Friday, November 13, 2020

Carpenter Creek Cellars Indiana Produced Wines

Carpenter Creek Cellars Indiana Produced Wines - the original winery in Jasper County, Indiana.

Last year we stopped at Carpenter Creek Cellars while passing through Jasper County in Northwest Central Indiana. They're located just off Interstate 65 in Remington, Indiana halfway between Lafayette and Chicago, not far from our family farm, relatively speaking. We've passed this spot literally hundreds of times over the years, but never before stopped to visit the local winery, Carpenter Creek Cellars. Exit I65 from the North at exit SR114, or from the south at State Road 231. Follow the signs on the back country roads to the winery on Jordan Road.

I thought I blogged about the experience last year but have to admit I can't find it and it was obviously never posted so I am doing so now. Photos here were taken in December 2019. 

Winemaker Randy Rottler (left) and proprietor
partner Ed Courtright

 During our visit at that time, we tasted a half dozen of their wines and ended up buying several labels. This is a bit remarkable as they exceeded my expectations for Indiana produced wines such that we brought home nearly a case. This is a testament to the craft and handiwork of partner proprietors Ed Courtright (right), who wanted to grow grapes in northern Indiana to supply wineries in the area, and winemaker Randy Rottler, who had dreams of starting a small winery.

The farm has been in the Courtright family for three generations. Ed and his son Byron planted their first grape vines in 2002, in what became Byron's vineyard. In 2011, they planted 1.1 acres of Traminette, the Midwestern grape used to produce Indiana's signature wine. After two years of building a business, and one year of restoring a barn/planting vineyards/doing paperwork ... they opened to the public in 2013. Just six months later, they won awards at the 2013 Indy (Indianapolis) International (wine festival) - a Silver Medal in Carpenter Creek labels - Gunny White, Sunset Rosé, and Sunset Red and Bronze Medals for both the Gunny Red and the Riesling. 

Their dessert wine, Byron's Blend is a tribute to Byron and is a blend of the five varietals sourced from that vineyards. 

I've visited wineries in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Missouri where, as much as I would like to support them in their endeavors, often, I failed to find a wine sufficiently inspiring to acquire. That was not the case here as Carpenter Creek exceeded my expectations and we did end up buying several labels.

Carpenter Creek is a farm winery housed in a quaint picturesque renovated 1919 barn. There is the winery and a tasting room of Carpenter Creek Cellars broad portfolio of wines. The estate is actually visible from the interstate highway, I65.

From there they produce what they claim to produce "world-class wines which embody the best terroir and fruit the Midwest has to offer".

While I agree with the latter part of that statement, that they 'produce wines that embody the best terroir and fruit the Midwest has to offer', the front of that claim leaves much to be desired. Its not their fault that Indiana, and most of the Midwest for that matter, is not well suited to growing fine wine varietal grapes. Their challenge is that what makes Indiana a top producer of corn and soybeans, tomatoes and other vegetables and fruits, is precisely why it is not well suited for wine grapes. 

As I written often in these pages, the concept of terroir embodies all the elements of a place that affect the growing of varietal grapes - climate, soil, drainage, sun exposure, slope and elevation, proximity to climate impacting bodies of water, and so on. Needless to say, the terroir of Indiana in most respects is not ideal for growing wine grapes. In any event, there are now more than a hundred Indiana wineries that span virtually all regions of the agricultural state from corner to corner.

I've often said, California should not try to grow corn or tomatoes, and Indiana (or Illinois) should not try to grow wine grapes. Having lived for a time in California, I will attest that while we enjoyed access to the wine regions, and many of the California fruits and vegetables, artichokes, apricots and so on, we dearly missed quality beef steak, corn and tomatoes. 

World class wine growing regions are in certain latitudes in areas with moderate or hot climates, in areas that are arid and possess poor rocky, well drained soils that would otherwise be harsh to the likes of corn or tomatoes. Ideal grape growing conditions - terroir - actually stress the grapes, forcing them to establish deep deep roots to strain in capturing nutrients from the sparse soil, which is largely void of sufficiency to grow extensive vines and foliage, or corn. In short, the conditions for wine varietal grapes are almost the opposite of those for the cornbelt. 

