Small wineries just can’t charge big price


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Smaller Oregon wine producers feel some pressures to keep their wines moderately priced. While some of the better known Willamette Valley wineries are pushing the ceiling of $100 a bottle and beyond, the smaller producers don’t want to gouge their base customers.

Domaine Serene with its bevy of awards and media accolades has several bottles over $100. A top bottling at wineries such as Beaux Freres, Bergstrom, and many others have a bottle or several selling at $100 or more.

The smaller producers struggle with distribution because they simply don’t make enough wine to sell in multiple states. They like staying in the $35-$60 or $70 range so wines are affordable for club members and through their tasting rooms.



“The competition really hasn’t been price competition,” said Wayne Bailey, owner at Youngberg Hill Winery. “It’s been beneficial (to be moderate in price) in that it’s made a whole lot more Willamette Valley Pinot available for people to try.

“We’re such a small piece of the pie. Pinot is only 5% of what is sold in the US. The valley produces one-hundredth of one percent of all Pinot grown in the country.”

Bailey has an entry-level Pinot for $35.

Price discussions have to include increases and on some occasions decreases for some producers. “We talk about price in both directions,” said David Bellows, winemaker at Vidon Vineyards. “Don is resistant to raising prices. We’ve had people come in and say ‘your wine should be more expensive.’ We have a hard time selling what we make.”



Don Hagge’s Vidon has sold wine at wholesale prices to internet sites which provide instant income and cash flow. Vidon’s signature 3-Clones wine, his lowest priced bottle, sells for $45 at the winery.

Bailey points out that there is lots of market research showing people east of the Rocky Mountains want  Willamette Valley Pinot but they can’t find it. The exception, he notes, is big producers. He adds that the small producers can open up a much bigger world to Pinot fans but they may have to search for smaller-production labels or come visit.

The backbone of these winery’s income is direct sales out of their tasting rooms and wine club memberships. “Some of our pricing reflects that,” said General Manager and Winemaker Tom Fitzpatrick, Alloro Vineyards.



“We want to be accessible. We don’t want to be where no one could buy them. Even our estate Pinot Noir ($40 SRP), which is the lowest price point of the three we make on the property, is not a lower tier wine. We focus our winemaking on producing the very best wine we can make.

But Fitzpatrick states the obvious that the sales have to support the winery. The estate Pinot was bumped from $35 in 2017 for the first time since the winery opened its doors.

Tasting these wines: A side note, I tasted all of these wineries wines twice in 2018. I received samples early in the year I shared with wine drinking friends solicited their opinions. I visited these producers in October. The wines easily hold up to or surpass the bigger Oregon names you may know. Reach out to the wineries, I’ve linked each site, to see if they can ship directly to you.

Oliver in accelerated growth period


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There are many compelling wine stories happening in Indiana including improving wine quality and the explosion of new wineries. There’s never been a better time for Indiana’s signature Traminette and Chambourcin.

The Indiana Wine and Grape Council is now counting 116 Indiana wineries. But there is no more fascinating story than what continues to happen at Indiana’s largest and arguably best-known winemaker, Oliver Winery near Bloomington.

Oliver mug

Oliver talking wine

The iconic Hoosier business has long been known for its Camelot Mead and Soft Red and White wines. In recent years, Oliver’s Creekbend vineyard has produced one of the state’s best Chambourcin, some vinifera, and a Catawba that makes delightful Rose.

But the employee-owned company has big – really big – goals. Bill Oliver has not been shy in recent years to admit the team ownership would like to grow the winery to 1 million cases. Attainment of that lofty figure would make Oliver the USA’s biggest winery not located on the West Coast.

“We were producing 7,000 cases when I took over (from his father, one of the founders of the Indiana wine industry,”) Bill Oliver said. “We’ll be around 460,000 cases this year.”

