Swiss Wine Festival

Ridge Winery only remaining wine
producer in Switzerland County.

By Ruth Wright
Staff Writer

VEVAY, Ind. (August 2003) – Tom Demaree, owner of the Ridge Winery near Vevay, Ind., compared making wine with making good food.
“It’s something like being a good cook,” he said. “If it doesn’t turn out right, then you need to do something a little different.”
Demaree, 59, started his small family winery in Switzerland County in 1995.

Ridge Winery owner Tom Demaree.

Photo by Ruth Wright

Ridge Winery owner
Tom Demaree.

Before that, he worked at Schenley Distillers in Lawrenceburg, Ind., for 26 years. Demaree’s wife, Mary Jane, is the company president. “She’s the boss, and I’m the wine-maker,” he said.
As a wine-maker, Demaree produces between 1,000 to 1,500 gallons of wine each year in eight varieties. These include blackberry, country red, wild cherry, black jack, country rose, blush, red, and, new this year, sweet harvest.
Most of the wines Demaree makes are sweet, which he finds sell better in this area. But for this year’s Swiss Wine Festival, Demaree has made a special dry wine in a limited quantity, about 100 bottles. The wine, red grape, will be for sale at the event, an annual celebration set this year on Aug. 21-24 in Switzerland County.
The annual event began more than 30 years ago to celebrate the county’s Swiss heritage and wine-making that used to flourish here. Today, Ridge Winery is the only remaining wine-producer in the county. But the festival honors the tradition by inviting several other Indiana wineries to participate in an invitation-only tasting event and at a wine tent at the festival itself.

Swiss Wine Festival

Swiss Wine Festiva

Although Indiana is not typically associated with wine-making, the craft has grown significantly in recent years, thanks in part to support from the Indiana Wine Grape Council, created in 1989 at Purdue University. With its help, wine-makers have sprung up all over the Hoosier state.
In 2002, there were 27 wineries operating in Indiana, an increase of nearly 300 percent since 1989. Indiana’s wine grape acreage is about 225 acres, an increase of 300 percent since 1991. Indiana wine sales comprise 3 percent of the state’s market share. Also, the Vintage Indiana Wine Festival, held annually in Indianapolis, has grown to become the second largest such event in the nation. The annual sales of Indiana wine is nearly $9 million, according the wine council.
But it was in Switzerland County that the first commercial winery in the country was started, a winery founded in 1802 by John James Dufour. Dufour, a native of Switzerland, had attempted to start a vineyard in Kentucky but had failed before turning his attention toward Indiana, according to Switzerland County Historical Society president Martha Bladen. The products of Dufour’s first vineyard were said to be bountiful, and a sample of the wine was presented to U.S. Congress in 1803 by President Thomas Jefferson.
Today, Ridge Winery continues as the sole operator commemorating the area’s Swiss heritage of wine making.
Weather is a big factor in determining how long it takes to make the wines, according to Demaree. Juices are typically fermented in the fall and then go through a cold stabilization process in the winter. This process must include three to four days of approximately 20-degree weather for grape wines, Demaree said. Because he doesn’t have a refrigeration unit, he relies on Mother Nature for this process to occur.
In the spring, the wine is “racked” or transferred to a new tank. All settlement is destroyed.
When the wine is ready, it is transferred to bottles by a gravity filler, six bottles at a time. Corks are then inserted one at a time, using a manual corking device. It takes about five hours to fill and cork approximately 1,450 bottles of wine by hand, Demaree said.
Demaree uses an invention called the Salleron-Dujardin Ebulliometer to test the alcohol percentage of his wine. It is the only instrument approved by the ATF for testing alcohol percentage by volume, said Demaree. Each tank is checked at the time of bottling. The wines Demaree produces are typically around 10.5 percent alcohol.
Because he has a small operation, Demaree only distributes his wines locally. They are available at several locations throughout Switzerland County, including Markland Shell, Super Valu, Roxano’s Restaurant, Steamboat Liquors, Cuzz’s Bar, T&J Market, Mo’s Steakhouse and occasionally at Belterra Casino Resort. He only distributes within the county.
In addition to the Swiss Wine Festival, Demaree typically enters some of his wines each year in the “Taste of Indiana” at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis. The event is the second largest wine competition in the United States, according to state fair board member Jim Cole, and typically attracts more than 3,000 entries. Demaree received awards at the event for his wild cherry wine in 2001 and his black jack wine, a mix of apple and blackberry, in 2002.
Demaree currently owns the market on wine-making in Switzerland County but said he has heard rumors of others following suit. “There’s lots of talk,” said Demaree, but he doesn’t mind, saying that more wineries would be good for the area. “Las Vegas wouldn’t be Las Vegas with just one casino. More wineries would help,” he said.
To operate a winery in Indiana, individuals must hold licenses from both the state and federal governments. The state’s small farm winery license allows Demaree to produce up to 500,000 gallons of wine each year. To sample wines produced at Ridge Winery and other area wineries, visit the annual Swiss Wine Festival this month.

For more information on the festival and events, call 1-800-HELLO-VV or visit the website: www.swisswinefestival.org. For information on Indiana wines and wine making, visit: www.indianawines.org.

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