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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Wineries find welcome reception in Harrison County

It’s true. Southern Indiana has something in common with those well-known wine regions: It offers the unique blend of topography, soil composition and climate that’s essential to producing juicy, hearty, distinctive grapes. It even has a rich wine making history that stretches back a couple hundred years. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the rolling hills and high plateaus of Harrison County, where four wineries offer a highly palatable excuse for driving the scenic highways of Southern Indiana.

Jim Pfeiffer knows those highways well. He wandered over them for two years to find the perfect spot for his winery. The college class that got him interested in vineyards – “Geography of Wines” – had taught him to seek out specific conditions. He found what he was looking for in 1996, when he chose to establish his Turtle Run Winery on land along St. Peters Church Road in Corydon, about 20 minutes from Louisville. There the heavy soil concentration of limestone and chalk, a high altitude and good winds and rain promised the perfect blend of variables. He and his wife, Laura, spent the next three years planting vines. Now they’ve got 11½ acres of grapes.

So why does this area offer such a perfect scenario for grape growing? Thank the glaciers. On their trek south so many eons ago, they stopped in this region, leaving deep valleys adjacent to untouched plateaus. This resulted in a triangular area called the Uplands – an area that gives you a dramatic view of the cataclysmic power of the glaciers, and also gives wines distinction.

“Things grow differently here,” Pfeiffer says simply.Modern winemakers like Pfeiffer weren’t the first to discover the magic of Southern Indiana soil. In the early 1800s, vineyards were common in this area, and its wineproduction was so respected that the land along the Ohio River was known as the “Rhineland of America.”

While the fortunes of winemakers rose and fell over the years (thanks to factors ranging from vine disease to economic upheaval and the Civil War), Indiana was still America’s 10th largest grape-producing state in the years leading up to prohibition. In the years following prohibition, however, the state’s wine making pretty well dried up.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that small wineries began to appear with any frequency around the state again. Then, in the 1970s, changes in legislation made wine making a more feasible endeavor. Since then, the state has been home to a growing number of vineyards, including the ones in Harrison County.

And that brings us back to Jim and Laura Pfeiffer. Like their grape vines, they’ve put down roots here. Trained in the art of wine making in Bloomington, the couple now raise grapes and four kids on the Uplands. Named after a huge turtle seen crossing the road nearby, Turtle Run boasts a gift shop, as well as a tasting room with a great view of the production facility. Visitors can watch grapes being crushed and pressed, see the big oak barrels being filled and witness new vintages being filtered and bottled. Around the facility, huge steel vats and shipping boxes set the stage for an operation that, when things really get busy, ropes in good friends to help with harvesting and bottling.

Less than 10 minutes away from Turtle Run is Best Vineyards, which owner Wilbert Best says started as a crazy idea to grow table grapes and make a few bucks off the farm he bought in 2000. Wilbert recruited his sisters, Rachel and Berretta, and began planting in April 2002. After selling his crops and tinkering with wine making, Wilbert entered the commercial wine business and opened a tasting room in 2008.

Today, he has 2,500 vines on four acres, with grape varieties that include Chambourcin, Chardonel and Muscat. He also owns acre of black raspberries and nearly an acre of Elderberries, and plans to grow red raspberries soon.

Those fruits will be added to Best’s wines, which already feature fruity flavors, including peach and strawberry. Best’s Red Raspberry and Blackberry Mead won medals at the2008 Indy International Wine Competition, as did their Chambourcin, Chambourcin and Hummingbird Red.

Step out onto the winery’s deck with Best, and he’ll explain that the land you see was once a flower farm. The view, a perfect accompaniment to a glass of wine, entices you to wander the vineyards and brambles.

Then head just a little farther down the road to Indian Creek Winery. Its unfinished exterior testifies to its being open less than two years, but inside you’ll feel comfortable enough to think it’s been there for years. The tasting room bids for your attention with its ceiling of western cedar and wall of carefully selected local stones.

All of this is the passion of Mark and Mary Kendall who, along with their family and dogs Ziggy and Blue, welcome the chance to share samples of their wines with visitors. Although Indian Creek is not yet mature enough to produce its own grapes, that doesn’t mean the Kendalls aren’t creating winning blends. In fact, using grapes imported from New York or Missouri, the Kendalls already have earned distinction among Indiana winemakers: Their Sweet Creek Rose earned a gold medal, and Vidal Blanc and Blackberry bronzes in the 2008 Indy International Wine Competition.

And it won’t be long till the Kendalls are serving the juice of their own vines: Mark says Indian Creek’s 4½-acre vineyard to be ready for harvesting and bottling in 2010. Meanwhile, you can enjoy a prize-winning blend and nibble on cheese and crackers while taking a seat on the covered patio overlooking the vineyard. Perched on top of a hill not far from the creek for which it’s named, Indian Creek offers up a pleasant view of the Southern Indiana landscape, and a nice perspective on the unique geography that lends distinction to its wines.

Scout Mountain is proud to be the fourth winery in Harrison County. Situated on 35 acres surrounded by forestry Scount Mountain Winery opened its doors in May 2009. Owner Mike Schad has been making wine for about 20 years. The love has been there for a long time.

Along side their vineyard is about 100 apple trees ripe for picking in the fall. They also grow very flavorful and unique heirloom vegetables, herbs, and plants and sell them in the spring and summer months.

Nestled among the vineyard and gardens they offer overnight accommodations in their bed and breakfast cottage. The house was built in the 1920's and is the perfect quiet get-a-way in the middle of Indiana's fastest growing wine trail.

Story written by Jen Thomas.

The Wineries of Harrison County

Indian Creek Winery

6491 County Line Rd. NE



Turtle Run Winery

940 St. Peters Church Rd. NE



Scout Mountain Winery

2145 Scout Mountain Road



Best Vineyards

8373 Morgans Ln. SE



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