He acknowledged the 1 million goal and that the company is on track to reach it in a few more years. “We’re in 27 states now. We like to talk about what we sell not just what we produce. It’s a lot easier to make wine than sell it. We have some long-term goals and we would like to be considerably larger. It wasn’t too long ago we talked about being a half million cases. That’s going to happen next year. A million cases would be nice. It seems a little grandiose but it would be nice.”

Oliver is making substantial investments to see that the 100 full-time employees can get there. He dded a 30,000 square foot facility two years ago with a new one for sweet wine production now under construction. He has outdoor tanks which can hold 1.6 million gallons of juice. The production area for sweet wines will add another 1.6 million gallons of capacity.


On a rainy Oct. day, Oliver stops to check out the fall pumpkins.

Oliver is talking about retail partners like the HEB ops to grocery chain in Texas. The Indiana winemaker produces thousands of cases of Porch Swing for the Texas market powerhouse. Porch Swing is a version of soft red and white with a bit of effervescence.

He has expanded Porch Swing to several other states in the last year accounting for part of the company’s growth.

But two wines really kicked things into high gear. Cherry Moscato is in its second year with 50,000 cases produced while the popular Apple Pie wine, 60,000 cases, has taken even the Indiana icon by surprise. “I didn’t see that coming,” Oliver admitted. “These two wines account for 22 percent of our total production and they didn’t exist two years ago. That’s accelerated growth!”

The other driving force behind the growth is an emphasis on sales and introducing Oliver wines in the southeast. With a stronghold now in Texas, the Oliver brand has swept across the lower states connecting to Florida where Oliver sees major growth potential.

While spreading the Oliver name across the country, the state market isn’t forgotten. Oliver has zeroed in on a couple of wines that have done well in his 50-acre vineyard. The Catawba Rose’ represents the biggest part of his vineyard. He makes, arguably, one of the best Chambourcin wines in the state.

The other quirky wine is Crimson Cabernet, a very soft and delicious wine that doesn’t taste much like Cabernet but is easy to enjoy.

Despite what always seems like a full tasting room, and Oliver welcomes more than 400,000 visitors annually, retail sales amount for just seven percent of Oliver’s total sales.

Oliver admits a personal interest would be an improved and larger retail facility perhaps in the more distant future.

This story was first published in Madison Magazine, Anderson, In. It was then shared with the more than 20 newspapers which carried the Grape Sense column over a 10 year period.

View one of Youngberg Hill Inn’s assets


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It never fails that after I’ve been home a couple of months from  an exciting trip I find unused assets! This morning while looking through some material from my early Oct. trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley I found this little video.

I was in Oregon for two days with Carl Giavanti, marketing consultant to a number of small Oregon wineries. I spent two nights at the wonderful Youngberg Hill Inn. And it is wonderful. Big spacious rooms with fireplaces welcome guests and breakfast is tremendous.

But perhaps the most impressive part about visiting Youngberg is the fantastic view from the front wrap-around porch. You feel like you can touch any corner of the valley.



A great wine experience has depth


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Lenne owner and winemaker Steve Lutz

McMINNVILLE, OR – Any great wine experience has variety and depth. That means you visit big producers, small producers, and look for something different. I try to do that on every trip and it has just worked out that way on this trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley to visit some small producers.


The great Oregon Pinot Noir grape harvest is mostly complete.

I started the day at Lenne Estate, a small production winery with a a tasting room that resembles perhaps a French farm house. I ended my second-day tasting experience at Youngberg Hill where I stayed last night and will again tonight. Wayne Bailey is a leader in the Willamette Valley industry and makes Pinot Noir to age and to pair with food.


In between, wine marketing expert Carl Giavanti and I wandered through the fields and hills of the valley near McMinnville to the JL Kiff Winery situated beside a sloped vineyard and pole barn winery and tasting room. .

