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Ignoring hard rain in Central Indiana and a Saturday morning two-hour drive, off I set for Story, In. Saturday morning and the 10th Indiana Wine Fair.

Fortunately, the rain ended nearing the small Brown County town nestled in a valley southeast of Nashville. So I knocked out a video interview as guest of Ole Olson, dean of Indiana wine writers, for his Hoosier Wine Cellar Blog which runs in Bloomington and other Southern Ind. papers. I’ll note here on the blog when that interview goes up.

Then it was off to taste some wines. I pretty much decided to stick with whites and Rose’ wines and avoid the reds. There are a few good dry red wines made in Indiana, usually blends, but when Hoosier winemakers try to bottle a 100 percent Cabernet they aren’t doing themselves or other winemakers any favors.

Jim Pfeiffer of Turtle Run Winery.

The state has two wine fairs each year, the other is Vintage Indiana in Indy, but the Story Wine Fair has grown to be a big event. The rain all over the state didn’t keep the vino fans away from the Story Inn grounds. The mob wasn’t as big as I remember during my last visit but the crowds were good (as you can see from the photo at the top).

Okay, to the wine. The Wine Fair has a judging competition on Thursday each year before Saturday’s event. I went straight to Huber Winery’s stand under one of several tents to try the Catawba semi-sweet Rose ($11.99). It was the rated the top wine by a panel of independent judges.

I’m a big Huber fan and the wine didn’t disappoint. The judges rated it 98 points on a 100 point scale. The wine had a nice tart and fruity flavor, perhaps a tad sweet on the palate for some but not a sweet wine as compared to many other wines on the festival grounds.

Ted Huber knows how to make wine and he knows the Midwestern palate. This is great Rose for less-sophisticated tastes or new wine drinkers. I liked it, but it bordered almost too sweet for me but that’s because of the Catawba grape. Catawba more frequently is used in sweet wines.

Huber wines are some of Indiana’s best made. Huber’s reds are consistently some of the best.

The second-place wine in the Blush (or Rose) category was Brown County’s Vista Rose. It was similar to the Huber offering with a bit more pronounced fruit.

For my palate, neither of those Rose wines was the best I tasted. Just a couple of years ago Jim Butler won top honors at the Indianapolis International Wine Competition for his Chambourcin Rose. I tasted Butler Winery’s most recent vintage and it’s outstanding. It was dry Rose with lovely hints of cherry and delightfully tart. At $13.99, it’s an outstanding Hoosier wine.

I tasted several whites I liked and several insipid offerings. Turtle Run’s Jim Pfeiffer makes a $12 Dry Traminette that is one of the best wines made in Indiana. Everyone makes Traminette and almost everyone makes it sweet or semi-sweet. Not Jim! He also knocks out a crazy barrel-fermented Traminette that is just as good from the same grape and couldn’t be more different because of the oak. You really have to try it.

All three Rose’ wines I tasted prove Hoosiers can make great wine.

One of the day’s biggest surprises was a Pinot Blanc from Chateau Pomjie, in southeastern Indiana. The $25 Pinot Blanc comes from estate grown Pinot Noir. The nice woman assured me they really grow the Pinot on their property. I’ve only had one white Pinot before and that came at the highly respected Domaine Serene in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The Pomjie’s Pinot Blanc showed promise. It was really nice and light wine with the distinctive Pinot flavor. The finish had a wee bit of funk but very promising wine.

I dislike trashing any winery’s efforts but some things just shouldn’t happen. Back to the aforementioned Cabernet. It’s not going to work in Indiana. And why would you want to grow the stuff when consumers can pick up good $10-$14 Cabs from the grocery. Indiana can grow Chambourcin and other reds which can be made into great dry wines.

I read that the top-judged red was a Malbec. Hmmmm?? I went to the booth to see the tasting menu said Chilean Malbec. I asked about the source and a server told me they bought ‘bagged juice” from Chili. Now ask yourself, do you want to drink anything called ‘bagged juice?’

How the judges missed so badly on this wine is hard to figure out. Perhaps the bottle I tasted from was tainted. The wine was beyond bad it clearly had chemical issues.

I also tasted a Silver medal white that that had a lovely onto-on-the-palate light apricot to dissolve into an off-putting sour (not tart) finish.

Indiana wine has come a long way. Do not let one bad wine or winery skew your judgment against midwestern states’ wines. Support the state industry! There are plenty of good ones and still plenty of bad ones. But do your homework and you can buy wonderful Indiana wines!

Here are the judges picks from the 2012 Indiana Wine Fair:

Dry Red – Gold: Harmony Winery, Malbec, NV (89 POINTS); Silver: Huber Winery, Heritage 2008; Bronze: Oliver Winery, Zinfandel 2009

Sweet Red
– Gold: Best Vineyards, Concord NV 87 POINTS; Silver: Indian Creek Winery, “Cardinal Red” NV; Bronze: River City Winery, “Colonel’s Legacy” NV

– Gold: Huber Winery, Catawba NV (BEST OF SHOW, 98 POINTS); Silver: Brown County Winery, “Vista Rose” NV; Bronze: Monkey Hollow, “Pasture Limit” NV

Dry White
– Gold: Huber Winery, Vignoles (88 POINTS); Silver: Cedar Creek Winery, “Butterfly Kiss” NV; Bronze: Turtle Run Winery, Traminette NV

Sweet White
– Gold: Oliver Winery, Creekbend, Vignoles 2010 (88 POINTS); Silver: Best Vineyards, Catawba NV; Bronze: Buck Creek Winery, “Der Champion” NV

– Gold: Chateau Pomije, “Late Harvest” NV (86 POINTS); Silver: Huber Winery, Black Raspberry; Bronze: Cedar Creek, “Harvest Moon Cab” NV

– Gold: Winzerwald Winery “Cherry Red” (96 POINTS); Silver: River City Winery, “Market House Elderberry”; Bronze: Cedar Creek Winery, “Peach Paradise”

NV – Non-Vintage.

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