Prawns & Fine Wine

Ridge Winery adds new twist
to its wine-making: fresh-water prawns

By Barbara Fluegeman
Contributing Writer

Epicureans take note: There's good news coming for the Ohio Valley's growing legion of gourmet food fans. But perhaps the best news of all is that two contributions are being produced under one roof, so to speak.

Tommy Demaree

Photo by Barbar Fluegeman

Tommy Demaree demonstrates
his bottle-corking press at Ridge
Winery. His family bottles
about 1,500 units a day.

That "roof" is the big sky country in the plains area of Switzerland County, looking down on a former tobacco-hay-cattle farm on Parks Ridge Road near Moorefield, Ind., the home of Tom and Mary Jane Demaree.
It all began about five years ago when the future began to look bleak for standard farm operations. Then the Lawrenceburg, Ind., distillery where Tom worked for several years closed, and he and his wife began looking for alternative ways to make their farm pay.
Given Switzerland County's unique heritage, producing homemade wine on a commercial basis seemed feasible. Now producing about 5,000 bottles annually, wines from their Ridge Winery have become a recognized commodity in the Ohio Valley. Seven varieties currently appear under their house label, including blackberry (now in production), Concord, Sauvignon, Blush, Country Red, Country White, and Catawba, which Demaree describes as a rosc. A sparkling stainless steel filler allows the winery to bottle about 1,500 units per day.
"I worked at the distillery for 26 years," Demaree explained. "That's where I got the knowledge. I really get a kick out of it."
And what could go better with a bottle of good home-made wine than fresh prawn hot off the grill?
Partly with that thought in mind, two years ago the Demarees expanded their operation to include prawn, freshwater cousins to the shrimp. Raising juveniles that he purchases directly from hatcheries, this year's harvest should total close to 500 pounds.
Demaree's interest in raising prawn was sparked when he joined Ways to Grow, a pilot program funded by the Commissioner of Agriculture and administered by Historic Hoosier Hills and Purdue University. The program is designed to assist family-owned farming operations in using all the resources each farm may possess.
Jim Casper, field coordinator for the program in the 15-county area of southeastern Indiana, works in partnership with the Cooperative Extension Service. After talking his goals over with Casper, Demaree purchased his current crop of 7,000 juvenile prawns from Kentucky State University in Frankfort as part of the school's study of alternative farming operations.
Other than a pond, very little equipment is required. Water quality is, however, important. The biggest factors are aeration to keep an even flow of oxygen, high alkalinity (they prefer a pH of 7-9), and ammonia control (which, among other causes, can be created by excess food in the water).
They are fed a high-protein foo, and are, in turn, high in protein and low in cholesterol. They will eat anything, from alfalfa hay to algae and even each other, especially if they feel their personal space is being invaded. Highly territorial, they are particularly vulnerable to their fellows at shell-shedding time, which occurs three or four times each growing season.
The Ridge Winery will be holding its second annual Prawn Harvest and Wine Tasting on Saturday, Oct. 2, beginning at 4 p.m. and lasting as long as the delicacies hold out. Besides peel-and-eat prawn, the bill of fare will include prawn gumbo, cheeses, and apples and apple products from a Switzerland County orchard. This event includes the actual prawn harvest, so bring a cooler and be prepared to take a few pounds home. Last year's crop sold out that same day, so don' miss out.

Back to October 1999 Articles.



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