Reds a “Natural” at Indiana’s Oliver Winery
“Reds grow here!” exclaims Bernie Parker, Vineyard Manager at Creekbend Vineyards, the agricultural division of Oliver Winery of Bloomington, Indiana. And that’s not just his opinion; it’s his track record. From the grapes grown at Creekbend, Oliver Winery produces a full line of both hybrid and viniferia estate wines, including their award-winning reds.
From estate grown Chambourcin, Oliver produces three distinctive interpretations: Chambourcin Rosé, a dry wine crafted through minimal processing and simple vinification; Chambourcin, a dry red whose journey begins in steel and finishes with eighteen months in oak; and Chambourcin Dessert wine, made in the style of port and racked to barrels for two years.
Oliver’s winemakers and grapegrowers have spent many years learning how to coax the optimal balance of tannins from Chambourcin. ‘We found that if we leave it on the skins too long,” Parker explained, ‘you tend to get too many of the tannins from the seeds and the skins. It gets overpowering “so we only leave Chambourcin to ferment on the skins for two days or less, because all it really needs to get is the color.”
At Oliver Winery, curtailing the growth of Chambourcin in the vineyard is a key to establishing the desired outcome in the bottle. Parker describes the process: ‘The crop load this year for Chambourcin is about nine tons to the acre. If we left it at that crop load, we wouldn’t be able to ripen it for the dry Chambourcin. The vines with the higher crop loans are fine for the rosé. However, some of the fruit is mechanically knocked off to adjust the crop for the dry Chambourcin. We also pick the part of the crop for the dry Chambourcin from the top of the hill where the soil is shallower and the vines are less vigorous.”
“What we learned from last year’s vintage and this year’s too–let it hang as long as possible,” Bill Oliver, the president and director of winemaking adds. “In some years, without crop adjustment we wouldn’t get the sugars and chemistry we need for our dry red or port-style wine. Dropping the fruit definitely allows the rest of the berries to ripen to a level that has more sugars and more intense flavors.”
Oliver also makes a Cabernet Sauvignon under its estate grown Creekbend label. Parker discovered that field tiling and drainage is essential to vinifera survival, a connection made quite by accident. At another Midwestern vineyard, planted on an old cornfield, they noticed that certain sections of vinifera rows were mysteriously protected from the ravages of winter damage. ‘Everywhere that field tile crossed a row, the vine on either side was still alive,” Parker observed. ‘Because the water was drained out by the drain tile, the vines did not have access to water over the winter. When a Cab vine doesn’t have water to uptake, it will survive without winter damage.”
Vinifera varieties, which are used to steady temperatures, can also suffer damage in winter when the vines uptake water during brief winter warm spells. Parker explains, “Sometimes in Indiana during January, it’s 60 degrees one day and ten below the next. Fluctuations like that cause all kinds of freeze damage. So we now have tiling between every row of Cab.” With this improvement, Bill Oliver said that they’ve been able to get vinifera fruit to harvest for each of the four previous seasons.
“With our Cab, it’s all about the heat during ripening.” Parker said. ” After crop adjustment, we open up the canopy to get as much sun exposure as we can, increasing the phenolics – hopefully.” Bill Oliver notes that Oliver’s Cabernet is a ‘little lighter on tannins but very fruit forward.” He describes their interpretation as being more like Bordeaux’s, one that is ‘refined and nuanced. ” “We are certainly not making California fruit bomb Cabernet,” he added, ” although the our vineyard has about the same number of growing degree days as Napa Valley.”
Parker and Oliver agree that despite a late frost, the 2011 growing season was a good one. Bill Oliver concluded that this year’s late harvest, which wrapped up on October 17, yielded some ‘truly spectacular fruit.”