Time for a Little Wine Education

“So, it’s like a Tupperware party?”

That was my father’s summation of how I’d described the wine tasting event I’d set up last month as a Father’s Day surprise.

Not exactly, Dad.

I was trying to explain the new Tasting Life program from Monarch Beverage. Maybe I’ll do a better job of it here: Tasting Life is a wine tasting and education experience with a wine expert from Monarch Beverage, Indiana’s largest distributor of beer and wine.

Anyone interested in having a Tasting Life party purchases a six-pack of wine at liquor stores throughout Central Indiana and then schedules a free one-hour wine tasting education experience with a wine expert from Monarch Beverage.

(Disclaimer: The folks at Monarch were generous in supplying the Indiana varietal wine pack for my party. You have to purchase your own wine; the Tasting Life web site has a store locator application to make it easy to find. And our wine expert, Ashley Johnson, let me know that Kroger stores just partnered to begin selling the packs.)

This is where the party varies from a plastic dishware, food product or purse party: there are no sales at any point. It’s strictly a wine tasting and education event.

There are four different wine packs to choose from: an Indiana varietal pack with three red and three white Hoosier wines; a domestic varietal with three reds and three whites; a red varietal; and an international varietal pack. I wanted to also highlight some of the Indiana wineries, and as my family is soon to relocate back home again in Indiana, I chose the Indiana varietal pack.

Our expert showed up a few minutes early to pop open each bottle while explaining how the program works and a little bit about herself, before we launched into the five S’s of wine tasting: sight, swirl, smell, sip and spit (okay, we didn’t do that last one – any wine that was sipped was consumed).

I learned a lot about wine and Hoosier wineries in that hour. Did you know that by the end of the year there will be about 80 wineries here in Indiana? I had no idea there were that many.

I also learned that the Traminette grape is the state grape of Indiana. Didn’t even know we had a state grape.

Here’s one more tidbit: the United States of America recently became the No. 1 wine-consuming nation in the world. Take that, France and Italy!

In the Indiana varietal pack, there are five wineries represented: Rettig Hill in Batesville, Best Winery in Harrison County, Chateau Thomas Winery in Plainfield and other locations, Turtle Run Winery in Corydon and Butler Winery in Bloomington.

My favorite was the Turtle Run Red My Mind. Sweet and fruity without being too sugary – it went with my steak shish kabobs and fancy cheese selection. And we finished that bottle off before any of the rest of them. But, honestly, there wasn’t a bad one in the bunch. For a novice wine drinker, I now have some lingo to use and a better understanding of my tastes, along with more knowledge about the Hoosier wine business.

And, my family had a totally unique Father’s Day, complete with wine and fancy cheese.

For more information on the program or to schedule a party, visit www.tastinglife.com.

American Students Lack Basic Historical Knowledge

As a fan of history, and a strong believer that a key to progressing forward is a firm grasp of the past, this article in the Wall Street Journal concerns me. As a general plea, I’d just like to remind parents and teachers to take advantage of the wonderful resources we have in the state, including Conner Praire, the Indiana Historical Society, the Benjamin Harrison Home, the governmental and Civil War history in Corydon, etc.:

The results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress revealed that U.S. schoolchildren have made little progress since 2006 in their understanding of key historical themes, including the basic principles of democracy and America’s role in the world.

Only 20% of U.S. fourth-graders and 17% of eighth-graders who took the 2010 history exam were "proficient" or "advanced," unchanged since the test was last administered in 2006. Proficient means students have a solid understanding of the material.

The news was even more dire in high school, where 12% of 12th-graders were proficient, unchanged since 2006. More than half of all seniors posted scores at the lowest achievement level, "below basic." While the nation’s fourth- and eighth-graders have seen a slight uptick in scores since the exam was first administered in 1994, 12th-graders haven’t.

