Not the new Napa Valley

No, southern Indiana will not and cannot be the next Napa Valley.

After more than 200 Grape Sense columns in the past eight years, it’s time for a rant. Get a glass of something bold like a California Zin, a Central Coast Syrah or Ted Huber’s Bordeaux-style blend called Heritage.

In the past few months, a couple of newspaper pieces on Indiana wine have surfaced in Midwestern media. The most recent Indiana wine story appeared Feb. 28 in The Courier-Journal. That story featured the headline I’m mocking above. As a 20-plus-year newspaper veteran and eight-year wine writer, it’s important to note that almost all newspaper headlines are written by copy editors and certainly not writers or reporters.

The headline, and, unfortunately, the story, do little for the Indiana wine industry. And even worse, it does little to inform readers about southern Indiana wine. There is nothing wrong with a puff piece when you get little media attention. But in theory, the writer got paid for the story, and the newspaper took it as a credible feature.

The story in question begins like this:

“When most people talk about great wine, they often refer to vino from Napa Valley, France or Italy. But locals will tell you that some of the best wines come from the rolling hills of southern Indiana.”

Who are those locals who say some of the “best wines” come from the rolling hills of southern Indiana? It’s certainly not a single winemaker or consumer in southern Indiana because none are quoted in the story.

Who is the mystery source so enamored with Indiana wine?

There is an argument to be made, by an old newspaper curmudgeon perhaps, that the headline was condescending.

The story’s writer did quote one winery’s marketing representative. There was a single quote from Purdue’s Bruce Bordelon about Indiana’s growing season. That’s a good and authoritative source. The author also quoted the Wine and Grape Team’s new state marketing spokesperson, a very recent college grad, who added that Indiana is a very nice place.

The story, which will be linked on my blog when this column is published, doesn’t say anything quantitatively or qualitatively about Indiana wine.

The truth is there are some very good wines being made in Indiana and particularly down south. Will they ever be as good as Napa or Bordeaux? Wine is about the region where it’s grown. Wine regions can be compared for contrast or similarities, but wearing the “next best thing” title doesn’t help anyone making fermented Hoosier grape juice.

Indiana winemakers, owners and marketing folks must be smarter than to fall all over any reporter for any piece of public relations. Those people need to offer up winemakers and winery owners for interviews. They need to do everything to get the writer or PR person to taste the wines and educate them what constitutes good Indiana wine. Well-informed wine writing can boost the Indiana wine industry.

The puff pieces are better than nothing, but when an opportunity arises to tell Indiana’s story, Indiana wineries must do better.

Napa be damned. Give me a glass of Vignoles or Chambourcin, please.

Howard W. Hewitt of Crawfordsville writes a wine column for more than 20 midwestern newspapers. See his blog at