 3-4 evenings a week. I’ve decided I’ll get out to a local restaurant every few days for lunch carry out. And, I’m going to write short reviews here.

There are lists of restaurants open for carry out on several websites, including the Indianapolis Star. Or you can take the old-fashioned approach and just call your favorite lunch spot.

I have been in the mood for a burger for weeks. So I called Bru Burger on Mass Ave and order a Burger and fries. It was ready when I arrived and they were all happy to see me. The young lady taking my money said Wednesday was their first day of carry-out only and business was good. At 1:30 p.m. today (Thursday), it had been slower but it also rained quite steady through the noon hour.

The burger and fries were awesome. I had eaten there a few times before. My only critique was the soft and tasty bun could have been toasted. Toasting the bun on carry out would really help for take home food. But it’s a noon time carry out I can heartily recommend.

One other point, restaurant workers are not that highly paid to start with and now business it down. Be sure to tip generously.

You’ll find burger joints, coffee shops, and  fine dining restaurants on most listings. Some are offering their full regular menus while many have special carry-out menus for these tough times.

I’ve seen posts on social media imploring readers to support small, locally-owned business in this crisis. Those post a reminder that these are the people who support Little League, the orchestra, and other local charities. You need them and now they need you.

I can’t say it any better.

Have patience with older wines


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What is old wine? Nearly 20 years of wine enthusiasm has led me to think there is no single answer. A decent base-level understanding of wine only leads to more questions.

Two bottles of recently consumed wine have me reflecting on somewhat older wines. I haven’t consumed much 1980s Bordeaux or Burgundy but I have learned some things with Napa Cab and Oregon Pinot Noir.

The real starting point for this discussion is the truth about wine consumers. I’ve worked about 20 hours a week for two years in retail wine sales. Our shop is in an affluent neighborhood with a nice mixture of young people as regular customers. The average price point ranges $15 to $25. Still, we sell a good amount of higher end wine, $60-$125 and up.

Customers occasionally do ask about aging a $20 bottle of wine. I try to politely explain those wines are not made for aging. Drink them. I advise they find a decent decanter and air those red wines out for an hour or so and it will  probably improve them a little. The truth is American consumers want to drink wines when purchased. Winemakers are largely making wines for immediate drinking.

I make a point to ask winemakers how long to hold wines before consumption. During a trip to Napa the consistent answer was 5 years – though some high-end Cabs can certainly be held much longer. In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, winemakers say 4-5 years.

IMG_0346In my personal wine-drinking experience I’ve found those numbers to be pretty accurate. In the last month I have enjoyed a 2003 Joseph Phelps Insignia. Insignia is an iconic label, a wine that has always scored 90 points and higher. It’s always a stunningly gorgeous bottle of wine. The current released vintage, a 2016, sells for $300 a bottle and received a 96 point rating from Wine Enthusiast.

The second bottle was a 2012 WinderleaCrawford Beck Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Dundee Hills of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The ’12 has always been hailed as a classic Oregon vintage. This wine can be found online for $50-$80.

image0These two slightly older wines performed the same. Both bottles were disorganized with an off-putting nose when opened. But, after an hour-and-a-half decant both started coming around. After another half hour in the glass both wines were coming into their own and showing as outstanding wine.

No one can tell you exactly when to open an older bottle. Pedigree and time in oak have an impact on how long you can age wine. The best advice is to experiment. Take a small taste when opening a bottle then “check in on it” while the wine opens up.

I’ve never tasted one of those 50-year-old Burgundys. Though I did have a 1991 Gevrey Chambertin this past winter that showed me potential for what aged wine can be.

Buy what you can afford, give the reds a decant, and decide for yourself what makes sense in aging your more pricey wines. If you really want to test aging, but a couple bottles – open one and wait another year or two and try the other. That will help determine your palate for aging.




Distillery rivaling Huber’s wine success


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The explosion of the craft cocktail in bars and specialty distillers, driven largely by millenials and women, is skyrocketing the growth of distilled spirits.

It’s happening in across the globe, the U.S., and in Indiana. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, whiskey and bourbon exports surpassed one billion dollars in 2015 and the three years prior.

Distilleries are certainly popular in the Hoosier state. Official statistics can be hard to track down but Indiana featured 25 distilleries as recently as last year. Kentucky, home of brown spirits, had 68 distilleries for an increase of 250 percent in the last decade.


Ted Huber

Ted Huber, of Huber Orchard and Winery along with Starlight Distillery, was and continues to be one of the pioneers in the Indiana artisan distiller business. Huber, whose family has roots in Southern Indiana near New Albany, leads one of the state’s most successful wineries. Adding a distiller was a natural part of his ever-continuing growth. He started with fortified wines in 1998 and started distilling in 2001. Changes in Indiana law now has Indiana distilled spirits on shelves across the state but only a handful of wineries have made the leap.

The iconic winery, situated in the rolling hills near Starlight, In, produces approximately 60,000 cases of wine. Three years ago Huber said he’d like to grow the distillery to about 50,000 cases. But the two products are different. Any given year’s grape harvest will produce a wine to go on the market within one to three or four years. Spirits take longer from a few years to 10 or more.

The distillery’s signature product is Carl T. Bourbon. The whiskey is named after Ted Huber’s grandfather Carl. Ted is the sixth generation winemaker and now distiller on the family farm. The Carl T. represents a growth product. It sells for $34.99 on the distillery’s website.

Production-wise Huber is making almost 50,000 cases but not yet selling nearly that much. “What we produce in the distillery is mainly bourbon (corn whiskey),” Huber explained. “After the bourbon comes rye and malt whiskey. So those finished products are a blend of four to six year barrells. So with the age requirements there is still another three years before we have enough product in the pipeline to hit those kind of numbers (50k).”

Huber said he wants to develop Carl T. with blends of 6-7-8 year old whiskeys. During a walking tour of one of his giant aging facilities, he poured several examples of bourbons aged and blended in several different ways.


Huber discusses aging his whiskies.

“We need that age,” he said. “We were patient with our brandies. When they first came out we sold only 10- to 20-percent before upping production. Even today with our brandy production, even though we’re going on 18 years, we will never sell the same amount that we make. We’re getting older and older barrels in our warehouse for blending. And we plan to do that for several more years with our whisky.”

Huber has been a major player in numerous national and international brandy competitions winning top awards and awards for best in specific categories. His whiskeys are beginning to be recognized by top spirits critics as well. One critic wrote that Huber’s bourbon was one of the top 10 in the nation not made in Kentucky that afficionados must sample.

The boom in female brown spirits fan is not lost on the veteran winemaker. He said it’s been the biggest surprise during the growth of his spirit sales.

“Our clientele who came here for an experience of wine and spirits had the women dominate with wine and the men the spirits,” Huber said. “That is long gone over the past four years. We have as many women, or more women, coming here to enjoy and taste the different bourbons or whiskeys. The women who absolutely know their whiskeys from a quality standpoint has blown my mind.”

As a result of that burgeoning interest from women, Huber adjusts some single barrel whiskey’s to full cask strength (110-120 percent alcohol) and unfiltered. “And when we have clients come here from all over the United States to pick out barrels they are looking for products they think women will like. They’re looking for a little more complexity, a little bit more fruit and less oak.”

Huber wines are distributed in five states while the spirits are sold in 12 states. The Huber product line includes several whiskies, straight and flavored brandies, infusions and ports, rum, gin, and vodka.