Indiana’s Winemakers: Patoka Lake Winery

By Elizabeth Granger

BIRDSEYE, Ind. – So homey, so relaxing, so comfortable: Patoka Lake Marina in a nutshell. But traditional? Nah.

These business partners have a penchant for mixing things up, putting their own signature on the leisure industry. Examples abound – floating cabins, houseboats, fisherman sleep rooms and now, silo suites in a new winery. Winemaker Steve Bartels classifies it as “the desire to be a bit revolutionary.”

He’s coupling years of experience in making beer and wine at home with the idea of being a pioneer in the industry. So Patoka Lake Winery, opened just this spring, has plans for three series of wines – Classic, Artisan, and Lake Select.

Classic is the single-material wines, such as Catawba wine from Catawba grapes, blackberry wine from blackberries. The Artisan series will blend fruits and/or vegetables, eventually getting around to items like carrots, tomatoes or dandelions. Lake Select – Bartels calls it the “uppity wines” – will be the higher end wines from more expensive grapes.

The winery is the newest addition to the business that began with lake-related recreation, mostly fishing and boating. But the partners quickly saw their core business change from boat rentals to lodging. “We realized we needed to offer a place to stay in order to entice people to come at all,” Bartels says. “Our goal is for this to be a destination. People’s demand is, first of all, ‘Where can I stay?’ And then, ‘What can I do?’” He continued, “So we just keep expanding. Everything we do is about diversifying and adding more value for the customers’ stay.”

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That includes wine cruises with a different local winery – except their own – featured every other week through October. It’s Patoka Lake Marina’s nod to the camaraderie evident among Hoosier winemakers who continually offer support to one another. “We’re not competitors,” says Bartels. “More wineries mean more people, and that’s better for everybody. But we want to be different. We want to do some crazy things.”

In addition to the lake activities, nearby are Wilstem Ranch with its elephant retreat, French Lick Resort with two high-end hotels, golf courses and a casino, and a little farther away, Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari and the Lincoln attractions of Spencer County.

Patoka Lake Winery