The Legacy of French Lick Winery

BY Laura Gazarian

From the beginning the winery has been a family affair. What started as a hobby for John Doty, has now become a legacy. So began Doty’s journey to become one of Indiana’s premier wine-makers today. Deeper than the roots of the vines that make up Heaven’s View Vineyard are family roots buried deep in Southern Indiana farmland, owned for over one hundred years. Long before the winery first opened its doors for business, the foundations were being laid in a young John Doty.

At the age of twelve, he moved to his grandfather’s dairy farm in Dubois, Indiana, where he learned to make cottage cheese, butter, root beer and home brew. It was during this period his grandfather shared the art of making wine from Concord grapes and blackberries collected on the farm. “We didn’t even use a press,” Doty recalls fondly. “We let them ferment in a crock and drained them through cheesecloth.” Today’s operations are on a much larger scale, but the care and crafting he learned from his grandfather is still evident. Wines created by the Doty family win medal after medal in both national and international competitions.

French Lick Winery photo editorial - scenic

Doty met his future wife, Kim Klingle, when she was fifteen and he was seventeen. They graduated from Purdue University where he received a degree in Farm and Business Management and she received one in Horticulture. They married and moved to Huntingburg, Indiana, in 1978.

Before joining forces at the winery, Kim Doty worked in the floral industry and later became a Postmaster for the U.S. Postal Service. John Doty was a loan officer, banking vice-president and worked in agri-banking for many years. The decision to open the winery was two-fold: they wanted to start their own business and preserve the farm that had belonged to Kim Doty’s family for more than a century. “Having a legacy to leave to our children and future grandchildren was also appealing,” Kim Doty added.

From the beginning, the winery has been a family affair. The Doty’s two sons, Aaron and Nick, grew up helping on the farm and vineyard. They did everything from planting vines to harvesting grapes, and later took over many of the primary responsibilities, from crush to fermentation, and the running the bottling line.

Heaven’s View Vineyard was planted in the Spring of 1998 and overlooks the White River Valley in South Central Indiana. Located approximately twenty miles west of the winery, the vineyard’s eight acres are comprised of the first commercial planting of Norton grapes in Indiana, as well as Cabernet Franc, Catawba, Cayuga, Chambourcin, Noiret, Steuben, Tannat, Traminette, and Vidal varietals. The vineyard is part of the Indiana Uplands American Viticulture Area (AVA). The Indiana Uplands is a federally recognized grape-growing region and the first AVA entirely in Indiana, established in early 2013. The AVA credential means the region has a unique blend of geography, soil, and climate. This gives its wine defining character. Simply put, the Indiana Uplands is markedly different from surrounding areas when it comes to growing grapes.

French Lick Winery opened for business in 1995 in the historic Beechwood Mansion in French Lick, just down from its current location. The wines were crafted using contracted grapes and fruit until the vineyard was planted in 1998. Estate-grown grapes were then in sufficient supply to use in wine making plans. As the winery grew and produced more varieties, it became evident they needed more room. In 2004 renovations began on a spacious section of the old Kimball Piano factory. In 2005 they moved the winery, opened a new restaurant, The Vintage Café, as well as a large gift shop. A wall of windows in the restaurant allows guests to peer into the production area from the comfort of the dining room.

A prominent feature in the building is the tasting room. Trained wine servers lead guests through the expansive list of over twenty-nine different wines, ranging from dry to sweet, to fortified and carbonated (bubbly). The majority of the tastings remain complimentary, as they have since the winery opened.

Vintage Café is a family-friendly, casual-dining, Italian restaurant that serves pizzas, pastas, salads, breads and desserts. The lunch menu offers several oven-baked sandwiches as well. In their desire to make a quality product, the Doty’s researched and tested recipes to ensure they would be both appetizing and unique. Their signature pizza dough is made from a starter that was brought over from Naples, Italy—the birthplace of pizza—over two hundred years ago. The marinara sauce is a family recipe and the alfredo sauce is made one pan at a time. Seasonal additions to the menu keep it fresh and interesting for repeat guests.

The Gift Shop carries wine, wine accessories, winery logo items such as apparel and wine glasses, and other home décor items. There is a selection of gourmet foods, including locally made artisan cheeses, pretzels and cookies. Additionally, a seasonal, rotating display is reserved for community groups and non-profit organizations with items for sale to benefit the local area.

The future looks bright as the winery continues to grow and the product line expands. New vines have been included in the vineyard, with additional large tanks added in the winery, and future expansion already in progress. What started as a hobby for John Doty, has now become a legacy.

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