The Blended Paths of Chateau Thomas Winery
‘Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Like an old grapevine, the paths we follow in life are full of twists and turns. This story is the second installment of a three-part series profiling Midwest wine makers who have successfully left other careers to pursue enology and viticulture.
Chateau Thomas Winery
Before Dr. Charles Thomas of Chateau Thomas Winery in Plainfield, Indiana began making wine commercially, he was a practicing OB/GYN physician for 33 years delivering an average of 600 babies per year in Indiana. Today, instead of delivering newborns, he gives birth to over 400,000 bottles of wine per year, the result of a passion he cultivated while taking wine appreciation classes at his alma mater, Indiana University.
‘The subject of wine is so complex- including its history, geology, geography, viticulture, winemaking, all rolled into a marriage of food and wine; wine also acts as a social lubricant, with uses in both food and medicine, even sterilizing wounds. In my opinion, wine is the essence of human culture,” Dr. Thomas says.
In the early ‘70s, Dr. Thomas began attending eight week extension courses at Indiana-Purdue University(IUPUI), covering wine history, grape growing, harvesting, wine making and tasting. Instructors for the course included Percy Simmons, a London native and avid fine wines collector; Marcia Mondavi, daughter of Robert Mondavi, who flew in from New York twice per year; Sandy McNally, head of the New York office of Chateau & Estates Wines; and, a representative from the Champagne Bureau of France.
In 1973, after just one year as a student, Dr. Thomas took over teaching all the IUPUI wine courses to 100 students while still practicing medicine. He continued to teach until 1981. ‘In class we focused on French wines so my palate was trained [on them]. It wasn’t until 1976, when I visited Napa Valley with a friend and wine wholesaler, that I developed an appreciation for California wines through personal tours and meeting the people who were making history in the world of wine including Robert, Tim and Michael Mondavi and Chateau Montelena (made famous in 1976 by winning the ‘Judgment of Paris’ blind tasting.”)
Then, in 1978, while attending a medical conference in Napa Valley, Dr. Thomas met a representative of Sterling Vineyards who helped arrange for 25 pounds of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes to be shipped back home to Indiana. Using a homemade wine kit, he made his first batch of wine from these grapes and became ‘hooked” on all aspects of winemaking. In 1984, he opened the Winery on the southside of Indianapolis as one of only a handful of wineries in the state.
Today, Dr. Thomas continues to utilize his medical background outside the winery, lecturing on the health benefits of wine. During a recent lecture at The Chef’s Academy in Indianapolis, he explained how he developed Slender Wine which he describes as ‘the world’s only carb-free sweet wine.”
According to Dr. Thomas, Slender Wine contains erythritol, a naturally-derived white crystal and smallest-chained member of the sugar alcohols. The sugar substitute is produced by fermentation from healthy bacteria and yeast, has no calories and zero glycemic index, he said. Slender Wine is produced as white, red and blush wine with an average ethanol content of 12%.
Slender Wine is the only natural sweetener approved by the FDA for use in wine. Currently distributed in 15 states, Slender Wine comprises 15% of Chateau Thomas annual sales. Dr. Thomas describes it as having, “the same mouth feel and full-body as other wines and Slender Wine can even be enjoyed by diabetics.”
Dr. Thomas says his wine business continues to expand. Late in 2011, Chateau Thomas opened its fourth tasting room, on the square in downtown Bloomington, Indiana.
See related story: Midwest Winemakers Blend Career Paths