Indiana’s barely an afterthought in most overviews of the U.S. wine industry. But that hasn’t hindered Bill Oliver’s optimism or the growth of his Oliver Winery, just north of Bloomington.
It’s Indiana’s oldest and largest winery, founded by his father in 1972. Today, it produces more than 360,000 cases annually. The winery promises “soft,…refreshing, easy-drinking wines with sun-ripened, sweet flavor.”
“I want to make wines that appeal to our customers,” says Oliver. Even on the phone, he’s an engaging, enthusiastic personality with an obvious gift for marketing. “We are finding niches, and when we find them, we do it well.”
Those niches are generally filled with sweet wines that aren’t always made from grapes. Apple, berry and cherry wines also sell well and are commonplace among the state’s wineries.
Indiana was home to the first successful commercial winery in the U.S. It was founded in 1802 in an area called “New Switzerland,” a nod to Swiss émigré John James Dufour, who first planted vines there. Within a decade, production reached 20,000 gallons a year, with regional sales in neighboring states.
“We are finding niches, and when we find them, we do it well.” —Bill Oliver
The early 1970s marked the advent of Indiana’s modern wine industry. Hybrid grapes, mead and fruit wines composed the majority of offerings, with a smattering of experimental plantings of Vitis vinifera, traditional European wine grapes. Now with approximately 100 wineries distributed evenly throughout the state, hybrid grapes and sweet wines remain the top calling cards.
Purdue University viticulture specialist Bruce Bordelon points to improved wine quality as the state’s biggest accomplishment in recent years, despite major challenges like climate and weather. Second, he says, is “finding varieties that can consistently produce quality wines.”
Among the state’s principal grapes are Traminette, a floral, aromatic white; Vignoles (a French hybrid); Chambourcin (a phylloxera-resistant red) and Noiret, a blending grape known for its deep color and hearty tannins.
None are likely to be familiar to wine drinkers on either coast. Nor is Indiana’s climate, which regularly includes brutal winter freezes and wet, humid summers.
“The biggest difference between us and the West Coast is summer rain,” says Oliver. “We had six inches in one August weekend this year. Imagine if that happened in Napa!”
Indiana Wine Facts
Principal Grape Varieties
Baco Noir, Catawba, Chambourcin, Marechal Foch, Noiret, Seyval Blanc, Traminette, Vidal, Vignoles
Brown County Winery
Country Heritage Winery
French Lick Winery
Parts of Ohio River Valley
Wine Touring Information