BLOOMINGTON, In, – Any discussion of Indiana wine has to always include Oliver Winery. The iconic Hoosier winery, synonymous with sweet wines, is Indiana’s biggest player on a big stage. Oliver is one of the nation’s biggest producers not located on the West Coast.
Bill Oliver, who took over from his pioneering father in the 1980s, has grown the winery and expanded the operation’s wine footprint beyond Soft Red and White wines. I spent a couple of hours Friday morning with Bill Oliver at the winery. He was cordial, excited about the future, and enthused about a new higher-end venture that might surprise a few wine purists.
Anyone dismissing Oliver Winery as ‘that sweet stuff’ is missing the mark. Yes, Oliver is a leader in sweet Concord red and Niagara white wines on a regional level and perhaps a national level in the next decade. But Oliver Winery is also producing very well-made wines from its nearby Creekbend Vineyard. Traminette, Vignoles, Chambourcin and more are featured at wineries across the state. But few, if any, are making those wines any better than Oliver.
The initial purpose of my visit was to talk to Oliver about his “Flight” series of wines featuring carefully sourced fruit from California vineyards. The current release getting lots of deserved attention is a 2013 Pinot Noir from the legendary Bien Nacido vineyard on California’s central coast. That name may not mean much to many wine drinkers but to real wine geeks Bien Nacido is one of the most sought-after vineyard designate wines in the Santa Barbara area.
Bill and I tasted wines with winemaker Dennis Dunham. We tasted the 2015 which had not even made it to the barrels yet. We sipped the 2014 which has seen its time in oak and now rests in stainless steel before bottling. And we tasted the mid-summer release of the 2013. I had previously tasted the 2013 and thought it was outstanding. The 2014 is going to be even better with a more extracted fruit flavor. It’s too early to tell on the 2015 juice.
The Oliver Bien Nacido Pinot sells almost exclusively in the Oliver tasting room for $45. That’s a big price jump for a winery known for the under-$10 sweet wines. But the solid Creekbend entries sell in the high-teen to mid-20s range. Oliver said one of the reasons to make the Pinot was to show people what his team could do with really great fruit.
An aside for the wine geeks, buying California fruit for Hoosier-made wine is nothing new for Oliver or many others. Oliver has access to some great California Central coast fruit and scored with his catch of Bien Nacido Pinot. It’s an expensive experiment but one the winemaker and owner clearly are enjoying.
At the other end of the spectrum is Oliver’s new Bubblecraft red and white wines. The $9 “fizz” is in the traditional Concord and Niagara grapes and in grocery stores already. Oliver produced and expects to sell about 10,000 cases this year with an expectation of nearly 25,000 cases in sales next year.
I have several story ideas from my time at Oliver today. Most of those will be posted or promoted here. There is even some bigger news coming from Bill Oliver not mentioned here.