The founder and namesake of Bloomington’s Oliver Winery has died.
Bill Oliver was an Indiana University law professor who specialized in tax law. But his fascination with oenology, or winemaking, was strong enough that he’d take visiting law professorships at colleges across the country…providing they had oenology departments he could squeeze for knowledge. But when he wanted to start a winery in Monroe County, there was skepticism.
“A winery in Indiana? What are you talking about, Mr. Oliver? They said ‘Why don’t you stick with the law?’,” said longtime friend Bill Kroll. Kroll was a neighbor to Bill and Mary Oliver for half a century, and was a founding partner in the corporation which eventually became Oliver Winery. He said at first, winemaking was a hobby for Oliver, starting with the weekend purchase of a trunkful of Kentucky grapes and the two Bills crushing them by hand. Kroll said when it came time to bottle the wine, Oliver developed a cunning plan.
“I’ll never forget, we used to go to restaurants and we’d order a bottle of wine and he’d ask the waiter to make sure that we could keep the bottle,” Kroll said. “We took it back to Browncliff [Lane] and washed them out and that was our first crop. But they were gifts – you couldn’t sell it.”
Kroll said when the winery did open in 1972, Indiana University President John Ryan and Governor Edgar Whitcomb were among the first to be presented with bottles of wine. In 1983, Oliver turned day-to-day operations over to his son, also named Bill. Kroll said the elder Oliver had begun to show the first signs of dementia by the time his wife Mary passed away four years ago, but remained so close to her that even after her death he frequently asked where she was, so that he might again run information by her, as he had in life. Oliver passed away Sunday at Bloomington’s Bell Trace senior living facility. He was 89.