One bright spot in the data was the performance of African-American and Hispanic students in fourth and eighth grades. The average score of Hispanic fourth-graders jumped to 198 last year, versus 175 in 1994, which helped shrink the gap with their white counterparts. In eighth grade, black students improved to 250 points in 2010 from 238 in 1994. At the fourth-grade level, the gap between Hispanic and white students was 39 points in 1994 and 26 points in 2010. In eighth grade, the black-white gap narrowed to 23 points in 2010 from 28 in 1994.

The overall lackluster performance is certain to revive the debate about whether history and other subjects, such as science and art, are being pushed out of the curriculum because of the focus on math and reading demanded under the No Child Left Behind federal education law. The federal law mandates that students be tested in math and reading.

New Conner Prairie Exhibit Brings Indiana Civil War History to Life

Conner Prairie (Fishers), an Indiana Chamber member and an organization I’m proud to be affiliated with via its Horizon Council, just announced a new exhibit and massive undertaking launching in June. Though Indiana is not often thought of as a site for Civil War battles, anyone whose traveled to Corydon knows Hoosiers of the day were privy to one major scare courtesy of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan. Now, visitors can be part of an interactive experience telling the story of this event. The Indy Star reports:

A $4.3 million Civil War exhibit, unveiled Wednesday, is the museum’s newest way to present history.

The "1863 Civil War Journey: Raid on Indiana," opening June 4, will integrate technology with Conner Prairie’s first-person interpretation in an outdoor setting to create a new kind of guest experience focused on personal stories during the Civil War in Indiana. Conner Prairie’s largest exhibit, at 8,800 square feet, it will use projected images, video, theatrical sound, staging, hands-on experiences and live action to bring the drama of Civil War Indiana to life.

"It’s going to be an experience like none other in the country, and maybe even in the world," said Ellen Rosenthal, Conner Prairie’s president and chief executive officer.
The museum, on 850 acres at 13400 Allisonville Road, offers programs designed to engage and connect people of all ages and backgrounds with one another and the past.

The new exhibit will tell the story of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s cavalry raid through Dupont during July 1863. The characters in the exhibit are based on real people who lived in Indiana during the Civil War when Morgan’s Raiders invaded.

"It’s the most important Civil War event ever to occur on Indiana soil," Rosenthal said.

The exhibit posed three challenges: to re-create Morgan’s raid with 2,500 cavalry over and over again daily, to make visitors feel part of the experience and to make the experience engaging for the entire family, not just for military history buffs.

Dan Freas, the museum’s vice president of guest experiences, said "Civil War Journey" doesn’t rely on an increase in staff.

"That’s where technology comes into play," he said. The exhibit incorporates theatrical wizardry that includes interactive video, special effects, lighting, sound and costumed interpreters "to provide that sense of excitement."

Corydon an Ideal Weekend Get-Away for Those On a Budget

My ladyfriend and I took advantage of some lovely late summer weather last weekend and headed down to Indiana’s former state capital — Corydon. We stayed at the Kintner House, a well-known bed and breakfast. We felt like royalty in the William Henry Harrison room, which serves as an homage to our former President (although his stint at the helm was brief).

While in Harrison County, we toured the first capitol building and an early Governor’s mansion (I even bought an artistic rendering of the scene from a local consignment shop for my new home).

In the afternoon, we took a cave tour at Squire Boone Caverns — an Indiana Chamber member. The tour was quite enlightening as we meandered through stalactites and stalagmites nearly nine stories below the ground. Seeing rock formations formed over millions of years is quite humbling — a feeling most of us don’t experience nearly enough (if my hours of watching reality television — or watching Kanye West do anything — are any indication). We also sported a serious glute burn on the 60-foot climb up a spiral stair case back to the surface.

All told, if you’re on a budget and looking to get away on a one-tank trip — to borrow vernacular from Bob Gregory — I highly recommend the Corydon area, especially as fall approaches. Visit Indiana’s blog has a more detailed post highlighting the history and allure of our former capital, as well.