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The Oliver Winery Red Carpet Treatment

Within the construct of the same situation, I have now run the journalistic gamut. I have had the misfortune of having a quote from my blog badly taken out of context in a front-page article in the Indianapolis Star and I was a recipient of some amazing hospitality because of the same quote.

Sometimes blessings come disguised.

Late in May I received an email from a reporter, Jolene Ketzenberger, from the Indianapolis Star, she had taken a quote from a post I did on Indiana winery darling, Oliver winery, from March of 2007, in which I said, “Oliver makes a lot of wine that would make a staunch wine lover cry in their Bordeaux” and asked me for some additional comment about Indiana wine relative to the national stage for an article she was writing.  With a dappling of naiveté, I obliged her.

In my reply to the reporter, I was careful to note the differences between vinifera wines and cordial wines, though I did not necessarily rebut her isolated use of the quote, which in and of itself does not stand-alone.  The fact is that Oliver makes very high-quality and well-regarded wine across their line-up—traditional varietals like Cab’s and Zins, hybrid varietals like Chardonel and Chambourcin, and some cordial style wines that fly off the shelves, wildly winning in the court of public opinion.

When the article published, what ended up on the front-page of the newspaper was your truly playing the black hat spoil to an article celebrating Indiana wineries.

Not exactly what I had imagined.  Though I should have known better given I have my own Journalism degree, I chalked it up as one of those things …

Imagine my surprise a couple of days later when I get an email from Bill Oliver, owner of Oliver Winery, inviting me down for a visit.  Bill, it seems, takes particular delight in converting critics. 

After I pulled back the curtain and provided Bill with Jolene’s original email, my response and the original blog post, I think all settled out in terms of my position on Oliver, which is that of an enthusiast supporter.  One of Wine Business Monthly’s Hottest Brands in 2004 is still a gem of the Midwest and a winery with not only momentum on its side, but also a commitment to excellence in quality.

One of the things I take great pride in is that when I take shots on my blog, they are all highly defensible and an opinion I will fall on my sword for.  Therefore, it was with disappointment that something that was attributed to me was not defensible based on context.

The air cleared, Bill Oliver kept open his invite to visit the winery and I accepted—but for all practical purposes it was a junket—a dubiously gray area for journalists let alone bloggers.

We set the date for this past Thursday, August 14th and Bill very graciously allowed me to bring five other guests—four members of my team at Compendium Blogware and my sister-in-law, a dyed-in-the-wool wine lover at the age of 23. 

The treatment we received at Oliver was as close as I have ever received to perfect hospitality.  Bill Oliver spent the entire afternoon and evening with us conducting a personal tour of the winery and the operations.  Dennis Dunham, winemaker, also joined us as well.  Comments on the visit from my team ranged from “one of the best days of my adult life” to “amazing—something I’ll always remember.”  I don’t mean to overstate the case, but these quotes came from Twentysomething women, a tough crowd to impress. I manage them everyday, I know.

In a delightful, but completely at ease bit of choreography, they had three tasting stations set-up at various points in the facility, the attendant cheese and crackers, and we sampled through a large segments of their wine list—from a beautiful and crisp champagne to their Gen. Y brands, all perfectly balanced and enjoyable wines. 

Given that I was with folks in their early to mid-twenties who all appreciate wine, but are still in the early stages of learning mode, my lone regret is I don’t think they appreciated the subtly and fun of doing a barrel sample with a wine thief, which we did, right after trying their amazing ’05 Cab, having started with champagne and then enjoying a nice quaffer from the Valdiguie grape, an inspired choice and eminently drinkable wine that may very well build a following where Beaujolais cannot. 

Having taken a tour of the bottling line and the production facilities, and sampled to the point of warmth and giggles from the woman on my team, we took the seven-mile trip to the Creekbend Vineyard, Oliver’s estate vineyard where we took a spin through the vines and enjoyed an amazing dinner under the setting sun.


The food was delicious, prepared by Oliver’s Tasting Room Manager and personal chef, Heidi.  Enjoyed under perfect outdoor temperatures on white linen tablecloth covered picnic tables, it seemed like a lifestyle article from Gourmet magazine, where friends, wine, food and photographs are shared for vicarious readers. 

Gargantuan bacon wrapped shrimp, nicely grilled with a tarragon aioli, a fantastic canapé of zucchini with goat cheese, chicken on a bed of roasted summer corn, roasted and halved tomatoes with basil, and fresh green beans lightly tossed comprised the menu.  It was the kind of summer harvest meal that would turn Californians into Midwesterners based on the delicious bounty—all enjoyed with Oliver Chardonel, available in the tasting room for the first time on Friday, August 15th and a Rose that makes a Rose fan out of me, a non-Rose drinker.

Dessert was grilled peaches with blackberries in light syrup over homemade vanilla bean ice cream with the Oliver dessert wine made from Vidal Blanc, a wine that will give Inniskillin a run for its money. 

Was this trip a junket?  A visit designed to influence and sway?  Absolutely.  Did I need to be swayed before hand?  Absolutely not.  Am I an avowed Oliver Winery lover for the ages?  You bet I am.  Does it bother me that I gained a favor because of my blog?  Not at all.

Through the course of this interaction with the winery, I was able to expose members of my team to wine in a highly personal way, we all connected with Bill and his winemaker Dennis on a human level, we shared laughs, an almost instant shared connection around wine, and enjoyed the conviviality that goes along with a life well lived when wine is enjoyed with food.

Bill Oliver shared this opportunity with me and I shared this opportunity with others.  Initiated from a misplaced quote in a humdrum newspaper, something magical happened this week with wine at the center of the action.

My biggest takeaway was that the things all passionate wine lovers find endearing in the grape, the larger social context to meaningful interactions with something beautiful in the bottle, isn’t something that is isolated to Europe, California, Oregon, or even New York.  It is something that occurs at all wineries that take the wine experience seriously and who give of themselves so generously to others. 

Bill Oliver converted five other people to this genteel way of thinking through charm and hospitality and that is a gift that you cannot put a price on, junket or no junket.


Posted in, Appellation Watch: Midwest Regional Review. Permalink | Comments (46) |


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