Winemaker bios

Steve Palmer

Steve Palmer, Madison Vineyards Estate Winery
In 1975, winemaker Steve Palmer and his wife, Sandy, founded Palmer Vineyards in Washington Country, Ind., where they grew grapes for their own use and to supply two existing Indiana wineries. That small vineyard was sold in 1991, and the Palmers began their two-year search for a more suitable location where they could not only grow the grapes but also produce their own commercial wines. In June, 1994, Madison Vineyards Inc. was born, and the following spring the first young vines were planted.
Born in Noblesville, Ind., Steve is a graduate of Indiana University and a veteran of the Vietnam War, where he served in the U.S. Army as a combat correspondent. His wine education includes classes at Purdue University, Michigan State and Ohio State. The Palmers have traveled extensively through the wine growing regions of the world: from Mexico’s San Juan del Rio area, to Canada, France, Spain and Italy, as well as throughout the United States. He is a current member of the Indiana Wine Guild, American Society for Enology & Viticulture, and is a former board member of the Indiana Wine Grape Council.
Currently, Steve produces about 4,000 gallons of International Gold Medal winning wines from the 12-plus acres of grapes on the vineyard grounds. In July 2005, Madison Vineyards opened a newly constructed bed and breakfast, located on a hill in the center of the vines, to share the wine country experience with their guests.
The Palmers have one son, Michael, who has established his own wine business as a wholesaler serving Indiana wineries and other small, family-owned wineries from around the world.

Brian Ahaus

Brian Ahaus, Ertel Cellars Winer
What started as a manual labor job turned quickly into a labor of love for New Alsace, Ind., native Brian Ahaus. Beginning his career at another area winery, Ahaus quickly climbed the wine vines through education and trial and error to become the head winemaker and vineyard manager after only seven years. He attended many classes at Purdue University and Ohio State to learn as much as possible about making wine and growing grapes. As head winemaker for the area winery, Ahaus garnered many top state of Indiana awards. His fruit wines, as well as his dry reds, received awards.
He has made his labor of love more challenging than others, being the first in Indiana to grow grapes for Vinefera wines for commercial use. They are one of the most difficult grapes to grow and are mainly grown in “old country” Europe and in California.
His success, he notes, comes from his education, the school of hard knocks and the soil complexities in the area. Ahaus feels that some of the microclimates within the Midwest make for idea grape growing. The microclimate he works in now, thanks to owner Tom Ertel, is comprised of 10 acres of grapes, with two more acres to be planted this spring and more scheduled for the future. His wines are handcrafted from the vines to the wines.
Ahaus said he is blessed to not only be a winemaker in Indiana, but also to be picked by Ertel to put together this new winery with the best of equipment.
“It’s very rare for a winemaker to have this opportunity,” he added. He also feels blessed to have the support of his wife of 10 years, Karen, and his three children.

Tom Demaree

Tom Demaree, Ridge Winery
Tom Demaree enjoyed making his own wines prior to opening the Ridge Winery on the family farm near Vevay, Ind. Working closely with the late Paul Ogle, philanthropist and visionary, they saw the promise of returning the art of winemaking to its Switzerland County home.
Demaree had spent 26 years in a Lawrenceburg, Ind., distillery doing everything from processing, fermentation, bottling and shipping. He started collecting wine supplies early on by going to auctions. In 1989, Tom announced to his family that he was going to turn his passion into a business by opening a winery. Six years later, the Ridge Winery opened, selling three varieties of wines.
Currently, the Ridge Winery produces 10 wines made from a variety of fruits. With the assistance of family and friends, Demaree is seeing his vision become reality. Winemaking has returned to the Birthplace of the American Wine Industry, Switzerland County Indiana.

Steve Thomas, Thomas Family Winery
Steve Thomas, a third-generation winemaker, has heritage from central and southeastern Indiana. Thomas' winemaking heritage reaches back to the 1930s, when Gale Thomas made hard cider. Thomas worked at his father's winery in Indianapolis (Chateau Thomas) for 11 years before choosing Madison as the place for him and his wife, Elizabeth, to start their own business and raise their family.
Steve and Elizabeth, a tourism professional with a background in the arts, teamed up to rehabilitate the 1850s Garlinghouse Livery Stable and Blacksmith Shop and turn it into an old world winery and gathering place. Specializing in traditional European-style wines, the Thomases draw on time-honored approaches to their wines. This also includes being at the forefront of the renaissance of a great American product – Gale's Hard Cider, named for Gale Thomas, Steve's grandfather, and handcrafted from heirloom apples.
Themes have turned from transportation to socialization at 208 E. Second St. these days. Walking into the Thomas Family Winery is like entering a cheerful Old World public house, where friends, visitors and neighbors come to relax.

Chris Lanthier

Chris Lanthier, Lanthier Winery
Cellarmaster Christopher Lanthier is a chemical engineer and hails originally from Detroit. He balances his executive position with Dow Corning Corp. with his duties as Lanthier Winery’s winemaker.
Lanthier's dream to pursue his own business began with a simple thought inspired by visits to Napa Valley wine country in 1990. Following numerous “wine trail” trips throughout the United States and other countries, he investigated the possibilities of establishing a winery in Madison.
He discovered an old stone building hidden behind immense shrubs and debris. What followed was four years of restoration, renovation and rehabilitation to the Mill Street building and grounds. During those four years, the winery and surrounding properties were entirely stripped to make way for Lanthier’s vision – a winery that felt as if it belonged in the small villages of Europe but had American appeal and comfort.
Lanthier premiered his handcrafted, award-wining wines in September 1994 when he celebrated the grand opening of Madison’s oldest winery, Lanthier Winery, during the winery’s annual Harvest Celebration Festival.
Lanthier has traveled the world, tasting wine, studying tourism and learning more about the art and science of winemaking. He is a member of the Indiana Wine Grape Guild. He has acted as consultant and advisor to numerous individuals seeking to open new wineries in Indiana and throughout the Midwest.
Lanthier credits his staff for the winery’s continued success and expansion and encourages anyone seeking a “far away feeling, close enough to taste” to visit his dream come true at Lanthier Winery.

Chateau Pomije
Chateau Pomije will announce the name of their new winemaker soon.

Back to April 2006 Articles.



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