Great Wine in the Heartland

It seems to me that people along the Heartland Wine & Ale Trail work entirely too hard:

  • Mark Zdobinski, winemaker at the Olde Schoolhouse Vineyard & Winery in Eaton, Ohio, renovated and rebuilt a falling-down school by himself, brick by brick, into a showcase for his award-winning wines.
  • Adam Melton, former owner of Melton Renzulli Wines in Richmond, Indiana, now owns The Cordial Cork wine bar and is about to start producing wine again in partnership with Wesler Orchard in New Paris, Ohio. (At Melton Renzulli he crafted up to 24 different wines singlehandedly.)
  • Jared Ward, founder of Roscoe’s Coffee Bar & Tap Room, offers 16 beers, more than 50 coffee and tea drinks, half a dozen wines, plus a full breakfast and lunch menu–in two locations.

Roscoes

[“Roscoe’s Coffee Bar & Tap Room–Depot District” by Visit Richmond Indiana/Flickr]

Business owners along the Heartland Trail aren’t fooling around. They take their work seriously, and they’ll do what it takes to pull in visitors and show them quality.

The trail straddles the Indiana-Ohio border. Richmond is the hub, and it’s bisected by I-70 and U.S. Route 40, the National Road. This area isn’t exactly Napa, and it might be the last place where you would expect to find excellent wines and brews, but I found some gems:

  • Norris English Pub is the real deal, genuine pub food and beers produced with local products. Their honey brown ale is made with local honey, creamy raspberry wheat beer from locally grown raspberries, and cranberry-colored beet beer (my favorite) with beets sourced from surrounding farms–eight taps in all. Their food is fresh–“We don’t even own a microwave,” says owner Wayne Norris. If you love a fish-and-chips indulgence, this is your place.
  • Coffee and beer sound like a strange marriage, but Jared Ward opened Roscoe’s Coffee Bar & Tap Room because Richmond needed “a place where everyone could come,” he says. The exposed-brick space is a former union meeting place for steelworkers, whose names are written on the wall in charcoal. Downstairs was once a cobbler’s shop: “My basement’s full of little black shoes,” Ward says. Roscoe’s selections include a mead and sour beer on tap, and he sees the business as “an educational facility. People bring dates in here and drink beer like they drink wine, in sips rather than gulps. You should take an hour to drink a glass, to appreciate its complexity. By the end of that date, you’d be in love.”
  • I’m not sure anyone enjoys their job more than Adam Melton, founder of Melton Renzulli Wines and owner of The Cordial Cork wine bar. He even makes a game of naming his wines–take his rhubarb-peach porch sipper, “Rude Barb.” He named it after a woman in his neighborhood who’s a crabby sort, and her name is Barb…well, you get the picture. Melton credits the quality of his wines to the fact that he loves drinking and sources the finest grapes from around the country. “If you plant grapes in Indiana, you’re not going to produce a California Cab,” he says, “so I buy grapes from there and give our customers what they want.”
  • Olde Schoolhouse Vineyard & Winery is housed in a circa-1894 brick schoolhouse that later became a seed company until the 1960s–in fact, the centerpiece of the winery’s tasting room is an old grain elevator. When winemaker Mark Zdobinski took over the building, it had been vacant for some 40 years. He took a year and a half to restore and renovate the building, and has been winning awards with his wines from the start. “When you start with good grapes, you’re two steps ahead,” says Zdobinski, who, like Melton, sources many of his grapes from other areas. “What’s very important to me is balance.”

Firehouse

[Mural, “Firehouse BBQ & Blue Model T,” by Visit Richmond Indiana/Flickr]

The Heartland Wine & Ale Trail is a work in progress, promoting up to 11 drink destinations, and they’re enough of a draw if you’re looking for a weekend getaway in the Midwest–but I discovered they’re just a slice of what Richmond offers:

  • More than 900 dealers peddle their wares along Antique Alley, which follows U.S. Route 40 and State Route 38.
  • The Tiffany Stained Glass Window Trail is a national treasure, with four sites in a 5-block area featuring Louis Comfort Tiffany windows.
  • More than 70 outdoor murals, including the one pictured above, mark the self-guided, award-winning Murals Trail that winds throughout Wayne County.
  • A chocolate trail, pottery studios, hiking and walking paths, the Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad, and for jazz buffs, old recording studios where legends Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey and others recorded their music, give visitors a surprising (and surprisingly diverse) menu for filling their few days here.

I went to Richmond to explore the Heartland Trail and came away thinking I’d discovered a very cool town. I’m heading back there soon, and I’ll plan extra days to check out the rest of it.

Wine Lingo: Estate wine = wine made with grapes owned (or managed) by the winery, and produced on winery property. This is the opposite of what many Midwestern winemakers practice if they want to make wine from grapes that don’t grow well in their region. In the U.S., in order to specify a vineyard on the label, 95 percent of the grapes used in that wine must be from that vineyard.

679 medium

Vino ‘View: Since Adam Melton temporarily stopped making his wines, you might have to wait a few months to get your hands on a bottle of Melton Renzulli Wines 679 (15 percent alcohol; $17)but I promise it will be worth the wait. This Zinfandel-Shiraz blend is inky-dark, big, full of black berries and leather. I got some spice as well–a slight taste of toasted cinnamon. And we know how I feel about high-alcohol wines; at 15 percent this one warms you all the way down. Melton is a creative winemaker, and his label is pure genius: 679 is the number of days of government red tape he had to endure before his operation was legal. 

Cheers!

Mary