Reaching a Milestone

Thomas Family Winery celebrates
25 years in downtown Madison, Ind.

Thomases have built their business
from the ground up

(May 2020) – Steve Thomas is a third-generation winemaker. His grandfather first taught him to make hard cider. Then when he was 13, his father, Charles Thomas, an Indianapolis physician, started making wine. By 1983, his father was making wine professionally.
“I worked with him at Chateau Thomas Winery in Indianapolis. When he was ready to retire, we decided to purchase his equipment and find a place to start our own winery. I had been coming to Madison for years to hunt and fish. I knew the area, so we came to visit Madison.”

Photo by Sharyn Whitman

Steve and Elizabeth Thomas opened their winery in 1995 in downtown Madison, Ind.

The couple decided to make Madison their new home and to open their new winery there. They bought the building at 208 E. Second St. In its day, it had served as a White Star Bus Station. The bus station was even used as a location for a scene in the 1959 movie “Some Came Running.”
The Thomases turned it into a bustling place for locals and visitors to meet for wine, cider, bread, cheese and live music. Steve makes his wine in the back room. A few years ago, they purchased the lot next door and turned it into a garden setting for customers to enjoy in warm weather months. Steve also added an outdoor wood-burning stove, where he bakes bread and pizzas.
Now celebrating 25 years at the Thomas Family Winery, Steve and Elizabeth Thomas remember vividly their first impressions of Madison. “We walked into the Chamber of Commerce and Small Business Development Center in Madison. They were very welcoming,” Steve said. “They rolled out the red carpet for us. They really convinced us that we needed to be here in Madison. Madison settled on us, and we settled on Madison.”
Retired Madison tourism director Linda Lytle remembers that in the 1990s, wineries were the new big thing. “We were thrilled to meet them. The best part was they loved Madison and loved the community,” she recalled. “They were really great to work with from the beginning. They are both hard workers but still find time for their family. They give back to the community in many ways. The Thomas Family Winery is more than a winery. It is a place that people want to be. They have had a regular crowd of people in there for decades.”

Photo by Sharyn Whitman

Thomas Family Winery is located at 208 E. Second St. in Madison, Ind., in what was formerly a White Star Bus Station. The Thomases have added an outdoor garden.

Looking back, Steve reflected on many individuals they met 25 years ago who still come to the winery today. Steve continued, saying, “We didn’t have all our licenses in place to open in time for the Madison Chautauqua, so we couldn’t sell anything. We just invited festival-goers to come in. When John Sheckler came in, we started talking about making wine. We have been great friends ever since.”
Sheckler, a local resident and retiree, said it was more than just the wine. They both enjoyed cooking and both studied “sword.” Sheckler explained, “Steve has been teaching fencing at the Boys and Girls Club for years. The main thing about Steve is that he is such a technical expert on anything he does. He does pizza in a wood-fired oven that he built himself. Steve is a barbecue expert. Watching him is amazing.”
Sheckler said the success of the Thomas Family Winery is that the couple made it “music central” for Madison. He brings in musicians on Saturday nights throughout the year. “He is generous with what little time he has left  because it takes a lot of time to run a winery.” 
Generosity is a theme echoed by Brandi Poling, CEO of the Lide White Boys and Girls Club. “Steve is here every Tuesday and Thursday for two hours. He takes kids to tournaments. Every year in March, he hosts a fundraiser, “BBQ Chicken & Brew.” Last summer he brought the kids down to the winery to teach them how to make bread. He is always eager to help us out.”
Local artist and musician Kevin Carlson has known the couple from the beginning. He owns and operates Carlson Sign and was hired to make a sign for the new winery back in 1995. “Steve wanted to start a band. I was not familiar with Celtic music, but it grew on me.” Carlson joined the Celtic band, which is called “The Ragged Arse Tinkers.” The group plays often at the winery.
As for his many activities, Steve said, “We try to work within the fabric of Madison to help as many people as we can. We’ve always donated our time to places. We like working that way when we can. One of the best things about Madison is that there are a lot of ‘doers’ here – people helping others.”
John Staicer, the president and executive director at Historic Madison Inc., noted that the couple started their winery business from scratch. “It is a good business for downtown. They are part of our local winery trail. They have been generous supporters of HMI with goods and services. Twenty-five years running a business is something to be celebrated. We’re thrilled that they chose Madison 25 years ago and hope they are here for another 25 years.”

Photo provided

Thomas Family Winery has become a popular spot for locals, visitors and tour groups, like the one above.

The Thomas family lives above their business because that’s the way Madison did it for many decades. Their children, Kelly Ann and Liam, grew up helping in the business. “Being open seven days a week, it has been gratifying to me to see the same faces coming in over 15-20 years,’ Elizabeth said. “It is awesome to me that we have become a part of their traditions. We’ve made a lot of good friends by living downtown. We see people for weddings, after a funeral, celebrating a birth – their whole story.”
Elizabeth said she enjoys living along the Ohio River. She also enjoys her garden and patio. “Madison is an enriching place. If you are inquisitive enough, you can find a place to volunteer or to learn about something. Madison keeps getting better and better. We’re happy to be part of that.”
Steve added, “Our employees are also part of the family. The bottom line is, we wouldn’t be here without all of our great friends and clients who like us and like what we do.”

• During the current coronavirus lockdown, Thomas Family Winery is providing “patio-side carryout.” You can learn more about the winery and its events at www.thomasfamilywinery.us.

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