Last week I attended a wine tasting in Nappanee. There I discovered Becky Kelley selling her book, “Wineing Your Way Across Indiana: Recipes, History and Scenery.” I bought a copy because it is unlike any other guide useful to an Indiana resident or tourist interested in undiscovered wines and wineries.

The descriptions and photos are extraordinary in both their simplicity and elegance. It’s a substantial book with its high-quality paper and hard cover, a sign of the seriousness of both author and publisher, Acclaim Press of Morley, a tiny town in the bootheel of Missouri.

There is a warmth to this book that is most inviting. Wine lovers will be intrigued by the individualized text and pictures of the wines, wineries, and food pairings. Wine connoisseurs will miss the point ratings and the esoteric taste values. Wine snobs will dismiss the book because it about Indiana wines.

Indiana wines? For a state known to most Americans only for its vast fields of corn and soybeans, its steel mills, and an anachronistic car race, wines from Hoosier grapes are unimaginable. Part of the blame goes to state government which has spent so little over the years educating both Hoosiers and aliens from other states about the diversity of our geography and industry.

Unlike other grape-growing states, Indiana wineries have been commercially feasible only since passage of the Indiana Small Winery Act of 1971. Given the time to have vineyards mature and owners to learn the trade, this is an infant industry.

One internet site lists 104 Indiana wineries while another proclaims 116. The exact number is not important. There is an industry out there which both produces income for owners and workers and attracts agritourists.

State government has given agritourism a big boost by building a freeway interchange (Exit 220 on I-65 at SR 14) specifically for one tourism operator, Fair Oaks Farms. I don’t know what other assistance may have been offered by the state or Newton County to this operator.

Wine is taxed in Indiana at 49¢ per gallon, which ranks a moderate 15th lowest in the nation. Neighboring whiskey-producing Kentucky taxes wine at $3.23 per gallon, the highest in the nation.

Of that 49¢, five cents used to go into the Wine Grape Market Development Fund which supported a Purdue team to help growers and safeguard consumers.

Recently, our General Assembly terminated that nickel of support. Why?

Supposedly, Indiana wants to be a destination for tourism. Supposedly, Indiana wants to help diversify its agricultural base. There are stories Indiana wants to encourage small business in rural areas. Clearly, Indiana has a massive fiscal surplus and doesn’t need more money for its General Fund.

Ironically, a marvelous book on Indiana wines and wineries is being offered at the same time Indiana cuts support for that industry. Isn’t that the real Hoosier Way?
Morton J. Marcus is an economist formerly with the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. His column appears in Indiana newspapers, and his views can be followed his podcast.

© 2022 Morton J. Marcus