In 1971, Indiana University law professor William Oliver was instrumental in passing legislation that allowed for the creation of small wineries in Indiana. The next year, he opened Oliver Winery a few miles north of Bloomington. The first and only product at that time was Camelot Mead, which I recall for its subtle potency. Throughout the 1970s, the winery threw wildly successful public picnics, and I drank too much of the mead. Those plastic cups full to the brim had a way of sneaking up on you.
The winery has changed since those days. Oliver Winery then was small and homey, not much known outside the local area. Today, it is a modern powerhouse with multiple product lines distributed to 21 states, and facilities that match or exceed wineries elsewhere.
Oliver realizes wine is only part of its draw. Presentation is the rest. It uses everything at its disposal—its large and comfortable sales and tasting room, production facilities, extensive and beautifully maintained gardens, well-tended grounds and event areas, and its vineyards—to attract visitors. They come from all over, in droves. If you are in doubt, drop by any weekend and observe the crush at the tasting bar. Oliver is a celebration of wine in Indiana.
The winery continues to produce its Camelot Mead ($10) in a medium-bodied sweet style. It has a perfumy nose and tastes of orange blossom honey and flowers; the sweetness is balanced by a light touch of sharp acid.
Oliver’s Soft Red ($8.50) is sweet and Concord grapey, medium-bodied with balanced sugar and acid. On first taste you will see why it, as well as the Soft White and Soft Rosé (both $8.50), are, according to CEO Bill Oliver (founder William Oliver’s son), the winery’s bestsellers. They also underpin the winery’s efforts to develop new products and reach new customers.
Another of the winery’s many offerings is its Creekbend Cabernet Doré 2016 ($22). Of sauvignon blanc parentage, it is a dry, light-bodied white wine with citrus overtones and sharp acid—a good choice for a hot summer day. And there is the Creekbend Crimson Cabernet 2015 ($25). With similar parentage as the Cabernet Doré, this dry, medium-bodied red wine with cherry and dark berry flavors is overlaid with butter and vanilla from a secondary (malolactic) fermentation and time spent in oak barrels.
Among its new offerings is a 2014 pinot noir ($45). Made with grapes from the Bien Nacido vineyard in California’s central coast, it is a medium-bodied, garnet red wine with a typical pinot noir flavor profile of cherry forward and dark berry behind. And look for a new fruit wine called Apple Pie ($10) that tastes just like, you got it, apple pie.
From small beginnings, Oliver Winery has become what many businesses dream of becoming—a destination. Judging by the throng of customers who visit year round, those efforts are being rewarded. And I’ll drink to that.