by Ashley Flynn
Wine enthusiasts need not travel far to satisfy their taste buds. Just north of Peru off US 31 sits an 80-acre orchard that handcrafts a variety of flavorful, crisp – and not to mention award winning – wines and hard ciders.
McClure’s Orchard/Winery, a family operated business, sold their first batch of alcohol in 2010 after months of trial and error. Jason McClure and his wife Alison came up with the idea to add wine and hard cider to the orchard after making a few batches at home.
“To get all the different flavors, we experimented everything with a five gallon batch. If we like it, we go bigger. If we don’t like it, we will tweak something in those five gallons to find something we like. That’s how all these were created,” Jason McClure told The Paper of Wabash.
The winery currently offers over 20 varieties of alcohol, but a few batches have sold out. There’s something for everyone, Jason says.
“(I like) coming up with drinks that not everyone is going to like, but with everything we offer, everybody can find something. I like the challenge,” he said. “We currently have a couple at home that I’m excited about, but those won’t be out for a while.”
Many of the wines and ciders have earned awards including Jason’s favorite, Goldensap. The website describes Goldensap as, “7.8 percent ABV; apple dominates the nose, this cider is dry and bitter to the palate. We took juice from only two varieties of apples and fermented them until the yeast expired. We kept the cider on the lees until bottling to get a product reminiscent of the days of yore. Goldensap won a bronze medal at the 2012 GLINTCAP Competition.”
Jason says he is most proud of the wines dedicated to his loved ones. Granny’s and Grandpa’s, also GLINTCAP award winners, are two bourbon barrel aged ciders dedicated to his grandparents whom he says have a huge impact on his life.
Alison’s Jubilee, a 12 percent alcohol by volume, won a bronze medal at the 2012 Indy International Wine Competition.
“It’s got all my favorite things and hers. It’s a cider fermented with honey, black raspberries and hops,” said Jason.
Alison’s Jubilee comes out around Valentine’s Day, which was labeled with a purple design for Alison one year for the holiday. Several other wines and ciders are also award winners including Indiana’s first Ice Cider. The McClure’s Ice Cider won a double gold at the 2013 Indy International and was awarded a trophy for the Best Indiana-Grown Fruit Wine of the Year.
“(I do this because of) my passion for alcohol and hand crafted hard cider. To be able to continue what we do here on the farm. The way we get through the fruit is we wholesale them out or turn them into value added products. We put more time and energy into this, but it’s fun to do,” Jason said.
Most of the wines include several different types of apples. The orchard has approximately 5,000 apple trees with 100 varieties of apples. Many apples can be used for a variety of purposes, but some are used exclusively for wine making. It takes approximately 14 pounds of fruit to make a gallon of cider.
“One thing I really like is using all the fruit. I like the whole process from start to finish,” Jason said. “It’s what brought me back. The idea of being able to grow and eat it and live of the land, that’s what got me out of the classroom (Jason is a former teacher) to do this for a living. It’s a lot more hours a week, more difficult at times, but the rewards are different. It’s a job, but it’s a job you can’t separate from.”
Wine making and working on the orchard is like having two-full time jobs, Jason says. He works year around through the different seasons. Right now it’s picking season. Starting in November they trim the trees, and in February and March they spray the crops and move on into planting.
“There’s no down times, just slower times,” Jason said.
The Tate family started the orchard 100 years ago and sold it in the 1970s. It went through a few different owners until the McClure family bought the orchard over 15 years ago. Jerry and Paige McClure took over along with their three children Jason, Jonathan and Megan.
When they bought the orchard, the trees were over grown and the ground was unkempt. They had Purdue specialist come out, inspect the land and give them tips on how to bring the orchard back to life. They started with 25 varieties of apples, but have since grown to 100 and added other produce such as asparagus, pumpkins, berries, grapes and peaches. The McClure family has expanded along with the farm, as each of the three children are now grown and married. Jonathan and his wife Shannessy have two children Kai and Auz, and Megan and Travis have a daughter named Eleanor.
“Everybody says don’t work with family, but that’s kind of the drive and motivation to be here. That’s the most rewarding thing to work side by side. We have so many shared experiences. I can say I see my folks every day and my sister everyday. I get to see my niece everyday and that’s pretty cool.”
Not only is the orchard a special place for the McClure family, but also it is a place all families can enjoy.
“It’s about being a family operation, but it’s also being there for other families to come out and enjoy. We can take a family out to pick apples and spend that time together. If it wasn’t a family operation, I don’t know that I would be here doing it,” said Jason.
The orchard welcomes families to come enjoy you-pick apples, you-pick-pumpkins, hayrides, a petting zoo and play area. They also have the Apple Dumplin’ Inn, which is a small restaurant inside the gift shop. Also in the gift shop is wine tasting. The first three tastes are free.
To celebrate the end of the season, McClure’s Orchard/Winery is partnering with Breakaway Bike Shop for the annual harvest fest on Oct. 12. There will be a 5K run and walk and a 14-mile bike ride as well as wine tasting, music, horse rides and other activities. Wabash citizens looking for a closer option can buy McClure’s wine in downtown Wabash at Dorothy Ilene’s during First Friday events.