Nothing like tasting wine in the vineyard. Oliver wine Dennis Dunham pours!

Nothing like tasting wine in the vineyard. Oliver wine Dennis Dunham pours!

BLOOMINGTON, In. – Good marketing principles often encourage trying something new but no one wants to mess with success. That’s why it was interesting to see how the third-annual Uncork the Uplands would go in South Central Indiana.

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Winemakers Jim Pfeiffer, Ted Huber, and Jim Butler.

The good news for the 10 wineries is a repeat of the 300-400 people who packed Huber Winery’s Plantation Hall in the event’s first two years.

The Uncork event is sponsored by the 10 Indiana Uplands (AVA) wineries. It’s an evening of food and wine celebrating Indiana artisan wine and goodies. Saturday night Monroe County Convention Center in downtown Bloomington was packed.

“I was glad to see the turnout maybe even a little surprised,” said Kim Doty, Uplands President and co-owner of French Lick Winery. “I think attendance was about the same as at Hubers but we got a little different vibe here.

“Adding to that was the vineyard tour, people could get out there and see the grapes are grown here and you can make good wine here.”

The day started in the 50-acre Creekbend Vineyard at Oliver Winery. Slightly more than 100 people turned out to walk the vineyard with Oliver’s winemakers and vineyard folks. There was a tasting of 5-6 different Indiana wine lineups and some good Indiana pulled pork.

The vineyard tour was a big addition. You learn more about wine with a vineyard manager or winemaker walking the rows of grapes than 50 visits to tasting rooms.

Wine PouringThe event is packed with food and wine but more than that. There was live music throughout the evening and a fun silent auction. I scored the winning bid on a gift certificate from Indy’s great Smoking Goose meat locker.

Judy Schad is a goat cheese rockstar who most people have never heard of – but I bet you’ve seen Capriole goat cheese in specialty shops and yr local grocery. She did a brief presentation with wine pairings that was great.

My favorite food pairing: Artisan Fermenti's Spicy Shrimp Ceviche.

My favorite food pairing: Artisan Fermenti’s Spicy Shrimp Ceviche.

Also new this year was a wine-food pairing competition that was lots of fun. Great small bites – some with shrimp, some with bacon but all with spice! Some day perhaps someone will explain to me why chefs have to have heat in almost everything. But, I digress.

This event showcases Indiana wine much more effectively than just a big tasting event, taking nothing away from the June Vintage Indiana which has many more wineries participating. The food, the atmosphere and the ability to talk to almost every single winemaker is an event worth $65 a person.

Some Hoosier wine consumers still don’t get the significance of the Uplands AVA designation and I’m not sure the winery folks have milked the marketing cow on that one either. It’s a big deal and it’s going to continue to push those wineries to the quality forefront in Indiana. Arguably, Indiana’s best wineries are in the Uplands.

But more folks need to be exposed to these really nice Indiana wines and Uncork does just that. The event can’t stay anchored at Huber’s, down in Starlight, In., overlooking the Ohio River Valley.

“It’s difficult to move it,” Doty said. “At Hubers they have everything right there: the winery, the hall and  pretty much everything we needed.  We go away from that and there’s other hidden costs. …

“But I like the idea of moving it around because if we keep it at the same place we keep getting the same customers. We need to move it around so more sit’s convenient to people from Indianapolis or Columbus.”

Doty is right and needs to just look down the street for the next perfect spot to host Uncork. It takes an effort to get there but putting Uncork under the dome at West Baden’s grand restored hotel would be a big win for Uncork and the historical structure.

Glass400Doty admitted the idea had crossed her mind but initial inquiries about the cost made it prohibitive. But she also shared that Uncork had a block of 40 hotel rooms sold in two different Bloomington hotels for Saturday night in July. That just might change the minds of those running the stunningly gorgeous hotel. It’s not too hard, knowing the back story, that 40 rooms in July is pretty attractive and it exposes the landmark to a new audience.

But enough lobbying on location. These folks have worked hard making Uncork the Uplands a premier Indiana wine/food event. They have succeeded. There is really nothing else like it. Now the other Indiana wine regions have a target but Uplands has a big head start.

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