Jim Pfeiffer’s Turtle Run Winery sits south of I-64, just west of Corydon, in southern Indiana. It takes a little effort to find his nifty tasting room, but the unusual blends and his off-beat sense of humor makes the drive worth the trouble.
Pfeiffer is a self-described blend-o-holic. It should come as no surprise then he has a different take on Indiana’s Signature Grape – Traminette – than many others. He tends to ask his own questions and provide the answers.
“Traminette is one of my favorite wines,” Pfeiffer said. “I really like the spicy “gwertz” characteristics. I’ll always remember the first Traminette I tried, which was an experimental wine I tasted at the Indiana Wine Grape Growers Guild meeting in 1999. I loved the flavors, and immediately decided to plant the vines, which we did in 2000.”
That doesn’t put Pfeiffer in unique company. As reported in the last Grape Sense column, Indiana wineries are rushing to plant Traminette. As a matter of fact, the Indiana Agriculture Statistics Service at Purdue estimates Indiana has 600 acres in vineyards. The top grape remains Chambourcin but Traminette has grown from 26 acres in 2004 to 65, second highest, in the most recent statistics.
“Traminette has been planted in Indiana more than any other grape variety the past few years,” said Bruce Bordelon, Purdue Horticulture Department. “Growers like the performance in the vineyard and wineries love the wine quality. Much more is likely to be planted over the next few years as its popularity with consumers rises. It will likely be the most widely planted variety in Indiana within the next five years.”
Traminette has no bigger fan, but Pfeiffer makes his “signature Indiana wine” in a dry style instead of the more prominent sweet versions. “I tend to think this grape really delivers as a dry wine grape,” he said. “First, the balance of acids coming in from the vineyard is flat out perfect. The total acids are completely in line with the strength of the acids, or PH. When that is aligned, you can go dry, dry, dry. Additionally, and uniquely, like many red wines, this wine stays in balance and maintains its flavor with higher alcohol.
“Folks who try our Traminette are very pleasantly surprised to see a dry one on the market. I get a lot of excitement from Traminette fans who first taste ours. I see the Traminette market growing, due to Indiana pride as the state grape, and, obviously due to the flavors. Is there a limit? Certainly, its flavors are alluring to me but certainly not as much to my wife. I think it was a good decision to name this grape the Indiana state grape, since it can perform in a number of different terroirs.”
Pfeiffer lauded Purdue’s efforts to promote the grape. Most all Indiana wineries were quick to jump on the bandwagon. “There are people who are ‘Traminette-o-philes’ who specifically want to try our Traminette. This has been great. However, there are folks who simply do not like the flavors. So will Traminette take on the rage, of say, a California Cabernet Sauvignon? Definitely not. Will it have the broad, universal appeal of say Merlot or Chardonnay? Probably not either. Its distinctive flavors tend to torque people towards it or against it. Rarely do we hear, ‘eh, it’s okay.’ “
Turtle Run 2009 Traminette – I haven’t tasted Pfeiffer’s 2009 yet, but I have had the 2008 several times. It sells for $12. It’s aged only in stainless steel. His website describes the 2009 as generous lime, lemon, and a hint of grapefruit. And, keep in mind it won’t be the sweet Traminette you may have tried elsewhere. The dry Turtle Run Traminette is my favorite Indiana wine.
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