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Ten Years of Wining in Indiana

purple grapes

Birthplace Of Wine?

This weekend was a big one for wine in Indiana.

After a quick trip to the Farmers' Market (for requisite coffee fix, a treat from the Asian Fest and early strawberries), I loaded my still sleepy self into the car and drove out to Story, Indiana for the 10th annual Indiana Wine Fair. Despite dreary weather, cars snaked along State Road 135 to make their way to the Story Inn in Story, Indiana.

If southern Indiana seems like an unusual location for a wine fair, know this -- the first commercial wine-making operation in the U.S. was right here in Indiana. John James Dufour, who arrived in this country in 1796, started growing grapes and making wine along the Ohio River. Move over, Napa Valley!

100% Hoosier

I love this event for all sorts of reasons. One is the geography. Since Story is basically surrounded by Brown County State Park land, it feels quite secluded.

I also love the people who attend the festival. I'm from New Jersey, so there's no judging here, but never had I seen a pretzel necklace or a glass koozie at any wine-related function.

But that's what's great about the blue jean wearin', horse ridin', chap and cowboy hat sportin' Hoosiers who set up their camping chairs and tents for a relaxing day of tasting and socializing. It's a place you can get a hot dog, a pulled pork sandwich and a burger to go with your wine. If you want a wheel of brie or some sliced jamón ibérico, you're SOL.

20 Indiana Wineries

There are over 20 Indiana wineries featured from across the state, each offering a variety of wines made from both local and imported grapes. I was there for a few hours and still didn't get to them all. While pours were small (as they should be), there was no end to the number of tastes I could have. It was everything I could do to confine myself to one or two varietals in order salvage my palate.

Indiana wine drinkers seem to love their soft reds and whites, a fact confirmed by Bill Oliver of Oliver Winery. These concord grape and other fruit-based wines are generally so saccharine and syrupy I can't get them down, but who's to judge the taste of the people? What I will say is when the sweet stuff is put to use in a tasty tropical summer sangria, I'm right there with the rest of the Hoosiers hollerin' for another glass.

Grape Of The Moment

What really got me this year, though, was the Traminette, and I'm not just saying that because the Indiana Wine Grape Council has selected it as our state's signature grape. I find this French-American hybrid to be the perfect varietal to end my winter, usher in spring and inaugurate my summer. Its bouquet floods my nostrils like the lilacs, dogwoods and cherry blossoms do on my jogs around Bloomington, bringing the dismal days of winter to an end by catapulting me into aromatic ecstasy.

The palate the wine's flavor stops short of overwhelming the mouth with floral notes, but rather sets them behind soft, round fruits like orange blossom, lychee and melon. While I preferred the dryer of the possibilities, there were some that reached the honeyed quality of a sweet Gewurztraminer (Traminette's cousin) or Riesling -- perhaps a nice compromise between the overwhelming soft whites and a bone dry Sauvignon Blanc.

Either way, I was rarely disappointed if I stuck to this varietal throughout my tent wanderings: Turtle Run, French Lick and River City all stand out as winners to me.

Budweiser And Horsepower

I can't sign off without noting that, should you so choose, you can certainly come to the Indiana Wine Fair and get a Bud Light (or twenty). The downstairs bar at the Story Inn offers your fill of some good ol' country music to help wash down your domestic brews. If that all wasn't enough, you can stop by and grab a scoop of horse-powered ice cream on your way back to the not-so-leisurely life that awaits you beyond the respite that is the Indiana Wine Fair.More: Keep an eye out for the upcoming documentary on Indiana wine, "Hoosier Hospitality: Wine." It will air on WTIU in fall 2012.

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