Indiana’s Wine Country

With the craziness of summer, especially this summer, weekends with just Adam have been nonexistent. We have either been running in two different directions or in fast forward with groups of people for some sort of celebration.

While this summer has been a great time, it is sometimes nice to just be a couple.

Last March I reserved a tour of Oliver Winery’s Creekbend Estate Vineyard. It was hard to book something so far in advance but, it was nice to know through all the jam-packed, full throttle weekends this summer, there was this day to look forward to.

Oliver Winery is a very successful Indiana Winery just north of Bloomington, which is home to Indiana University and, is at the forefront of the local food movements across the state. At Oliver, there are a handful of wines made from grapes shipped from California and others that are grown locally at their Creekbend Vineyard, a few miles away from the main tasting room.

Oliver's Bloomington Tasting Room.

Oliver’s Bloomington Tasting Room.

Adam and I have been to the tasting room at the winery many times and fall even more in love with it every time. One of our first road trips together was to Oliver after a long, stressful few weeks in the first year of our careers. Adam even proposed to me over a bottle of Oliver’s Merlot.

Thanks to this special place in our hearts for Oliver, I was excited to have the opportunity to tour the private vineyard.

On Sunday, Adam and I headed out on the two hour drive to Bloomington, looking forward to the afternoon. The drive from the tasting room to the vineyard was windy, hilly and amazingly scenic.

We were welcomed into the vineyard by vast grape vines as far as we could see in either direction. Adam pulled up to an old farm house where two men were sitting on the porch. The older man introduced himself as Bernie, the vineyard manager. The younger man, about our age, was a farm hand named Jay. Bernie told us that we were the first to arrive and that as we wait for everyone else we could explore the farmhouse or the table grape vines planted in the back.

After the long drive, we both needed to use the restroom so we headed into the house to visit the facilities. While I was waiting for Adam, I read a plaque in the kitchen stating that the home dated back to the 1830’s and the original owners were buried on the land. Much of the house is still intact, including the unique chestnut floors in the kitchen.

Adam and I headed out to the back to check out the table grape vines. These grapes are sold in the cheese and fruit platters in the tasting room. I excitedly tested out my birthday present, a new Nikon camera, while Adam was looking around to try and figure out what bird was making this weird call he kept hearing.

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The tour was kept to twelve people and once everyone arrived Jay brought out some champagne to kick off the tour.

Bernie told us the basics about the vineyard, including that the vineyard is located in a microclimate making the growing days and temperature during those growing days very similar to Napa Valley. The soils are great and thanks to the limestone and hills that are predominate in the area, rain runs off easily. There are about 69 acres of vines in the vineyard which re-opened in 1994 after Professor Bill Oliver began making wines in the sixties.

We began our walk around the vineyard with a fresh glass of Chardonel, which was a delicious hybrid grape that is similar to chardonnay.

One of the first questions asked was about the foil ribbons on the end of all the rows of the vines.

Red foil designed to keep birds away.

Red foil designed to keep birds away.

“Bird Control,” Bernie explained.

He mentioned that when the sun hits the flapping foil it reflects light keeping the birds away. They also use recordings of bird distress or attack calls.

I looked at Adam and laughed. That was the crazy bird he was looking for!

The next wines we tried were the Catawba and Traminette. Both of these we had tried before. The Catawba is one of Adam’s sister’s (many) favorites. Bernie snipped a few bunches of grapes and let us try the Catawba grapes. They were approaching harvest and were juicy and sweet.

Tasting some Catawba.

Tasting some Catawba.

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Next we headed up a large hill which actually serves as a landing strip for pilots that can land on grass. Along the landing strip were new grape vines which were planted this spring. We learned that grapes cannot be harvested until they reach three years of maturity, but, if taken care of, can last thirty years.

Adam in the landing strip, with vines as far as the eye can see!

Adam in the landing strip, with vines as far as the eye can see!

While walking up the hill, I asked Bernie how he got the job as the vineyard manager.

He laughed.

“Yeah. What did you study? Did you come from farming?,” Adam asked.

Two farmers, chatting it up.

