Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Indiana wine at Bank Street Brewhouse: Let's try it again, from the top.

There are times in every person’s life when he or she has an excellent idea and the opportunity to test it out, and yet for whatever reason, the dots just won’t connect. When this happens, it doesn’t necessarily imply that the idea has been discredited, but perhaps only that it has yet to be properly implemented.

I published the following here at Potable Curmudgeon in September, 2009. Obviously, Josh Lehman has now moved on, but beyond inserting Matt Weirich’s name, and noting an ever higher level of acceptance for BSB’s food during the past six or so months, I stick by everything I wrote two years ago as it pertains to wine at Bank Street Brewhouse.

A renewed commitment to Southern Indiana wineries promised at the Bank Street Brewhouse (Sept, 2009)

I expend very little energy thinking about wine. This isn’t because I don’t like wine. It’s because I prefer beer, and having become renowned for preferring beer – in essence, being paid to drink beer – it’s what I drink and think most of the time.

Not all of the time, though, and drinking wine is an enjoyable busman’s holiday for me. Much of the reason why wine is enjoyable for me in limited doses is because I know comparatively little about it. It may be true that I know a bit more than I let on, and yet, overall, my knowledge base is rudimentary. I aim to keep it that way, not out of malice, but rather out of triage. I’ve neither the time nor the liver to become “expert” at a second drinking discipline.

These considerations matter because of a decision we made about the newest of our two businesses, Bank Street Brewhouse. Our goal with Bank Street Brewhouse is to accompany Chef Josh Lehman’s formidable cuisine with the beers we brew at BSB and the original brewhouse three miles away. It is a measure of how admirably Josh has succeeded in the kitchen that customers ask for a wine list, presumably having been trained to think that such high quality of food could not possibly be consumed without wine, as opposed to beer.

This is an errant assumption, and one that we’ll change with time. In the interim, we have not neglected the output of the vineyard. Rather, we have taken the position that if our locally produced beer stands the test of pairing with Josh’s culinary creations, so do local wines being handcrafted throughout Southern Indiana and wineries like Huber, Turtle Run, Thomas Family, Winzerwald, Butler, Best, Oliver and several others.

I can tally these wineries here without cribbing off the Internet, primarily because in the past year and a half, I’ve visited all of them save for Best and a couple others not listed here. At each there were greater and lesser wines, but the point is that at their best, these wineries make excellent products worthy of featuring as part of our effort to emphasize local beers and foodstuffs that come from small, independent or family-run operations.

We’re trying to stay consistent with these principles as it is possible to do so. Why should Southern Indiana wines be treated any differently? My own taste buds tell me that while there surely are classic wines from time-honored wine making areas of the world that are “better” than these, and I use that term rationally yet guardedly, locally made wines are good and getting better. They fit the bill of fare conceptually, and I believe some of them are better than just “good.”

Besides, a grape like Chambourcin is one grown right here. That’s local. That’s the point, isn’t it?

As with the tendency at one time for beer drinkers to prefer imports over American-made craft beers, I suspect there is an element of snobbery in this prejudice, which provides even more reason for me to reject the notion that for the BSB wine list to be suitable, there must be selections from somewhere else. This is bunk. I’m advising staff that we’re making a renewed effort to build a wine list that features Southern Indiana wines, and I believe we shall make it slightly larger than I first envisioned. Yes, BSB is all about NABC beer, but not to the exclusion of other local products worth enjoying and savoring. Come to think of it, shifting this knowledge back to the original location is a very good idea, too.

If I have to visit these Southern Indiana wineries again, and go through all those samplings a second time, I’m willing to make the sacrifice in the name of science, and local commerce. It's exhausting. Someone must do it.

My notion of constructing a wine program exclusively from Indiana wineries has not faltered because of any notable demerits in the concept. Rather, it never has been implemented properly, embraced by our staff, and sold to John Q. Public with the same passion we sell our beers.

Honestly, both our Indiana-only winery program and the accompanying distinctive spirits program have suffered because we haven’t invested enough money and marketing time in them. I take responsibility for this; so many other things kept popping up that required immediate attention that I’ve tended to neglect what always was viewed as a secondary mission. The wines and spirits have been orphaned, so to speak.

I am confident we can set this right. If we are to sell this idea, there must be something to sell (inventory) and a better way of educating about it. There are resources in Indiana winemaking that can help us make good choices. I’m willing to arrange trips to places like Madison to source wine from people like Steve Thomas. We can cross-market with these wineries, and perhaps re-examine the idea of joining the Upland Wine Trail as an associate member. We already have a prime cross-marketing opportunity with River City Winery – we’re a block apart, and we’re the only places nearby where both wine (from them) and beer (from us) can be purchased to go on Sunday.

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