A Grape to Glass experience
By Chris Bavender
What do you call an electrical engineer and a veterinarian whose hobby produces so much wine they can’t drink it all? Winery owners of course!
“When we moved to Indiana eight years ago, we had the opportunity to seriously consider doing it sooner rather than later,” said Deb Miller, co-owner of Blackhawk Winery in Sheridan with her husband, John. “We discovered all the fun grapes you can grow out here and thought ‘We’ve always wanted to do it, so let’s do it.’”
The couple - he’s the electrical engineer and she’s the vet - started to develop the winery in 2011 and opened the tasting room in 2014. Ten of the 30 acres is planted with vines of 11 varietals. They plan to add two to three acres of vines every year for the next five years. Blackhawk specializes in wines made from American French hybrid grapes.
“Those grapes are able to grow successfully in the Indiana climate,” Miller said. “Cold is really tough on the vinifera and our growing season is too short for them to ripen appropriately.”
The resulting wines range from semi sweet fruit to dry red.
“We have some great dry whites - Vidal Blanc which is similar to a Sauvignon Blanc - and my favorite, our estate Cayuga White, which is similar to a Pinot Gris,” Miller said. “For the reds, I really enjoy our Marechal Foch, a lovely dry red that is very flexible and goes with just about everything, and our Norton, our robust ‘steak wine.’”
The winery’s semi sweet wines include the Catawba - similar to a Moscato - and a concord offering, the Little Brother Red. Both wines also come in a sparkling version.
Fruity and balanced
Because of the couple’s California roots, their preference are dry wines.
“That definitely guides John's wine making and explains why our wines are dry to semi-sweet. The highest percentage of sugar you'll find in our wines is about four percent as compared to seven percent or more at other wineries. We definitely make what we like to drink,” Miller said. “And, because our wines are so fruity and balanced, those with palates that prefer sweet wines are pleasantly surprised to find out they like fruitiness, not just sweet.”
Blackhawk’s specialty is the Sheridan wine which is “impossible to keep in stock.”
“We are the only winery in the world to grow Sheridan and make wine from it. This grape makes a fantastic rose - think White Zinfandel with a lot of strawberry and cherry fruitiness,” she said. “Because our Sheridan portion of the vineyard is relatively small and was hit rather hard by the polar vortex a couple of years ago, our harvest has been short.”
Peanut Butter and Jelly
The production and tasting space are housed together in a pole barn allowing guests to sample and see the barrels, tanks and other equipment used in the wine making process. The tasting room accommodates 40 to 50 people, depending on the configuration - seated or standing. An approximately 3,500 square foot expansion will be used for storage to allow for more guests in the actual tasting room.
The atmosphere is low key and “folksy,” as Miller likes to say. Wrought iron tables and chairs are scattered throughout for a cafe style setting. The patio features brick flooring and a pergola, while multiple tents on the lawn provide shade and picnic space.
For the Millers, the best part of their “job” is the people.
“We’ve have had the opportunity to meet so many great people and it’s always fun because, well, wine,” Miller said. “The ability to be creative in wine making - John is working on a Peanut Butter and Jelly wine - concord with a peanut finish - and the marketing are also a lot of fun, too.”
This year the winery held an inaugural Wine Label Art Contest. The couple was so impressed with the entries they selected a first place winner - Lisa Sears, whose work is featured on the Estate Cayuga White - and a runner up - Samantha Thibert, whose art will be used for one of the reds released at this fall’s Harvest Festival.
As for the future, plans include a new tasting room with event capacity and kitchen space to support larger events
“Where we see ourselves going is becoming a fun destination so when you’re trying to think of something to do on Friday or Saturday you’ll think of Blackhawk.”
Blackhawk Winery is open daily 1-6 p.m.. From 3 - 5 p.m. Sat .and Sun. you’ll find easy listening music on the patio. From 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. Sat. the winery has free concerts on the lawn for the Summer Pairings: Music and Wine concert series.