One of the things I like about the Willamette Valley,  and there are many, is you can go into winery after winery before you find a bad – or less than desirable Pinot. Our start at Lenne was a great way to kick off the day. Steve Lutz, owner and winemaker, took the time to talk about his sloped and really tough vineyard location. Difficult soils are tough on the vineyard manager but great for wine. The harder the vines have to dig to find water the better the fruit regardless of the varietal.

Steve has added a Chardonnay to his lineup, as many Oregon wineries are doing, and his was beautiful. Very Chablis-like or Burgundian, the Chardonnays of the valley may some day rival the reputation of the Pinot Noir.

Lenne makes classic Oregon Pinot in a lighter style with a real sense of place in the glass, a Burgundy-like sensation of terroir and soils, along with a bit of spice on the finish of some of the wines.

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Joel Kiff

The journey to JL Kiff was up onto a hillside in a more remote area. Joel Kiff and Tim Wilson are the proprietors. Wilson also has his own label, Denison Cellars.


The unique, steeply-sloped vineyard gives the duo wines which are quite different from block to block within the vineyard. Joel makes 1,000 cases under the JL Kiff label with Wilson doing a similar amount of cases under his Denison label. The wines are medium to modestly priced. It’s these little gems that make exploring wine country so fun and exciting if you’ll just seek them out.


Tim Wilson

We barrel tasted and tasted some wines not harvested until Nov. 1 last year because of the unique vineyard site. The wines were lighter in taste and a little more elegant. Joel’s wife helps run the small tasting corner in the pole barn structure. The Kiff’s two adult sons are also part of the operation.


While perhaps its a romanticized view of winemaking, the fact is in Oregon these scenarios still exist where the family business is wine and all of the family is still involved.


Bailey on the final day of harvest.

Wayne Bailey is a real Willamette Valley veteran. He also owns the beautiful Youngberg Hill Inn atop a hill with a beautiful vineyard view. His wines are made for food and with plenty of structure, acid and elegance to age well for perfect enjoyment 4-5 years after the vintage year they were produced.


Wayne poured for me and a personal friend of his a full tasting of his Pinot Noir wines and a couple of different verticals – primarily Pinot from different parts of his vineyard from ’13, ’14, and 2015. We also tasted his elegant Chardonnay.


Bailey after pouring nearly 10 wines.

Bailey’s winery and Inn sets just 25 miles from the Pacific coast. His vineyard enjoys slightly cooler temperatures, particularly near the top of the property which makes for slightly less alcohol and silky Chardonnay and Pinot.

I’ve tried just to do posts showing my daily activity while interviewing these winemakers about warmer growing seasons and price pressures on their wines. Those stories will be published here in the future.

Meanwhile, tomorrow my schedule is less structured. I’m going to see some old friends and go where the day takes me. I certainly plan to post again tomorrow evening about my day.

I’m returning home Thursday. No matter how often I come to Oregon wine country, I never tire of the quality and diversity of operations, the people, and the wine.



Pinot, Pinot, and more Pinot Noir


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A beautiful view of a stand of tall trees through the Alloro vineyard

McMINNVILLE, OR. – I normally advise people not to do more than three winery stops in a single day. So on my first full day in Oregon’s Willamette Valley I was able to stick to that rule but stretched things a bit on the last stop.

Alloro Vineyards, Vidon, and Stoller Estate filled my first day of tasting capped off by a great evening at Nick’s Cafe in McMinnville. Wayne Bailey, owner and winemaker of Youngsberg Hill Winery and Inn, hosted me, marketer Carl Giavanti, and a personal friend who owns a small winery north of Chicago. It was a great day.

I was most anxious to visit Alloro Vineyards up in the hill of Willamette Valley just outside of Portland. Two blind tastings with friends rated Alloro the best of four or five small production wines tasted earlier this year.


Alloro’s Fitzpatrick

General Manager and winemaker Tom Fitzpatrick is meticulous in overseeing winemaking operations. We chatted in the winery and tasting room. He uses carbonic maceration in the winemaking process which really shows off the fruit.


