Daring to Experiment Can Lead to Sweet Results

Oliver Winery’s most famous offering is a Concord grape wine that is intentionally one dimensional, with a taste that is purely grape. Although the Bloomington, Indiana winery produces plenty of dry reds and dry whites, it was its soft red that was the catalyst to its evolution, said Director of Winemaking Dennis Dunham.

Over the years, Oliver has produced unique varieties like its famous Apple Pie and Peach Pie wines, and a line of Moscatos.

Attention to detail is key, as is being willing to experiment with unusual fruit.

“Someone sent me a sample of cherry juice, and I didn’t know I liked cherry juice, but it was one of the most spectacular flavors I ever tasted,” Dunham said. “We started looking at what we could do with it. We were not necessarily looking at a Moscato, but we were looking at where a cherry component could fit.”

The sweet wines are cold fermented in stainless steel tanks and require a lot of precision to make. Attention to detail — like making sure the tanks and hoses are clean — is key.

“There are all kinds of ranges you can have from fermenting Concord, but you can end up with a consistent result,” he said. “That’s our philosophy. We are coaxing it to what we want it to be. It’s like raising children — you’re not trying to overly manage them, but you want them to make good decisions.”

Two sets of winemaking teams? Not necessary, Dunham said.

“We don’t have a different team for Cab and a different team for Chambourcin and a different team for our sweet wines,” he said. “Fruit is and should be a main characteristic, and we take it in the direction it wants to go.”

Duplin Winery in North Carolina is known for sweet wines and a family atmosphere. Sticking to what it does best has allowed it to expand to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Panama City Beach, Florida, where it is building a new facility.

Being willing to take a chance got it all started. The founders originally set out to grow Muscadine grapes in New York in the 1970s, but the grape market crashed and they were left with a big crop they couldn’t sell. So, they decided to make sweet wine.

Today, the wines are paired with food in a family-friendly atmosphere, Duplin General Manager Morgan Jackson said.

“Muscadines produce a delicious fruity wine (that) is meant to be enjoyed chilled,” he said. “We share our wines with our guests by inviting them to an entertaining and informative wine tasting.”

In Indiana, Dunham said making small batches in small bottles sold only in Oliver’s tasting room allowed them to gauge their potential success with their Moscato.

“We established our pilot series, which lets us test things,” he said. “They were 100% sold in our tasting room, but that allowed us to take a risk without investing a ton.

“Customers loved it, so we scaled it up to 750 mL, started wholesaling it, and it’s highly popular.”

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