Bubbling over with surprise taste

You’ve seen the bottles in your local grocery and liquor stores.

They’re not just on the shelves but in most locations there is a case or two displayed on the floor.

Bubblecraft wines from the ubiquitous Oliver Winery in Bloomington. Though Oliver is making an expanding array of vineyard designate wines and fine wines with California grapes, the winery’s calling card has long been Oliver Soft Red and White wines.

Bill Oliver and his wine-making team put a twist on the Concord and Niagara grapes to release a bubbly taste “we all grew up with.” Those are the words of Oliver who oversees one of the nation’s biggest wineries not located on the west coast.

Bubblecraft came from experimentation, a piece of equipment purchased to bottle cider, and a competitive expansion in the sweet alcoholic beverage market.

“We tried small batches of a spritzy wine,” Oliver said. “It was a fun project. It’s a subtle variation on Soft White and Soft Red. It’s not quite the full blown bubbles of sparkling wine and we just really loved it. It transformed the wines.”

Oliver had invested in a new machine for bottling cider that has a digital valve instead of a manual operation. It’s used to fill “spritzy things,” which is Oliver’s term for carbon dioxide.

“Dealing with CO2 is challenging because it’s going to create foaming,” he said. “Then if you introduce sugar, it makes it that much harder. We bought it for our ciders but wondered what else we could do with it.”

The experimentation with his two most popular wines paid off.

“The result was an eye opener,” he said. “Our staff, distributors and folks in the retail community were all like ‘Wow, this is really interesting.’ “

The wine was released late in 2015. Oliver said sales were expected to hit 10,000 cases. He hopes to sell 25,000 cases in year two.

A few years ago Oliver talked with me about the encroachment of sweet wines and sweet spirits challenging his market dominance.

“It’s worse now,” he said. “It’s more than just the sweet wine market. It’s the flavored malts, vodka and fake ciders. It’s just this whole all-in on the sweet wine consumer. We’re getting it from the ready-to-drink small containers (off the shelf). It’s an assault on our core customers so we’re answering with things like this. And, it’s working.”

The taste of Bubblecraft will feel familiar. But the carbon dioxide works to minimize the sometimes cloying sweetness of the two grapes.”

Oliver, who has his eye on more new products and expansion, said the introduction of Bubblecraft can bump his revenue 7 to 8 percent.

If you like the Midwest’s sweet Concord and Niagara grapes the Bubblecraft may pleasantly surprise you. It will deliver the same familiar taste but with a really interesting twist.

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes about wine every other week for more than 20 newspapers. Contact Hewitt at hewitthoward@gmail.com.