The wines are reasonably priced at $40 for the entry level estate wines. I found the Pinot to be well-balanced, bright fruit, and perfect to sip or with food. Alloro also does Chardonnay, a dry Riesling and a dessert wine.

I  talked with Fitzpatrick about Oregon’s warming growing season and about price pressures with the Valley’s booming success. His thoughts and comments will be feature in a future post.

After a quick lunch stop at the Alison Spa and Inn, we headed to Vidon Vineyards, always a favorite stop. Don was off to California trying to sell wine so we spent time with Don’s winemaker David Bellows. Bellows holds a in PhD in Molecular Biology from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. That’s some serious winemaking science.


Vidon winemaker Bellows

David, resplendent in his Slipper Noodle t-shirt (Indianapolis iconic blues bar), tasted us through a vertical of Vidon’s classic 3 Clones wines – a 2013, ’14, and ’15. We also barrel tasted the 2017 Apollo Chardonnay which was outstanding – perhaps one of the best Oregon Chardonnay’s I’ve had in previous visits. The wine is part of a series of wines highlight Don’s time with the NASA space program.

Bellows was very insightful on the challenge of the warming climate and what it could mean to Oregon wineries. His thoughts will be included in the future post mentioned above.

The ‘we’ throughout the post represents myself and Carl Giavanti. Carl helped arrange interviews with several of these winemakers whom I interviewed via email earlier this year. I wrote a series of pieces about the challenges of the small guys fending off the big-money investments happening in the Willamette Valley. Carl was my guide throughout the day providing valuable background about each winery and the Oregon industry.

Our last stop was “for comparison’ purposes” contrasting the small wineries to Stoller Estate. Stoller recently was honored with USA Today’s “Best Tasting Room in America” honor. From Stoller’s website: “Our tasting room and winery combine environmental sustainability and high-efficiency design, and harvests 100 percent of its energy through a 1180-panel solar panel installation. Notable design features include a green roof, skylights, salvaged timber, and an EV charging station for electric vehicles.”

Stoller produces 68,000 cases of wine under multiple labels compared to the typical 2000-3,000 case operations of the smaller wineries I’m visiting on this trip. Communications Director Michelle Kaufmann was our host for the tasting and share all of Stoller goals of sustainability and growth.

I’ll write something independent about Stoller. Their efforts are setting the bar for how one grows, treats employees, and build a brand with integrity and  purpose.

Today, we’re off to Lenne Estate, JL Kiff, and back to Youngberg Hill for a tasting with owner/winemaker Wayne Bailey.

A quick taste of Downtown Portland


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An ‘adult’ chocolate-covered donut.

PORTLAND, OR. – Oregon is a feast for the senses, your cultural point of view, and the palate. Sometimes the Rose City is all three sensory sensations at once.

I spent Sunday night in downtown Portland before heading out to Willamette Valley wine country a little later this morning.

Sunday night dinner was with an old Wabash friend, David Newhart, at a somewhat traditional French bistro. This morning I’m up early and visiting the city’s six-location Blue Star Donuts. Portland is known for Voodoo donuts and they’re pretty


Donut maven carmelizing sugar on a cake donut. The smell is worth walking in for!

darn good. So I decided to try this upstart ‘donuts for adults’ shop downtown.

Just look at pic above. No ordinary chocolate donut – the chocolate was a deeply rich ganache with chopped almonds. Crazy adult flavors like pumpkin spice pana cotta, passion fruit cake and tons of others. Or  how about lemon  poppy seed  buttermilk. (which might be my second donut!)

The donuts are delicious. They use all natural and organic ingredients. And as you might expect, they come at an adult, gourmet price of $3-4 each – that’s right – each! Locals will tell you to try this new kid on the block. I’m convinced.

On the flip side, I really was anticipating dinner last night at Bistro Agnes. The spot was opened by two heralded James Beard award-winning chefs. I can’t say i was disappointed by I was not wowed by this strategically located downtown home of traditional French dishes.


