Monday, February 21, 2011

Indiana Wineries Loving 'Try On Traminette'

Marketers know the best way to sell a product is to have a good product to sell. Indiana winemakers have struggled to find a niche beyond “sweet wines” for years. It seems “Try on Traminette” was the marketing campaign and grape to spur new-found success.

The Indiana Wine and Grape Council and Purdue University started a marketing campaign last year to introduce consumers to Traminette – a wine that is fruity and very floral. The grape is a hybrid that will remind regular white wine drinkers of Gewurztraminer – an annual Thanksgiving favorite. Cornell University is widely believed to be the developer of the hardy grape that grows well in Hoosier soils - best known for corn and beans.

The state designation of a “signature wine” has propelled Traminette to an Indiana tasting room favorite.

“We have seen "demand" for Traminette develop ever since the radio ads that Purdue is running,” said Mark Easley, Easley Winery, Indianapolis. “It is a great aromatic white wine that just needed to be discovered. Something ‘other’ than chardonnay comes to mind.”

The demand for Traminette has been felt all across Indiana’s 54 bonded wineries. More than 30 of the wineries are offering the wine, according to the Wine and Grape Council. The growth has challenged tasting rooms and vineyards. Just two years ago, only 15 Indiana wineries were producing Traminette.

“We are growing it in two of our southern Indiana vineyards,” Easley said. “Our Posey County vineyard gets a lot more heat in the summer months than our Jennings County vineyard. That creates an interesting difference in the amount of "fruitiness" we get from the fruit at each farm. The heat brings out a little more of the Gewurztraminer flavor.”

Easley markets its Traminette as a semi-dry wine with just over three percent residual sugar. It is going to be on the sweet side for most wine drinkers, but not overpowering by any means. Most Indiana wineries are producing Traminette as a sweet or semi sweet/dry white wine. But the grape can be used to make sparkling wines, table wines, ice wines, late-harvest wines, and standard dry to sweet wines.

“We are currently doing a varietal blend of the wine that we sold out of last year,” Easley noted. “Our winemaker also uses Traminette in the wine blends for both our Reggae White wine and our Barrel White wine. We find with the fruitiness and aromatic character of grapes like Traminette, Cayuga White and Riesling, that they step out into their own with a little residual sugar.”

Easley is quick to note Indiana wine drinkers still prefer sweeter wines and most Indiana producers cater to that market.

Christian Butzke, a Purdue associate professor of enology and a former commercial winemaker, is expecting most wineries that don't produce Traminette now will do so soon. He said the ongoing "Try on Traminette" campaign and its initial success would help those new Indiana wineries become recognized as agritourism destinations.

"Startups have the advantage of jumping into an existing campaign," Butzke said. "They can hit the ground running as many people enjoy local artisan wines even in a challenging economy."

That is another advantage the Indiana producers enjoy. Most of the Indiana-produced white wines, including Traminette are under $15 a bottle and low as $7 in some instances.

In the next Grape Sense, we’ll get another take on Traminette from a producer who makes a somewhat rare dry version of the floral grape.

Howard’s Pick:
Easley Traminette
– This family winery is one of Indiana’s oldest, located in downtown Indianapolis. The Traminette is sweet but beautifully balanced. The wine retails at just under $15. The Easley folks suggest a bottle of Traminette with pork loin.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Don't be Afraid of French White Wines

Anyone who drinks even a little bit of wine probably has heard of ABC drinkers – Anything But Chardonnay! Or perhaps you know a “red only” wine drinker next door.

There is a revival going on with several white wines. Chenin Blanc is making a comeback. Chardonnay is becoming less oak-driven and more food friendly. Obscure French grapes are making Cotes du Rhone whites popular again.

Grape Sense focused on the geography of the Cotes du Rhone region in a July 2010 column. The Cotes du Rhone region sits at the very southeastern corner of France above Provence and below Beaujolais and Burgundy. The area is broken down into about 20 appellations or regions.

The reds offer a great contrast to many of the big and in-your-face wines of California, Australia, and even South America. The white wines are much lesser known but are a great alternative to Chardonnay and often a white that red lovers can appreciate.

You won’t find a Cotes du Rhone white wine in many supermarkets or liquor stores. You may have to go to a wine specialty shop. But I’ve found quite a few in Indiana.
The wines have a better balance and some of the earthiness you don’t usually find in whites. There is balance in the good Cote du Rhone whites that make them great as a standalone wine or with food.

There are three primary grapes. The first is Viognier, one of the most floral wines you will ever come across. Viognier is believed to be an ancient grape grown mostly in the northern Rhone region. The variety nearly disappeared in the 1960 before regaining some popularity.

There has been resurgence in Viognier in recent years even in this country. The California Central Coast has more than 2,000 acres planted in the grapes, thanks largely to a group known as the Rhone Rangers who plant red and white Rhone grapes.

A wine made of 100 percent Viognier can be quite delightful. The wine has a huge floral nose that might remind you of apricots or sweet fruit like an orange. Usually the wines are made in a dry style which makes them more interesting for the red wine drinker.

The other two grapes are more obscure. Rousanne and Marsanne don’t roll right off most American’s favorite wine lists. It’s not impossible to find a 100 percent bottling of either grape, but it’s rare.

The two are almost always blended. Roussanne is a bit sour or tart and usually gets some barrel fermentation. The characteristics on the nose and palate are floral but nothing compared to Viognier. Roussanne is a rich and spicy white that’s full bodied enough for winter meals.

Marsanne stands out for its deep golden color in the glass. The taste characteristics are often described as nut, spice, and pear.

Individually the wines are probably interesting for real wine geeks. But when the three grapes are blended together you get a rich white wine that will appeal to those ‘red only’ people, easy to pair with food, and introduce your wine friends to something brand new.

Howard’s Picks:
La Vieille Ferme Blanc
– Here is a Cotes du Rhone white that’s pretty easy to find. It has a couple of other odd grapes not mentioned above (Bourboulenc and Ugni Blanc) but it’s a good representation of what you’ll find in Cotes du Rhone whites. It does have Rousanne in the blend. I found it easy on the palate with nicely-balanced acidity and a hint of lime. For $8.99, it’s an easy exploration into something different.