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Dining A La King: Fruit Hills Winery and Orchard south of Bristol has a strong start in first vintage (video)

Dave and Michele Muir understand how to coax fruit from a plot of land. But now they're working at coaxing wine from fruit at Fruit Hills Winery and Orchard. It's their version of turning lemons into lemonade, as the axiom goes.

Posted on May 2, 2011 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on August 1, 2012 at 10:04 a.m.

Dave and Michele Muir understand how to coax fruit from a plot of land.

But now they're working at coaxing wine from fruit at Fruit Hills Winery and Orchard.

It's their version of turning lemons into lemonade, as the axiom goes.

The economic downturn resulted in a layoff from Deloro Stellite, an alloy company that has a Goshen plant.

Dave's family has been farming since 1852 and growing fruit since 1898 south of Bristol. He was a hobby winemaker and opted to turn it into a family business at 55503 S.R. 15.

He likes to say he borrowed more money than he ever had before to start the business. They planted around an acre of grape vines near the six acres of apples and acre of peaches they already had. They built a tasting room that has a production facility in the basement. And they started making wine.

Since it takes three years for vines to produce grapes, they're still using the fruit of others' plantings. Last fall they got seven tons of grapes from Michigan and a ton from California to turn into wine and the first vintage is for sale.

I ended up there the other week for a tasting with Dr. Frank Piaskowy, who is advising the Muirs and championing their wine.

That's no small thing. Piaskowy has a reputation locally as a wine expert. And for him to tout their products means something.

Hoosiers like sweet wines, but there's a movement toward others. I don't know a lot about wine, but I know that I'm not a fan of overly sweet wines, unless it's a dessert wine paired with chocolate. I don't want wine to taste like grape syrup.

Traminette, a white wine made from a hybrid of gewurtzraminer and an American varietal, has been declared Indiana's first signature wine because of how it's suited to the climate here. I prefer reds to whites, but traminette may shift that. Muir sweetened this version a little and he wants to make it his signature wine.

It's a nice varietal that pairs well with food, even hearty food. And that's really at the heart of what the Muirs are trying to do.

"He's interested in more serious wines, wines to enjoy with food," Piaskowy said.

The Muirs are making pinot noir from Michigan grapes. Traminette and noiret grapes have come from Pennsylvania. The noiret grape was released in 2005 and I really like what they have made from it. It's a red with peppery and fruity notes that would work well with beef, but isn't as big as cabernet sauvignon.

In addition, Fruit Hills is selling:

* Seyval blanc, a white hybrid that goes well with grilled chicken

* Riesling, a fruity white that is semi-sweet at Fruit Hills

* White Delight, a sweet white dessert wine

* Red Sensation, a sweet red dessert wine

I purchased traminette and noiret to take home with me. I'll soon need to get some more. But the nice thing is that it's a short drive. This is a winery in Elkhart County whose bottles cost $12.99 to $16.99.

Gateway Cellar Winery, 211 S. Main St., Goshen, also makes wine and claims the name of winery, but doesn't have a vineyard or do much processing of the grapes. Stoney Creek Winery near Millersburg is also making wine, though I haven't been there yet.

Dozens of Elkhart County residents, most of them Italian or Greek, make their own wine with grapes Dominic Cataldo procures for them from California. But what the Muirs are doing is a step above that. They're creating a business that they hope will be a destination. The tasting room is tastefully decorated and they're getting calls to have group tastings and have even hosted a bachelorette party.

Dave said he's a beginner winemaker. Michele is overseeing the tasting room. Their son Nate and his wife, Brittany, are helping. "They were both very enthused about doing this," Dave said.

Dave is working with Michigan winemakers and Purdue scientists as he learns more about how to make wine. When he was still technically an amateur, his apple wine got a a bronze medal in a Wine Maker magazine competition. He's planning to make peach and cherry wine this summer. His first apple, merlot and cabernet franc wines are aging and awaiting bottling.

Their venture is underway, though he's also back at work at Deloro Stellite.They're looking ahead. And sipping their first product. The fruit didn't originate here, but Muir put his touch on it. The first efforts are promising. And I expect they will be good for years to come.

QUICK BITES

* Sunday is Mother's Day, which will likely prompt many sons and daughters to take their ma out for a nice brunch. Lucchese's will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and offer a large buffet for $18 for adults, $7 for children. Antonio's will offer a large brunch buffet from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for $21.95 per person. River Inn will offer one from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for $17.99 for adults. If you're planning to go out, I'd get a reservation. Mother's Day is one of the busiest days of the year for restaurants.

* In case you missed it on the front page Thursday, both Pete's Simonton Lake Tavern and Lakeshore Grill on the north side of Elkhart went non-smoking last week. Both places are outside the city and were immune to the ban, but opted to go non-smoking.

* Chef John Besh of New Orleans, who was runner-up on Food Network's "Next Iron Chef" and appeared on Bravo's "Top Chef Masters," will give a talk and cooking demonstration at 7:30 p.m. May 13 at the Dowagiac Middle School as part of the Dogwood Festival. Tickets are $25 to $60. Information: 866-490-2847 or http://dogwoodfinearts.org

* It appears TJ's Corner Cafe at the corner of Baldwin and Johnson is closed. Thanks to reader JoAnn P. for the tip. The restaurant wasn't open Friday and the phone number is disconnected.

* The Knights of Columbus Council in Edwardsburg is having a pancake breakfast, including blueberry pancakes, to raise money for this summer's American Cancer Society Relay for Life. The event will be 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Our Lady of the lake Church, 24832 U.S. 12. The cost is $5 for adults, $3 for children age 5 to 11 and free for children under 5.

Marshall V. King is news/multimedia editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth/eTruth.com. You can reach him at mking@etruth.com; 574-296-5805 or on Twitter @hungrymarshall.

IF YOU GO

What: Fruit Hills Winery & Orchard

Where: 55503 S.R. 15, Bristol, just north of S.R. 20

Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday

Details: Tasting room available for private events, credit cards accepted, handicapped accessible

Phone: 574-848-9463 (WINE)

On the web: www.fruithillswinery.com




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