By BRADEN LAMMERS
> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
For those looking to explore the rolling hills of Southern Indiana as the fall foliage begins to turn, consider following a trail.
The Indiana Uplands Wine Trail winds through several counties in southern and central Indiana and highlights nine wineries along the route.
“It is an incredibly scenic drive, especially during the fall,” said Wilbert Best, owner of Best Wines.
Best is one of the newest members of the wine trail that started in 2003 and is looking to attract people to the route that leads from Clark County, to French Lick and just north of Bloomington.
Kim Doty, president of the Uplands Wine Trail and Owner of the French Lick Winery said the trail has been a cooperative effort among the area wineries and was an idea broached by Ted Huber, owner of Huber Winery in Starlight.
At the time seven local wineries joined together to launch the trail.
“We were kind of getting to a point in the industry back then that we had enough wineries, and enough good wineries, that had like-minded people that got along well that we thought...lets get a wine trail going,” said Jim Pfeiffer, owner of Turtle Run Winery. “Its kind of a strange concept if you really boil it down, let’s take our best customers and spin them off onto our...competition.”
But he explained that the wine industry, especially in Southern Indiana has been very cooperative.
“We’re...sharing our knowledge across to our fellow wineries, especially on the wine trail,” he said. “What happens is the more wineries, [the more it] provides validity to what we’re doing.”
The more recognition the wines receive, and as the reputation of the quality of wine that is being made spreads, the expectation is that the Uplands Wine Trail will become a destination for both locals and tourists.
But the initial step, getting people to leave their local wine shop or supermarket to visit the local wineries, may be the most difficult.
“That is the struggle, getting folks out to try local wines,” Best said.
He said his growth and customer base has been helped by a push to buy local. And another key component to his business’ growth is the presence of the other local wineries. He said they have helped to give his business visibility and about 80 to 90 percent of business has been by word of mouth.
“We’re growing like gangbusters,” Best said.
Pfeiffer, who has been a part of the wine trail since its inception, said the wineries on the trail encourage people to visit the others along the route.
He explained that while they are competing businesses each is doing something different, their winemaking is a constantly evolving process and creating a reputation for the region is important.
Pfeiffer said nobody would go out to visit the Sonoma region in California if it was just one winery.
“We can learn from each other on how to make the best wines,” he said.
“It’s more of a collaborative effort,” he said “If you do decent wines you get a good following of repeat customers.”
And since other wineries helped give Best visibility he is trying to pass along what some of the other wineries have done for his business, adding that every winery creates something so different we get to try them all.
“Each [winery] kind of has their own niche, really,” he said.
Best added he tries to create an interpersonal connection among all those who visit, offering special events, catering to people who are looking to expand their tastes or those just coming in with friends or for promotions.
Pfeiffer said that each winery does something different to attract their customers and even if they are making the same wine there are limitless possibilities in flavor combinations, so even when they make wine with the same grape they taste different.
“I’m never going to say our wines are better than another wineries,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense because it’s all personal taste.”
He said that for Turtle Run the winery offers specialty blends, as well as a philosophy that the winery will use only the natural sweetness in the fruit, instead of sugars or artificial sweeteners.
And as a smaller winery Pfeiffer said he is able to do unique things with his wine, especially its blends, that large vintners are not able to do.
Free tastings are a big draw and offering the right atmosphere is a way he is attempting to entice wine drinkers to visit his vineyard.
Pfeiffer purposely chose his location because of its easy access to the highway, but it was far enough away to feel private.
“We just try to make it so people feel at home and they have a nice experience,” he said. “We just want people to come out, sit back and relax.”
Which is exactly what Sarah Kuehnel and Kelly Snyder were doing when they visited Turtle Run on Tuesday.
They said they found the winery by searching online and decided to come out because they were enjoying the nice weather and wanted to taste a few wines.
Snyder said she has explored other wine trails in St. Louis and Michigan and the pair was planning to visit another winery on the Uplands trail after they left Turtle Creek.
Kuehnel and Snyder were doing exactly what Doty said she hopes people are willing to do.
“What we really want people to do is go out and try them,” she said.
She said that visitors get to taste at any of the wineries before they buy and those on the Upland trail are trying to make wine more approachable.
“We just want them to feel comfortable going to wineries and trying wine,” Doty said.