"We like to say Wildcat Creek Winery is elegant and rustic. I'm elegant. He's rustic."
You know Kathy Black has used that phrase about her husband, Rick, and herself a gazillion times. (I would, if I were her.) Yet when she said it to us, it didn't come across as tired, or trite, or oft-used. It was charming, just like her, and just like their winery.
Located in Lafayette, Indiana, in a farmhouse that was built around 1900, the Blacks have turned a former family home into a thriving family business. There's a little shop to the left of the entrance with cheeses from nearby Fair Oaks Farms and jewelry and paintings from local artists. A local carpenter created the crown molding. In the tasting room, a rocking chair beckons. It was a gift from Rick's three sisters, made of hickory and oak, and Kathy said people love to sit in it as they wait for a tasting, or sip wines they've purchased.
We didn't notice the sound of I-65, less than a mile away, but Kathy did. "I hate the sound," she said, "but that highway goes as far South as you can go and gets you to Chicago's airports." That convenience means that people from all over have visited. In the first six months after their 2007 opening, visitors came from 48 states and twelve countries.
Like many small wineries and breweries I've visited, Wildcat Creek Winery is the couple's "retirement" plan. Rick was a corporate controller; Kathy was a schoolteacher. After Rick's parents died, one after another, she said, he decided life was too short. He searched for something that would be fulfilling and found oenology. Now, with the help of their winemaker, Nyssa, a food science graduate from Purdue who's been with them since 2013, they make and sell wine.
Good wine, at that. We popped in for a quick tasting and sampled several of their varietals, which are indigenous to Indiana and the Midwest. Tastings are free and you can try up to five. We made our selections and as Rachel poured our wines, she provided a description for each one.
Wildcat Creek Winery is known for their Steuben, a complex semi-sweet that changes character with each sip. Aunt Minnie's Cherry Tree is labeled "cherry pie in a glass," and when it's accompanied by a piece of chocolate (and even when it isn't), it's a delightful experience. If you like margaritas, you'll like Traminette. While it doesn't taste like the tequila-based cocktail, it has a tartness that pairs well with spicy foods.
My personal favorite was the Prophet's Rock Red. One of their dry selections, it's the only wine they oak, and it had almost a buttery mouthfeel, like Nyssa had used malolactic fermentation. She hadn't, though. That silkiness came from the aging and oaking alone.
It's easy to see that Kathy loves the winery, but she said she grieves for her days with students. "Who gets to read a 12-year-old boy's poetry?" she asked. "I did." Still, that experience has helped her turn would could have been just a very expensive hobby into a business. A woman who can "wrangle 300 kids and take them to the Childrens Museum, and not lose a one," has some mighty management skills.
The former teacher also learns. She confessed that their first BBQ, Bluegrass, and Blueberry Wine Festival didn't go as smoothly as it should have, in part because the response was overwhelming. The next one was better, though, and this year's will be the best yet.
Next time you're driving I-65, get off at IN 25 and visit Wildcat Creek Winery. When you do, pick up a bottle of Prophet's Rock Red for me, will you?
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