Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Oliver Winery Fits in Bloomington with a bit of Everything

Bloomington is known as a popular college town that houses the University of Indiana. It’s also the home of Indiana’s largest winery and I had the pleasure of visiting Oliver Winery on my trip there.

Oliver Winery certainly deserves its label as the state’s largest. It’s a place with many personalities that show through in more than 40 wines. Here you will find the ordinary and the extraordinary in a rare combination of home grown and home blended.

From the moment you step into the shop/tasting room at Oliver you know this is something different. The store is filled with unusual sauces, dips, chocolates, jellies and cheeses that all of one thing in common – they come from the Midwest. As tempting as it was to walk away with a sauce called Mediterranean Pinot Grigio from Ohio, Crazy Charlie’s Salsa from Indiana and Zzans Chocolate from Michigan, I remembered that I was there to check out the wine.

There are two personalities to Oliver Winery. The first is in its namesake, a collection of wine blended from grapes found in vineyards in the top regions of the United States, including the Pacific Northwest, Finger Lakes and Napa. The creation of Bill and Kathleen Oliver came about in the 1970s and has produced many award-winning wines, but it was missing a component – wine from grapes grown on their own vineyard.

The small collection of grapes on the property just wasn’t enough to do this. In 1994, the Olivers began another faucet of their wine production, Creekbend. The Creekbend Vineyard is located in Monroe County of Indiana and the Creekbend wine brand is made 100% from grapes grown in that vineyard. The family has managed to produce quite a selection of grapes, giving them the most diverse collection of wines I’ve seen in the Midwest from a popular Soft White at $7.50 a bottle to the $70.00 Creekbend Cabernet Sauvignon.

I had the pleasure of a private tour, but free tours and tastings are available for everyone. My tour took me through the warehouses and production, where I saw the state of the art equipment and ever-expanding buildings. I also got to taste lots of wine and was quite pleased with what there was. The sparkling Creekbend Vidal Blanc Sparkling was one of the lightest bubblies I’ve had. It was very different from the dry Creekbend Valvin Muscat , which was steel-aged. We next had the Gew├╝rztraminer, with a bit more spice than the usual. It was very different from the light and sweet Traminette, made from Indiana’s state grape by the same name.

We continued on the “sweet trail,” but I was treated to some unexpected flavors. The Watermelon tasted a bit like a Jolly Rancher. It was very sweet straight, though it might work well in a spritzer or even a slushy. Oliver also bottles their own Sangria. This perfect summer treat (just add a bit of fresh fruit and they’ll think you made it yourself) was not overly sweet. On the total other end of the spectrum was the 2007 Cabernet. There were only 130 cases of this made and it is a gem that’s oaky and rich.

Of course, I couldn’t make it through every Oliver and Creekbend wine, but a few more tastes I had worth noting are: Creekbend Pinot Grigio, dry with strong grapefruit undertones; the Creekbend Late Harvest Vignoles, as sweet and satisfying as an ice wine; and Valdiguie, one of the lightest reds I’ve tasted, with just a hint of spice. I also have to add that the two most inexpensive wines – Soft White and Soft Red – are what you want your restaurant house wine to be.

It’s definitely worth a trip to join the two to three thousand weekend visitors to Oliver Winery.  Since it’s a college area there’s no shortage of accommodations. I stayed at A Summerhouse Inn, a reasonable motel in a good location with refrigerators and microwaves in the room and a pool on the premises.

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