FRENCH LICK, IN. – Learning about wine means spending time in the vineyard. The next best thing is talking with the men and women worrying about rainfall, leaf canopy, and sugars in hot August fields.
The Indiana Uplands, nine southern Indiana wineries in the state’s only AVA, held its annual Uncork the Uplands tasting event the last weekend in July at the fabulous French Lick Springs Hotel. Muck like plants, flowers or an herb garden in many Hoosier backyards, the 2016 growing season has been a strong one.
“This year everything is growing, growing, and growing,” said Bernie Parker, vineyard manager for the 55-acre Creekbend Vineyard of Oliver Winery. “We’ve been applying some fungicides because of the wet weather. We’ve had more than eight inches of rain in July and we normally have half that.
“We have a great crop out there and as long as it dries out in next five to six weeks, we’re going to be harvesting a great vintage and full crop.”
That’s really good news for the Oliver operation. Late frost cut the 2014 Creekbend crop by 70 percent and the 2015 crop by about 30 percent.
The story is very similar regardless of vineyard size. John Doty, owner of French Lick Winery, said the 2016 crop is going to be excellent. “We’ve had plenty of rain but it can rain another couple of weeks. Then it needs to quit raining; if it quits raining last two weeks of August and first of September I’ll be a happy man. We have a beautiful crop hanging.”
Doty’s 8-acre vineyard is actually in Martin County on family property on the hillside of one of the highest points in the area. The vineyard suffered some trunk damage to Chambourcin vines and lost a planting of Tannat over the past two years with the early chill but 2016 appears to be delivering a stellar crop.
Butler Winery also benefit from location during bad weather years. Butler sits atop a hill just north of Bloomington. Jim Butler said his 6 acre vineyard is better suited to withstand a late frost because of its elevated position.
“We have a great crop,” the veteran Hoosier winemaker said. “We’ve had a lot of rain, but if it dries out, and that’s what we look for in August and September, we’re in great shape.”
Times have been good in recent years for most Hoosier wineries despite the two years of frost damage in a few areas. Wine sales across the country continue to rise and Indiana wine quality continues to improve.
Winemakers across the state are now at a point where they’re ready to push the envelope and try new grapes. Butler is experimenting with the cold-climate Marquette. Doty and others are planting the hardy Norton grape. Ted Huber, in the state’s southern-most region, continues his work with traditional Bordeaux-style varietals.
A warm and dry late summer will apparently deliver one of the best crops of recent vintages for Hoosier wine drinkers.