Two days, two ways to enjoy Thomas Family Winery (Madison, IN)
On May 15, our cross-country trip took us to Madison, Indiana, the place Jen called home until she was nine.
For a “coaster” like me, it’s country out here. Not necessarily as country as I remember Alfred, New York (which, last I remember, still celebrates the anniversary of the first and only traffic light in the village), home to my alma mater, the accents and some of the attitudes are definitely of a different timbre than what I accustomed myself to in New Jersey. Then again, I haven’t lived in New Jersey since 2013, so everything is requiring a bit of adjustment.
Like Alfred, which has a village (where Alfred University is) and the town (where nothing is), Madison can be split in two parts–the town and the “historic downtown”. Madison, founded in 1810, specifically downtown, is where the lovely riverfront is located, as are numerous antique shops (including a gargantuan antique mall housed in a former lumber yard), restaurants, some extremely attractive older homes, an excellent free museum full of local history…
One of the goals we would like to see through on this trip is to experience every state’s (that we’re visiting) local tastes. That includes wine, which I must admit having been pretty ignorant about when it comes to what is out there. Besides New Jersey, I just sort of assumed most states that weren’t the usual suspects (California, Washington, Oregon, New York) might have a few boutique wineries, maybe a place that serves the sweetest of the sweet that would make Arbor Mist drinkers blush, but nothing that would make me long to go back.
Then, I visited several excellent Missouri wineries, including Augusta, Montelle and Stone Hill. So. If New Jersey has excellent wine despite some popular opinion, if Missouri, too, has excellent wine, why not other states? Why not every state? We’d like to find out.
Our very limited, very brief experience with Illinois wine means the jury is still out on that state. Ignoring politics (as one should), their wine was young. Some showed promise, the bottle we bought was a forgiving white, but their red could use some time and a bit more care.
What would or should disqualify a wine from being considered “local”? For a long time, I was a snob to this. Everything had to come from the source. From growing to bottling, if it wasn’t in-house, it wasn’t local. Part of me still believes this. But, just because not every step is accomplished steps from the tasting room where I enjoyed the fruits of someone’s labor doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of my tastebuds or credit cards.
Grapes require land to be grown. Downtown Madison lacks this. So, what is one to do? Get your grapes from somewhere else. Thomas Family Winery does this, as does another local winery we visited that, while gaining rave reviews from a few others we’ve met, offered a majority of sticky sweet wines that were not in our wheelhouse.
But, as the girl who guided us through the complimentary tasting (something that has completely disappeared in New Jersey and seems to be fading from Missouri. Tastings start at $5 and only go up from there) at Thomas Family told us, once the grapes (and apples, which she noted were mostly from local sources, unlike the grapes, which mostly come from California) are on-site, everything else is in-house. Since many don’t seem to complain with craft beer breweries getting their raw materials from wherever, is it fair to not give wineries the same amount of slack?
It all comes down to, I think, how these two industries make people feel. A little thought experiment: when you think of wineries, what comes to mind first? Beautiful sun-drenched vistas and rolling hills of carefully curated grape vines, a late spring afternoon on a patio, soaking it all in while soaking up a beautiful bottle of burgundy. Now, what do you think of when you think of beer: a bar. It’s really not fair, is it?
With these biases still tickling my brain, I wholeheartedly recommend Thomas Family Winery, both for the experience and for the wine. Of course, the wine, or whatever product a place is selling, has to be good enough and should be the main selling point of any winery. I am happy to go to a beautiful winery with average wine. Once. But, Thomas Family Winery proved to be so enjoyable, Jen and I stopped in twice in as many days. On Friday, we enjoyed our aforementioned complementary tasting, which included not only the full-bodied Rio Red, a crisp and highly-drinkable sangria on draft and a pair of hard apple ciders brewed in a traditional style. We followed our fun and informative tasting with a couple full glasses and an expertly-crafted meat and cheese board, which we took to their covered patio.
On Saturday evening, we took advantage of the balmy weather and the patio as we enjoyed a couple more drinks and the fun rockabilly sounds of the Slick River Rockets with new friends.
In conclusion, I am happy to report my shift in perspective when it comes to a great wine experience, much like my shift in perspective when it comes to pizza in South Korea. It can’t all be incredible vistas of vines with grapes meant for wine. It can’t all be Slice of Life in Busan. It doesn’t have to be. Things are best enjoyed when you stop comparing them to something else. And now, I am eager to see what other perspectives I can shift on this trip.
JPDdoesROK is a former news editor/writer in New Jersey, USA, who served a one-year tour of duty in Dadaepo/Jangnim, Saha-gu, Busan from February 2013 to February 2014. He is now a teacher in Gimhae.