What began as a winemaking hobby for Indiana University law professor William Oliver in the 1960s has become one of America’s fastest-growing wineries. Today, Oliver Winery & Vineyards in Bloomington, Indiana, is the 40th largest US winery, according to Wine Business Monthly’s annual ranking by volume.
Oliver grows hardy hybrids particular to the Midwest, as well as native American grapes in the Southern Indiana Uplands AVA. It also buys in Vitis vinifera fruit from California, Washington and New York State’s Finger Lakes AVA.
It is an unabashed advocate for sweet wines and isn’t afraid to get creative, regularly blending in fresh fruit or botanical extracts to add innovative layers of flavour as well as a sense of fun to the winemaking process.
With more than 500,000 cases sold in 2019 and current distribution reaching 38 states, much of Oliver’s market appeal is on fruit-forward, lighter-bodied, sweeter-style wines that fall under its ‘Soft Wine Collection’.
This affordable, approachable four-bottle collection features a Sweet White based on the native Niagara grape, which has been cultivated and fermented as a semi-sweet wine in the Midwest since the mid-1800s.
Oliver’s Sweet Red is based on the Concord grape and enjoys celebrity status as one of the top 20 sweet wines sold in the US (with 146,000 cases sold in 2019). There’s also a sweet rosé built on the native Catawba grape and another sweet red featuring a splash of lime extract.
Approachable Midwest wines
‘We are Midwesterners and want to make wines that are immensely approachable and that people like to drink,’ says Julie Adams, Oliver’s president. ‘We are excited about gaining strategic footholds in new parts of the country in 2020 and sharing well-made wine at really good price points.’
While the Soft Wine Collection is an easy entry point into the winery’s diverse portfolio, the Flight Series showcases classic vinifera grapes and includes a Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Riesling, Pinot Grigio and other familiar favourites.
Oliver’s Creekbend Collection highlights estate-grown grapes from the 22ha Creekbend Vineyard – gutsy, often lesser-known hybrids like the teinturier (red-fleshed) Chambourcin and an award-winning Crimson Cabernet (a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Norton).
There are also ongoing pilot projects at the winery that encourage small-batch, low-pressure experimentations. These typically manifest themselves in 500ml bottles which retail for $6. Recent releases include Lavender Cucumber Chill, a spritzy white wine infused with botanical extracts, and Ginger Apple Fizz, where classic hard cider meets the heat of fresh ginger.
As the only 100% employee-owned winery in the US, Oliver welcomes more than 200,000 visitors a year to enjoy events, tastings, picnic packages and tours of the cellar and vineyard.