The answer to this of course is to determine and cultivate grapes most tolerant of or best suited to the terroir. Great wine producers and regions around the world are all noted for the specific wine grape varietals symbolic for their region and its distinctive terroir - Bordeaux varietals for example which are also suited for Napa Valley in the US. One popular grape selected for Indiana and Illinois wines is Traminette. There are eighteen different varieties of grapes grown in Indiana on a total of 600 acres of vineyard lands.

Indeed, the whole concept of AVA's, American Viticultural Areas, is based on federally-recognized regions defined either by political boundaries, such as the name of a county, state or country, or by a designated area for that AVA. All the criteria for an AVA come down to terroir so that all wines from that AVA can be presumed to have the same characteristics, or from grapes grown under the same conditions. This is the same as in the old world wine producing countries, where they have rigorous grape growing and wine producing regulations subject to AOC - Appellation d'origine contrôlée regulations in France, and DOC and DOCG in Italy ((Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita (DOCG) is the  superior classification to DOC). 

Notably, there are 57 official appellations in Bordeaux, and seventeen in Napa Valley. Indiana has two designated AVAs, the Indiana Uplands AVA in the center of the state at the southern border along the Ohio River, and the Ohio River Valley AVA straddling the Ohio River along the southern border of the state. 

In order for a wine to be designated with an Appellation of Origin defined by a political boundary, such as a county name for example, federal law requires that 75 percent or more of grapes used to make the wine be from that appellation, such as Napa Valley.

Indiana Wineries have formed promotional tours with pre-designated Wine Trails, each with from five to a dozen wineries or more banded together along a geographic route. They are: 

Indiana Uplands Trail in south and central Indiana with five wineries -
Indiana Wine Trail in Southeast Indiana - seven wineries -
Hoosier Wine Trail along the I64 cooridor in Southwest Indiana - six wineries -
Indy Wine Trail in Indianapolis with five wineries -
State Line Wine Trail bordering the Illinois State Line with five wineries -
South Shore Wine Trail with eleven wineries in the Northeast and East Central Indiana -
Cardinal Flight Wine Trail in Marion and adjacent counties in Central Indiana with six wineries -
Indiana Grown Wine Trail - crosses the state visiting 33 wineries -
WineTour with five wineries in northeast Indiana -

 Alas, Carpenter Creek Cellars sources many of their grapes from California regions - central coast, Sierra foothills, central valley. They also source grapes grown in the Midwest, those tend to be from the southern reaches of Indiana in the two AVAs bordering the Ohio River, or from the wine growing areas of western Michigan, straddling Lake Michigan or Ohio, along Lake Erie, where the Lakes' have significant moderating effects on the local climate. 

While Carpenter Creek have planted vineyards adjacent to the winery, they admitted they lost many of their planted vines due to the harsh winters and extreme cold and deep freeze of the soil a few years ago. 

All that said, partners Ed Courtright and Randy Rottler have done an admirable job crafting some pleasant drinkable wines, that most assuredly represent nearly the best achievable outcomes from the grape sources that they have to work with. 

They produce an extensive portfolio of wines that cover the range from reds and whites, along with a port-like fortified wine, a dessert wine, and a Rose'.

Last year, during our visit, we acquired several Carpenter Creek labels from those that we tasted (below), produced from grape sources as indicated:

Carpenter Creek Cellars Byron's Blend - A red dessert wine done in a port style, sourced from Indiana and other midwest grapes
Fence Row Red - Bordeaux style red blend - sourced from California Central Coast
Fence Row White
Gunny Red - from various sources - Gold Medal winner at the Finger Lakes International Wine Festival
Gunny White - from Indiana and other midwest grapes
Riesling - Michigan and other midwest grapes
Steuben - sourced from Indiana and other midwest grapes
Sunset Red - sourced from Indiana and other midwest grapes
Sunset Rose' - Ohio and other midwest grapes
Traminette - from Indiana and other midwest grapes

 Last week, Linda visited family and friends down in Indiana and stopped again at the picturesque red barn that serves as their winery and tasting room. Once again, she tried a couple wines and was pleasantly impressed such that she bought and brought home a couple new label selections.  

The highlight was a full bodied Zinfandel aged in bourbon barrels, sourced from Northern California Sierra foothill grapes.

 Watch for upcoming reviews of these wines. 

Carpenter Creek Cellars Bourbon Barrel Zinfandel - Byron's Blend - a perfect wine and BBQ pairing. 

 Other labels: