Marketers know the best way to sell a product is to have a good product to sell. Indiana winemakers have struggled to find a niche beyond “sweet wines” for years. It seems “Try on Traminette” was the marketing campaign and grape to spur new-found success.

The Indiana Wine and Grape Council and Purdue University started a marketing campaign last year to introduce consumers to Traminette – a wine that is fruity and very floral. The grape is a hybrid that will remind regular white wine drinkers of Gewurztraminer – an annual Thanksgiving favorite. Cornell University is widely believed to be the developer of the hardy grape that grows well in Hoosier soils – best known for corn and beans.

The state designation of a “signature wine” has propelled Traminette to an Indiana tasting room favorite.

“We have seen “demand” for Traminette develop ever since the radio ads that Purdue is running,” said Mark Easley, Easley Winery, Indianapolis. “It is a great aromatic white wine that just needed to be discovered. Something ‘other’ than chardonnay comes to mind.”

The demand for Traminette has been felt all across Indiana’s 54 bonded wineries. More than 30 of the wineries are offering the wine, according to the Wine and Grape Council. The growth has challenged tasting rooms and vineyards. Just two years ago, only 15 Indiana wineries were producing Traminette.

“We are growing it in two of our southern Indiana vineyards,” Easley said. “Our Posey County vineyard gets a lot more heat in the summer months than our Jennings County vineyard. That creates an interesting difference in the amount of “fruitiness” we get from the fruit at each farm. The heat brings out a little more of the Gewurztraminer flavor.”

Easley markets its Traminette as a semi-dry wine with just over three percent residual sugar. It is going to be on the sweet side for most wine drinkers, but not overpowering by any means. Most Indiana wineries are producing Traminette as a sweet or semi sweet/dry white wine. But the grape can be used to make sparkling wines, table wines, ice wines, late-harvest wines, and standard dry to sweet wines.

“We are currently doing a varietal blend of the wine that we sold out of last year,” Easley noted. “Our winemaker also uses Traminette in the wine blends for both our Reggae White wine and our Barrel White wine. We find with the fruitiness and aromatic character of grapes like Traminette, Cayuga White and Riesling, that they step out into their own with a little residual sugar.”

Easley is quick to note Indiana wine drinkers still prefer sweeter wines and most Indiana producers cater to that market.

Christian Butzke, a Purdue associate professor of enology and a former commercial winemaker, is expecting most wineries that don’t produce Traminette now will do so soon. He said the ongoing “Try on Traminette” campaign and its initial success would help those new Indiana wineries become recognized as agritourism destinations.

“Startups have the advantage of jumping into an existing campaign,” Butzke said. “They can hit the ground running as many people enjoy local artisan wines even in a challenging economy.”

That is another advantage the Indiana producers enjoy. Most of the Indiana-produced white wines, including Traminette are under $15 a bottle and low as $7 in some instances.

In the next Grape Sense, we’ll get another take on Traminette from a producer who makes a somewhat rare dry version of the floral grape.

Howard’s Pick:
Easley Traminette
– This family winery is one of Indiana’s oldest, located in downtown Indianapolis. The Traminette is sweet but beautifully balanced. The wine retails at just under $15. The Easley folks suggest a bottle of Traminette with pork loin.
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