Winemaking in the American Midwest, although appreciated and respected by those 'in the know,' has a supprisingly low profile given its historical significance. Missouri was the most significant wine producing state before Prohibition. Happily, Missouri has slowly been rebuilding its reputation, and it's star grape, Norton, has an international following. However, the home of the first commercial wine industry in the US has remained relatively obscure: Indiana.
Since I currently live in Indiana, I've had the chance to taste wine from the more significant wineries on many occasions. In fact, in my current home of Bloomington, we have not one but two wineries. Oliver Winery is the oldest and largest winery in Indiana. They grow mostly hybrids, plus Concord, Niagara, and Catawba, and even produce a few locally grown vinifera wines. They also purchase west coast fruit, and it is those wines that to some extent dominate their tasting room. Oliver is a more polished operation, producing wines in an international style. It should be noted that the winery grounds have beautifully gardens, and they sell cheeses, meats, breads, crackers, etc. for picnics. Interestingly enough, the Wall Street Journal listed Oliver as one of 12 wineries to visit in the US. It is certainly worth a visit.
The second and smaller of the Bloomington wineries is Butler Winery. They grow almost exclusively hybrids. Their in-town tasting room in Bloomington might be better known for its wine and beer making supplies. But anybody who ventures out to the winery is in for an unexpected treat. The grounds are very charming, and rather than simply a cooler with sandwhiches and such, they have made to order sandwhiches, appetizers, and such, served in cafe style. And the food is rather good too! Butler is more charmingly and authentically Midwestern than Oliver, and although I was not at first impressed, My appreciation and enjoyment of their wines and winery has grown considerably over time. And although some people might not find it as 'impressive' as Oliver, I actually recommend it with equal enthusiasm, although for entirely different reasons. This past weekend I went to their in-town tasting room to buy wine-making supplies, and took the opportunity to taste a few of their wines.
Before the notes, a special focus on a particular grape. Most of Butler's red wines focus on the hybrid Chambourcin. Chambourcin is among my favorite grapes, no allowance for its hybrid status necesary. In fact, although it is a 'hybrid,' about 60% of its paretage is actually vinifera, although which vinifera has been a matter of debate - the once common misconception is that it was none other than Pinot Noir, but it turns out to be a rather obscure vinifera called Black Hambourg. But who cares? Unique among hybrids, it truly does have the refinement of true vinifera, without a trace of 'hybrid funk.' It is among the most charming of grape varieties, fruity, aromatic, and the best examples are not unlike a decent Cru Beaujolais. For the record, my standard for Chambourcin is made by Pirtle Winery, in Weston, Missouri (another winery I recommend visiting).
Butler Winery, Chardonel, Indiana 2005
Lemon, perhaps a bit of coconut, a touch of tropical fruits, and a bit of oak. A reasonably succesful Chardonel, and while I must admit that Chardonel has grown on me, I'm still not a big fan. Pleasant / Good (82 - 84). [8/9/08]
(Chardonel is a hybrid of Chardonnay and the hybrid Seyval Blanc.)
Butler Winery, Chambourcin, Indiana 2004
Nice nose of berries, blueberry in particular. On the palate, cherry and raspberry, but with generous
blueberry. Fruity and aromatic. Quite nice! Drinking very nicely now, but should keep it charms for
another year or so. Very Good (85 - 87). [8/9/08]
Butler Winery, Chambourcin, Indiana 2005
Not as forward as the 2004, but with the same character and components (fruity, aromatic red berries and blueberries), and more structure. Needs another year for that delightful fruit to express itself, but
should still retain its more impressive structure. Drink in the next year after that. Very Good (85 - 87). [8/9/08]
Butler Winery, Indiana White, Indiana NV
Almost every Midwestern winery produces a semi-sweet, non-vintage white, and an accompanying red. Made from Vignoles, which is actually a nice little grape, producing wines that can have a passing resemblance to late-harvest Riesling. Semi-sweet, with fresh peach and nectarine. Nice. Very Good (85 - 87). [8/9/08]
(Vignoles is hybrid of one of the many Seibel hybrids with "Pinot de Corton," which might or might not be related to Pinot Noir.)
Butler Winery, Chambourcin Rose, Indiana 2007
Semi-sweet. Fruity berries, with a touch of nectarine. Nice. Good (83 - 85). [8/9/08]
Butler Winery, Late Harvest Vignoles, Indiana 2007
Sweet but not extremely sweet. Simple but nice character of pear and peach. Worth noting that the 2004
(which I had in December 2007) could have passed for a decent Riesling Spatlese. Very Good (85 - 87). [8/9/08]
Butler Winery, Ruby Port, Indiana 2005
Made from Chambourcin. Fruity red berry and blueberry, with the fortification providing additional
structure. Very Good (85 - 87). [8/9/08]