Sugar Creek Vineyard & Winery Pours Carmel a Taste of Artisan Wines

Photographer: Michael Durr

To hear David Phillips tell it, Sugar Creek Vineyard & Winery is the result of an inspired, collaborative family idea and a whole lot of subsequent hard work.

Back in 2010, Phillips began chatting with his son-in-law Zach Cain, and Zach’s father Terry, about the possibility of growing a vineyard, with an eye toward producing and selling their own artisan wine right here in Central Indiana. As owners of a corn and soybean operation in Montgomery County, the Cains are no strangers to agriculture and were excited at the prospect of branching into the grape-growing game.

“Wine wasn’t something I was very consumed with before we started the vineyard, but life tends to give you some opportunities that you can take advantage of, and my oldest daughter married into a farming family,” says Phillips, who previously worked in the health care field and is now Sugar Creek’s president. “We all got to talking and figured it might be something we could do together.”

Phillips and Cain, who serves as chief agriculture officer, took the lead on the idea and began hashing out the details, initially meeting with viticulture specialists from Purdue University as well as hiring consultants to help them navigate their new world of winemaking.

“We ended up doing our first planting in 2012 up in Montgomery County, with varietals that the Purdue folks said had had reasonable success here in Indiana and the Midwest,” Phillips says. “That kind of started the process for us. There were about 60 or 65 wineries in the state at that time, and we also talked to them and found that the winery owners here are very collegial with everyone willing to help each other along.”

It was 2015 that brought the first Sugar Creek harvest, after which Phillips and Cain began the wine-making process in earnest, building up inventory for the eventual commercialization of their products. Along the way, they considered several areas in and around Indy to build out a space for the public to sample and purchase wines, and Phillips says Main Street in Carmel was a natural fit.

“We considered doing a tasting room out where the vineyard is in Montgomery County, but it’s a little off the beaten path,” he says. “But you really have to be within a certain mile range of an interstate for something like this to attract people. Plus, I live in Carmel, so it made sense to have a year-round tasting room here. The demographics in Carmel are suited to what we’re doing.”

Phillips describes the tasting room, which opened in September of 2018, as a rustic, lodge-like atmosphere, with regular live music and ladies nights on Tuesdays. Customers are welcome to bring in outside food to enjoy with their wine selections, and Sugar Creek offers artisan cheese platters that serve two to three people.

As an avid whitewater rafter and canoeist, Phillips decided to name each Sugar Creek wine after a U.S. river, stream or waterway destination, from a chardonnay named after the 692-mile Yellowstone River, to the Redwall Cavern, which is a dry red named after a spot located on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.

“I’ve tried to match the characteristics of the wine to a name of a place that I’ve been, to give some indication as to what the wine might be like,” Phillips says. “For example, pinot noir is a fairly smooth, easy wine and I named it Velvet Falls, which is a rapid on the middle fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. People have been looking up footage of these places on their phones on YouTube right in the tasting room to see what the wines are named after.”

Phillips hopes the personal touch he and his staff of 12 bring to the tasting room facility will result in a lasting presence in Carmel.

“I make a point to meet and introduce myself to everyone who comes in and find out a little bit about them and tell them what we’re trying to do and how we got started,” he says. “It’s nice making new friendships and getting to know the young people here.”

Sugar Creek Vineyard & Winery is located at 1111 West Main Street, Suite 165 in Carmel. For more information, including a wine list, venue rental details and an events calendar, call 317-688-7222 or visit sugarcreekwinery.com.