Variety, lodging will make winery unique

Photos by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Stephen Bartels of Wickliffe, left, taught Riley Setser of Eckerty, 8, how to add yeast to fruit juice during the wine-making process at Patoka Lake Winery in Wickliffe on Tuesday. Riley is the daughter of Heather Setser, vice president of operations at the winery.

By SAM STITES
sstites@dcherald.com

WICKLIFFE — A new winery nestled among the cabins near Patoka Lake is looking to uncork something unconventional for a soft opening in late May.  

Patoka Lake Winery aims to bring a unique experience to the southern Indiana wine scene with a curious selection of fruit and vegetable wines, including carrot, rhubarb, tomato and dandelion.

The winery is a co-venture among five Wickliffe-area business associates — Steve Bartels, Heather Setser, Martin Dixon, Harvey Edwards and Steve Shirk — who have owned the Patoka Lake Marina and Lodging since 1998.

On Tuesday, the group asked Father John Boeglin of Holy Family Parish in Jasper to bless their new facility, for which they broke ground in June.

The Patoka Lake Winery, which is still under construction, is planned to open in May.

The idea for the winery started in 2014 when the five friends decided they wanted to integrate their passion for wine into their business endeavors.

The group’s introduction into the wine industry started when they began offering wine cruises between May and October when they take couples or groups onto a party yacht that cruises Patoka Lake while passengers are served an assortment of Indiana wines, meats and cheeses. They keep all products they offer local, including Steckler Grassfed Cheeses in Dale and a budding partnership with Chocolate Bliss in Jasper.

“I’ve been making beer and wine for quite some time, and we were kicking around the idea to start a winery and this felt like the year to do it,” Bartels said.

Bartels, who acts as CEO for both the marina and winery, said the timing was perfect for the group’s financial situation because they didn’t have to borrow money. The winery is the first phase of their new operation and represents a $750,000 investment. Phase 2 includes finishing the lodging accommodations and external tasting rooms at the winery, which will bring the total price tag to nearly $1.1 million.

The main tasting room will be an open hall able to accommodate around 150 people at 900 square feet. Several guest rooms, all which will be fully furnished in rustic fashion, will sit above the winery. Two grain silos next to the main building will serve as two-level honeymoon suite-style units for couples on romantic getaways on the top floors, with the external tasting rooms below for private parties.

The winery is the first in Indiana to offer lodging on site.

“A lot of us here love wine, and now we get to experience the production of that,” Setser said. “From a customer-service standpoint, I can’t wait to see people’s reaction when they come in because we’re so passionate about what we do that I believe they will be passionate about it as well.”

Bartels added yeast to the fruit juice in the wine vats at Patoka Lake Winery on Tuesday.

The winery has a soft opening planned for late May when several wines will be ready for sale.

Bartels said one of the most difficult jobs has been judging the volume necessary to produce, but friends in the wine industry have given advice on everything from production to marketing.

“It’s been gratifying to have the other wineries come here, and they’ve been very supportive, helping us and telling us we’re on the right track,” Bartels said. “Everyone’s been very reassuring and very encouraging of our business, so we’ve been well received.”

Patoka Lake Winery does not at the moment produce its own grapes, but nearly 85 acres of the property to the southeast of the winery is begging to become a vineyard with a possible expansion of business in a few years time, Bartels noted. The group also has plans for an events center where they could host corporate and private functions as well as their own events.

Bartels said they’re playing with several sweet wines at the moment in preparation for the opening, but they’re also working on a few dry wines, including a cabernet sauvignon and a merlot, that will take a year or two to mature.

“Our niche is going to be fruits and vegetables,” he said. “We’re going to do some experimental batches, and it might not be for everyone, but we just kind of want to be known for the fact that we’ll make wine out of anything and try lots of different things.

Find the winery on Facebook here.




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