Petrale Sole Meuniere

I had the French onion soup, just call me a cliche’, and it was very nice. The soup had a rich flavored beef broth which could have used a few more onions, croutons, and even a couple small bites of beef. The gruyere topping was the hit of the dish. Delicious. David had the smoked salmon carpaccio, Radish, cucumber, and dill was an excellent cold appetizer.

My dinner went south with my main course. I love fish and have always found French-prepared white fish to be delightful.  I ordered the Petrale Sole Meuniere featuring sauteed green beans, potato puree, brown butter, and capers.

The fish was nicely seared and cooked perfectly but the brown butter (and it was swimming in butter) along with the capers made the dish salty and difficult bites at times. The green beans were flavorless. With $13 on the soup, $27 for the fish, and $14 for a very nice glass of Sancere, it wasn’t terribly expensive. I was just hoping for more on the delivery.

With that said, it’s refreshing to see chefs concentrate on the classics – and by no means was it a bad meal. I’d love to go back and give Bistro Agnes a second try.


Visiting my favorite wine country

PORTLAND, OR. – No matter how often I fly to the west coast to visit Oregon’s Willamette Valley wine country, I just never get tired of it.


Hotel Deluxe a great little find near Portland’s famed Pearl District.

This trip is really more ‘wine business’ related than a trip  with three wine buddies in the fall of 2016. I wrote a short series of stories this spring about a handful of small Oregon wineries, the challenges, and how those small wineries thrive.

At the invitation of the marketer helping promote those wineries, I’m visiting for some Monday/Tuesday visits with those wineries and hitting a couple of others as well. Alloro, Lenne, Vidon and maybe Stoller along with JL Kiff are on the two-day itinerary. I’ve booked Wednesday on my own to visit personal favorites Winderlea and Lange wineries. I’ve left a slot open intentionally.

I am anxious to talk to the winemakers about climate change and the impact warmer temps could have on Oregon’s famous lighter-bodied Pinot Noir. We might chat about the explosion of interest in Rose’ and the continued emergence of Oregon Chardonnay. I’m interested in price pressures as Oregon wine gains more and more acclaim.


My wine writing life: a great panini and a keyboard.

I arrived in Portland about 2 local time. I’m staying at Hotel Deluxe, a very cute and funky place downtown I stayed during my first visit about a decade ago.

I’m meeting up with a young Wabash College alum friend for dinner tonight. We’re going to Bistro Agnes, a French restaurant, which boasts two James Beard award-winning chefs.

I’m going to try to post after the restaurant visit tonight. Right now, a very nice smoked turkey panini and a glass of Durant Pinot Noir. Well, you do have to jump right in you know!

Huber Restaurant changes Starlight

Huber’s Orchard and Winery has always been one of my favorite day trips. The trip was never complete without a stop at Joe Huber’s restaurant, featuring some of the best commercial friend chicken ever!

So the news was a big shock, and initially confusing, when it was announced this week the restaurant will be auctioned off later this year.

There was a certain amount of confusion in Indy media about the sale. It seemed to get straightened out as the day wore on today. The wildly popular and successful Huber Orchard and Winery continues in business as always. It’s the restaurant going up for sale.

The New Albany News and Tribune has a good story up online tonight. A big thanks to a former protege’ Jason Thomas for sharing his paper’s latest update.

Closing down column after 10 years

When grape-sense-logoGrape Sense debuted as a newspaper column in the fall of 2007, I never had any idea or hopes that it would run more than 10 years and result in over 250 columns.

The column has been responsible for meeting all sorts of people in the wine community. But, more important to me, it also has introduced me to wine enthusiasts in each of the communities where the column is published in the newspaper or on a website.

Today will be the last regular Grape Sense wine column. I will be offering the newspapers that carried Grape Sense occasional columns on Indiana wineries, holidays and other times when people are looking to read about wine.

