Indiana may not have the reputation of Bordeaux or Napa Valley when it comes to wines, but it is making a name of its own as a state that continues to expand its wine industry.
The state has some 75 wineries, with the number growing by at least five per year. Two of the most recognized and visited are about 100 miles apart, Huber’s Orchard, Winery & Vineyards in Starlight and Oliver Winery & Vineyards in Bloomington. With both dating to the 1970s, Huber’s and Oliver are prime examples of how the wine industry in Indiana focuses on giving visitors a memorable experience just as much as as producing an unforgettable cabernet.
“[Wineries] really define that quintessential agriculture tourism kind of space,” says Bill Oliver, who has owned Oliver Winery since 1983. “There is nothing that’s as value-added as wine. You talk about taking an acre of a crop and turning it into something really valuable. That’s what wine is.”
Oliver Winery is the oldest in Indiana, having opened to the public in 1972 by Oliver’s father, William. The elder Oliver began making wine in the basement of his home in the 1960s, and he was instrumental in the state’s passing of the Small Winery Act in 1971.
Oliver Winery & Vineyards is the top tourist attraction in Bloomington, according to Oliver, with several hundred thousand visitors each year. Wine sales at the winery are around $3 million.
“That’s a big chunk of money coming into Monroe County,” Oliver says. “Of course, we spend money here, bank here. Whatever we need to get locally, we do when we can.
“We sell in 18 states including Indiana. That’s money we’re putting back into the state.”
Huber’s Orchard & Winery is also having a significant impact on the state and local economy. The farm dates back to 1843, and today it grows many fruits, vegetables, Christmas trees and pumpkins on more than 550 acres. It opened as a winery in 1978, and now has a 65-acre vineyard for growing grapes that have been turned into award-winning wines. Huber’s varietals include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Seyval Blanc, among others.
Like Oliver Winery, Huber’s has a solid spot in the agritourism realm of Indiana. In addition to its vineyard tours and appealing tasting room, it also has a children’s farm park, a farm market, cheese shop, ice cream factory, gift shop and banquet facility.
Sense of Ownership
From the larger operations to the more boutique locations, wineries lead the way in Indiana’s agritourism industry. Studies show they play an important role in an area’s economic profile.
“We’ve found that when people visit a winery, they’re leaving between $200 to $300 in the communities they are visiting,” says Jeanette Merritt, marketing director for the Indiana Wine and Grape Council. “That includes wine purchases at the winery, but that’s also hotels, restaurants, gas stations and other businesses. So if you look at economic development and impact, we’re finding our wineries are a major part of that.”
Though Indiana’s wine industry is more than 40 years old, Merritt says its place in tourism came about primarily through the local food and products movement in recent years.
“People want to know where their wine comes from, they want to go to the vineyards, see the grapes growing and taste the wine being made from those grapes,” she says. “It gives people a sense of ownership. They can go in, meet the winemaker, taste the wine, learn about how the wine was made. To get that one-on-one experience really gives them a sense of pride of what we’re doing here in the state.”