Best Vineyards started as a crazy idea to grow some table grapes and make a few bucks off the farm Wilbert had purchased back in 2000. Rachel, Wilbert’s sister was a somewhat reluctant participant at the time. Berretta, Wilbert’s other sister, hopped on the crazy wagon a year or so later. A local farmer of corn, wheat, and soybeans used the land at the time and we thought that trying an alternative crop would be an interesting experiment. So began the search for the “perfect” crop to plant that didn’t take too much time to, too much experience, and gave a decent return on the investment and was fun to do.
Looking at the Purdue University Horticulture sites’ alternative crops pages we reviewed herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, brambles and other veggie crops. Then we happened across the listing for grapes. There was a reference to this weird little group called the Indiana Wine Grape Council who were planning a meeting within a few weeks at Huber Winery.
Wilbert attended, thinking at the time of growing table grapes. To be honest, we didn’t have a clue about wine or wine grapes or really anything about agriculture at all. Arriving at the meeting, Wilbert was introduced to several people who were all chatting insanely about grapes. These people were serious! Think about it, 8 hours of sitting around discussing grapes! Asking around, we discovered that in addition to Ted Huber, Jim Pfeiffer had opened Turtle Run not too far down the road from the farm.
The next weekend, Wilbert hopped in the truck and moseyed on down to check out Jim Pfeiffer at Turtle Run. Anyone who’s met Jim can attest that he’s a little…. enthusiastic…. about grapes and wine. Harvest was coming up quick and Jim invited us over to check out the operation. It was INSANE! There were grapes everywhere!
After that, we paid another little visit to Huber Winery. Ted said we were as insane as Jim to think about growing grapes. Unfortunately, by that time, we’d pretty much made up our minds. We were taking the agricultural plunge! Talking to the folks in the business, everyone recommended starting with an acre. Anymore and you’d kill yourself trying to keep up they said. We decided on 3 basic varieties – Chambourcin, Chardonel, and a few New York Muscats just to be a bit odd like everyone else.
We’re pretty much a family of engineering types. Out popped the calculators figuring our vine counts for an acre of grapes. It came out to about 600 vines. Looking at the vine suppliers web site we discovered that if we went with 1000 vines we’d get a 5% discount! Who can pass up a discount like that? Out popped the calculators again. After a few days, Wilbert discovered that at 1500 vines you got another 5% discount! I think you can see where this is going. We wound up buying 2500 vines. “But just look at the money we saved!” said Wilbert.
In April of 2002 we were nearly set to plant. Wilbert took 3 days of vacation and started drilling the holes with an auger to plant the vines. 3 DAYS! It was April. It was sunny and 80 degrees! Wilbert’s head got sunburned! Drilling all day Wednesday. Drilled all day Thursday and Friday too. Then Friday night it happened! Rain!!! Saturday morning dawned a cold, blustery 34 degrees and there was a constant wind blowing across the site all day. We were stuck. We’d been soaking the vines in water. We had to plant. We, and about 10 friends and family, mudded in the vines on the most miserable day of the year.
After that things got really tough…
But the grapes actually survived our care…
Two years passed and we were sitting around plotting the sale of our crop. Jim Pfeiffer stepped up and saved the day. Next, how to get our grapes from here to there? I mean really! We were struggling to just keep up with growing the things, who plans ahead like that? Fortunately, Purdue has a mobile press they allowed us to borrow to process the harvest at our farm and deliver juice to Jim. Let’s just say that our first harvest was an interesting experience and leave it at that…
As we were processing the juice, we wondered how hard it would be to ferment it and make wine. To be honest, we were always a bit curious about how it was made. As children we were told wondrous tales of how our grandparents made homemade root beers and hard ciders. Curiosity got the cat as you know. So we saved back a few buckets of juice and gave it a try. It actually turned out. So, we got some more juice and tried it again. That time things didn’t go nearly as well. But, we persevered, and kept trying and experimenting and felt we finally had some idea of what we were doing.
Thus was born the idea of our own winery… the further the tale goes the more bizarre it gets.
Come on by and we’ll be happy to tell you the rest…