It’s not that I’ve run out of ideas or a lack of motivation to continue the column. It feels more like the column has simply run its course.

I want to write good pieces about Indiana wine in a more thoughtful way. I want to offer suggestions at the holiday and season changes that make sense for you regardless of your budget.

Grape Sense has always been about education or helping you make wine decisions beyond your normal comfort zones.

I hope many of the Grape Sense newspapers will continue to carry the features.

This column was largely responsible in the early years for trips to Mendocino and Paso Robles to learn about wine making and vineyard practices. I was part of three press trips to France in 2012 which never would have happened without the newspaper column.

At one point the column reached 23 newspapers with circulation in excess of 350,000 Hoosier, Illinois, and southern Michigan homes. The core group has been with me for a long time. I started with the Crawfordsville Journal-Review and Frankfort Times – newspapers I had worked at during my long print career. I loved knowing wine lovers in Marion, Anderson, Terre Haute, Seymour, New Albany, Monticello, Columbia City and many more enjoyed reading about wine.

I hope I can continue to provide occasional stories worth your time and trouble.

In the end it’s about increasing your wine enjoyment, at a price you can afford, and drinking wines you like. I hope we’ve helped a few people achieve that goal.

Any time you have a wine question I’m happy to answer for you.

I hope you see Grape Sense back in your community for several years to come; it just won’t be on a regular schedule.

Thanks for reading Grape Sense!

Lots of new good eats in Indy


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Indianapolis continues to be a food hotbed and even if you only get into the capital city a time or two a year there is something for everyone. And lots of new places to try out.

grape-sense-logoBeholder, the brainchild of Milktooth super chef Jonathan Brooks, is now open and wowing local upscale diners. Brooks has been lauded by Food & Wine magazine, Eater magazine, and mentioned in many other national food publications. Food scene people know Brooks.

His newest venture is something of a gambler’s visit to Indy’s old eastside just beyond the entertainment and restaurant laden Mass Ave. Beholder sit on 10th St., near historic Woodruff Place’s Victorian homes. Brooks is risking name, reputation and a lot of dollars that Beholder can become a destination restaurant that will draw people to the sometimes seamy east side. The immediate neighborhood is changing in the area, and a big thanks goes to Beholder.


Chef Jonathan Brooks

The restaurant has a modern ubran décor and an eclectic menu which can change day to day. Brooks takes his diners on an amazing array of tastes and textures throughout the meal. My dining partner and I enjoyed eggplant tartar, rye pasta with chicken liver pate’, pork tenderloin slices with pickled onion, BBQ octopus and more Since a year or so ago Grape Sense has occasionally delved into food and even Indy-area restaurants.. It was amazing – even some of the things we didn’t think we’d like!

Two glasses of bubbles, two appetizers, one medium plate, two glasses of wine, two entrée, and one dessert came to $185. That’s certainly a high-end price but within the range of dinner for two, with wine, at other top Indy dining spots. Beholder sets a very high bar.

There are lots of other new things to try. The big news of early summers was the arrival of Kimball Musk’s two new Indy dining spots – the more upscale Hedge Row on Mass Ave and Next door at College and 46th. Must is known not just as the brother of Tesla founder Elon Musk but as an entrepreneur and philanthropist.

His business focuses on community, local ingredients, and even bringing affordable foods to food islands like the College Avenue location.

Fried Chicken seems to be new again, often with a hint of spice, Martha Hoover’s food empire just keeps growing. The woman known for the fabulous, and nationally recognized, breakfast at her flagship Café Patachou is all in with her son on fried chicken. Crispy Bird is the small restaurant just off Pennsylvania Ave at 49th.

Another chicken-serving hot spot is The Eagle on Mass Ave. Eagle’s chicken comes out each time tasting like it’s freshly fried and with a hint of spice. Beer is a big deal at the Eagle so the combination draws mature diners and lots of young patrons. It has a youthful vibe that makes it simple fun to enjoy the dish grandma used to do so well.