Earlier this week, I sat down with Jeanette Merritt, marketing specialist for the Purdue Wine Grape Team, for an informal interview on the Indiana wine industry. The state now has 69 wineries, and the industry is still growing. The wine industry is a viable part of Indiana agriculture, and according to Merritt, wineries rank first in Indiana’s agritourism ventures. More and more people are visiting wineries across the state and showing interest in one of the state’s oldest agricultural pursuits.
And that interest is well deserved. Merritt said that Indiana wines can compete with any other wines on the market today. In fact, they do just that during an annual tasting competition held on Purdue’s campus in the summer, the Indy International Wine Competition. Entries come from around the world, totaling nearly 3,000 annually, to be evaluated by a team of approximately 50 judges. Merrritt said the state received a “huge honor” in 2012 when the “Wine of the Year” award went to River City Winery, located in New Albany, Ind. “You can put our (Indiana) wines up with any ones from around the country,” she said.
In addition to helping organize the wine competition with her fellow team members, Merritt organizes other events around the state and develops marketing materials for the industry. “My first goal is to market the entire state (industry),” she said. “I focus on the bigger picture.” But she also has a close relationship with wineries spread across the state, from a small storefront to a 650-acre farm. She offers advice on how to write news releases and tips for social media.
Within the last five years, Merritt has created the “Try on Traminette” campaign for the state industry, encouraging wineries and wine lovers alike to check out Indiana’s signature wine. “Traminette does well with the winters we have here and it does well in our soils, which are largely heavy clays,” Merritt said. She said the hybrid grape varietal was developed at Cornell University and is bred to do well in the Midwest.
Although Merritt is well-versed in all things wine nowadays, that hasn’t always been the case. She graduated from Purdue University with a degree in Ag Sales and Marketing, and pursued her interest in radio. Merritt said she spent her last year of undergraduate studies working a full-time job in Indianapolis, helping her husband with their farm and finishing up classes for her degree. She met a lot of people during her work and life experiences, and that’s what led her to back to Purdue about eight and a half years ago. The previous marketing director recommended Merritt for the job and she hit the ground running, organizing that year’s Vintage Indiana wine festival.
The one-day event brings together the same things as Merritt and Indiana wineries: people and wine.