Wines of the Midwest

By Tom DiNardo

The Indiana State Fair Wine Competition began in 1973 as an “Indiana only” event, and, in its infancy, was obviously geared to promote Indiana wine growers and later wine makers from throughout the Midwest. In 1992, Dr. Richard Vine, Purdue University Enology Professor, began allowing wine entries from around the world to participate. In 2006 Christian Butzke took over the leadership as the new Executive Director of the Indy International Wine Competition ( as it is now known.

Currently, the Indy International Wine Competition is the largest scientifically organized independent wine competition in the United States. According to Competition manager, Jill Blume, “This year over 3,000 wines from a total of ten different countries were entered and judged by 16 panels comprised of 72 judges from the both the United States and Canada.” And I had the honor to be one of the judges this year!

The 2009Indy International Wine Competition was held June 16-18, 2009. The two day wine event was truly an amazing experience and one of the best organized and run wine competitions I have participated in to date. All wines submitted are tasted and judged blindly. As wine judges, we assessed and recorded our impressions from wine entries we tasted from other countries, as well as very unique wines made from lesser known grape varietals, other fruits and grape hybrids grown within the United States and specifically the Midwest.

Admittedly, I had limited experience with a number of the unique grape hybrids which were used to make many of the wines submitted in this stately wine competition. Many of these grape hybrids were created specifically to grow in the Midwest’s diverse and sometimes harsh climates. As I am sure you can imagine, there is a huge spectrum of extremes where the taste of these hybrids is concerned, from sugary sweet to almost bitter and everything in between.

A few of this year’s Indy International Wine Competition winners included Huber Orchard & Winery (Starlight, IN) who won the Governors Cup- Indiana Winery of the Year. Rancho Zabaco (Healdsburg, CA) won the Wine of the Year with their 2007 Reserve Zinfandel and Chateau Frank (Hammondsport, NY) won Sparkling Wine of the Year with their 2002 Brut. My personal favorite among the Gold Medal Winners was Butler Winery from Bloomington, IN which won Rosé Wine of the Year with their 2008 Chambourcin Rosé. See my review of Butler's Rosé, and their Late Harvest wines, below.

Interestingly enough, there were many fruit wine entries at this year’s wine competition. Wyldewood Cellars of Kansas City, KS, took home many medals awarded their wines. This winery makes intriguing Elderberry, Blackberry, Raspberry and even Traminette (a Gewürztraminer hybrid) wines. Their 2007 Prairie Schooner (Elderberry dessert wine) won a gold medal. I really enjoyed Wyldewood Cellars selection of Blackberry wines.

Focusing just on Indiana for a moment, I was pleasantly surprised by the truly terrific wines being produced in that state. One of my favorite vintners I discovered after the wine competition is Butler Winery from Bloomington, IN. Their wines consistently embody terrific quality, great wine making and value. It turns out many of their wines entered into this year’s wine competition won gold and silver medals. The Butler Winery 2008 Chambourcin Rosé and 2007 Vidal Ice Wine are simply amazing and both of these wines took gold medals. The non-vintage Indiana White, made from Vignoles and Chardonel, and the non-vintage Red Select, made from Chambourcin both took home silver medals and were outstanding.

For the most part, virtually all of the wines submitted for judging at the 2009 Indy International Wine Competition were professionally crafted and of good quality. It was a wonderful surprise to me that such quality wine, made from these obscure grape varietals and hybrids, existed outside of the nation’s better known and marketed wine states such as California, Washington, Oregon and New York where the more mainstream grape varietals are grown and used to make wine. These Midwest and other state wine makers showcased at this year’s Indy International Wine Competition are now vying for the American wine drinker’s attention and dollar. Let me tell you these Midwest wine makers wines are worth buying and trying!

Butler Vineyards 2008 Chambourcin Rosé (Indiana) $18 What is Chambourcin? Chambourcin is a French hybrid that was first available in the US in 1963. It is a truly delicious and favored red grape of wine growers and producers in the nation’s Midwest. Indiana’s Butler Vineyards Chambourcin Rosé won this year’s Gold Medal and Best of Class in the 2009 Indianapolis Wine Competition. The wine’s nose offers an enticing, bouquet of tart apple and cranberry. Off-dry flavors of tart apple, citrus and subtle cranberry create a terrific finish. I am not kidding when I state this is one of the best Rosé wines I have ever had! – Tom DiNardo, the Wine Zealot Butler Vineyards 2007 Vignoles Late Harvest (Indiana) $15 What is Vignoles (America’s superstar grape)? The Vignoles grape varietal, also known as Ravat 51 is French-American hybrid between Seibel 8665 and the Pinot de Corton. Butler Vineyards of Indiana thumbs their nose at the America’s widely recognized wine states by producing this terrific late harvest wine. Aromas of honey, melon and floral notes are sure to entice the would-be drinker. The palate is sweet, and the alcohol and acidity are low. Profound flavors of candied tropical fruit and honey dominate and create a memorable finish. Give this Midwest gem a try – Tom DiNardo, the Wine Zealot