Two farmers, chatting it up.

“Nope. Definitely did not come from farming,” Bernie smiled. “That’s a good one for the whole group to hear. I will answer that in a bit.”

Bernie, the vineyard manager, teaching the group about the grapes.

Bernie, the vineyard manager, teaching the group about the grapes.

We continued on the last leg of the walking tour. We passed some Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon rows. Here, Bernie grabbed a handful of the Cab grapes and handed them out for us to try. These weren’t as sweet as the other grapes and he asked if we tasted green pepper.

The whole group lit up. Yes!

He explained these grapes were not ripe yet and if you ever have a bottle of Cabernet that tastes similar to a green pepper, it means the grapes were not ready for harvest.

As we walked back to the Farmhouse, Adam and I brought up the rear of the group taking a few more pictures and checking out the last few rows of grapes.

I looked at Adam. “You having fun?”

“A blast,” he beamed. “This is a perfect day.”

Perfect Day.

Perfect Day.

A gourmet cheese platter was waiting for us in the farmhouse complete with Indiana cheeses, including one from Fair Oaks Dairy, as well as a glass of Chamboursin, a dry red wine. Adam and I both declared it our favorite of the day.

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The final bottle uncorked of the tour was an ice wine. This incredibly sweet wine was paired with Lindt chocolates and reminded me of honey. It was good enough for me to appreciate but was much too sweet for any more than a couple sips. I looked at Adam, who seemed to be feeling the same way, and wished we had split a glass, so not to waste the wine.

Bernie thanked everyone for joining him and asked if anyone had any other questions.

I reminded him that he had not answered mine about how he got his start.

“Oh, that’s right! Thanks for reminding me.”

He told us his career actually began in the military and he took a government job that brought him back to Indiana in 1997. Prior to this he worked as a bomb specialist. During the grape harvest, he volunteered at the vineyard with his wife and became good friends with Bill and Kathleen Oliver.

Over a bottle of wine at the end of a festival in Indianapolis, Bill asked Bernie to be the vineyard manager. Bernie said three jaws dropped that afternoon. His, his wife’s, and Kathleen’s.

Bernie replied, “Thank you for the offer but, I don’t know anything about growing grapes.”

Bill responded “You are a bomb specialist with all ten fingers, I can teach you to grow grapes.” Three weeks later, Bernie accepted the job and has been there ever since.

And, he hasn’t looked back.

“My grandfather was a farmer,” Bernie winked, “And I know he’s sending me a big, old high five from heaven.”

Creekbend Vineyard Quick Facts

http://www.oliverwinery.com/vineyardevents
7508 North Woodall Street
Ellettsville, IN 46429

Tours are only offered a handful of weekends in late summer and book up fast. As mentioned, I made this reservation in March. It’s because I tried last summer and spots were not available.

It’s a walking tour (about one mile total) so dress accordingly. Wear good shoes. Prepare for the weather as it could be chilly or hot. They provide umbrellas if it’s drizzly.

Prices are $40 for an individual or $70 for a couple. Heck of a deal. We tried nearly ten wines, some of which are not offered in the tasting room, were fed a beautiful cheese and chocolate platter, and the tour was given by the incredibly knowledgeable vineyard manager.

It’s a hilly, twisty drive on back roads to the vineyard. Use the map on the website versus trying to use a GPS. According to the vineyard manager over 85% of the time the GPS will get you lost.

Creekbend also offers picnic’s in the vineyard throughout the summer where you can bring your own meal, take a stroll through the vineyard on your own, and purchase estate wines by the bottle or glass for the evening. Sounds amazing!

Even if you can’t make it out to the vineyard, check out the tasting room on 37 just north of Bloomington. It’s beautiful, and a lot of fun.

… We made a stop by the tasting room to purchase a case of the estate wine. We already can’t wait to bring some of these bottles out during special occasions in the year to come!

Checking out the Creekbend brand back at the tasting room.

Checking out the Creekbend brand back at the tasting room.

Creekbend wines back at home.

Creekbend wines back at home.

... 'til next time.

… ’til next time.

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