Safe Traveling During COVID-19

For many travelers, packing away their suitcases and trying to get airline ticket refunds really put a damper on the last year. However, with vaccination rates increasing and many areas open, travel is becoming safer once again.

If you have a bug to hit the road, you’re probably wondering what you can do to have a great trip while still staying safe. Well, it doesn’t take much, Guest Blogger Lisa Walker offers these five tips for COVID-friendly travel.

1. Choose the Less-Beaten Path

Instead of booking a vacation to the most popular tourist attraction around, opt for a location that is less well-known and will thus be less crowded. The fewer people you are around, the less likely it is that you’ll end up testing positive for COVID-19.

2. Consider a Road Trip

Getting on a packed flight for several hours probably doesn’t sound like fun, whether there’s a pandemic or not. Instead of flying to a destination, choose somewhere a little closer that can be reached by car. Hitting the open road is a great way to see the sights, but it also allows you to keep to yourself and stay safe.

If you decide to go on a road trip, you may want to invest in some tech gear to improve your travels. If you aren’t convinced that your smartphone is truly up for the job, a GPS system can ensure you are on the right track and will get to your destination without having to stop and ask for directions. And don’t forget to invest in an extra car charger or two to ensure your battery is always powered up.

3. Go Camping

While some people balk at the idea of sleeping anywhere but in a hotel bed, camping is a great option for those who want to avoid coming into contact with others. If you’re already a fan of camping, you likely have all the gear you need, from tents to camp stoves. If not, you can either purchase all new items or rent some. There are websites that specialize in outdoor gear rentals, a great tactic that can help you decide if you like camping enough to buy your own gear.

4. Book a Vacation Rental

As mentioned above, there are many travelers who don’t want to risk bumping into others in the narrow hallways of a hotel. Vacation rentals are ideal because they allow you to have a comfortable place to stay that you can call your own. Most are cleaned extremely well between guests, so you can rest easy knowing that everything has been sanitized. Airbnb even requires hosts to follow CDC guidelines or risk losing their ranking.

5. Spread Out in a B&B

As more vacation options open up, bed-and-breakfasts are ideal for those who want the luxury of a hotel without the hassle. Some locations are still not at full capacity, making it easier for travelers to have space to enjoy time away from home. Plus, when you stay in a B&B, you’ll have easy access to activities like wine tasting, antiquing, horseback riding, and more.

Traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic is likely something you’ll never have to deal with again, but it is possible to do it safely if you’re willing to be flexible and think outside the box. Don’t wait to book your next getaway; just do so with safety and comfort in mind.


The Judges have Spoken

Judging for the 17th Annual Indiana Wine Fair took place on May 4 and 5, 2019, in the Old Barn at Story Indiana. Eight judges participated: Matt Gordon, Lou Melillo, Joe Persinger, Yael Ksander, Adrian Lee, Nicole Lee, Justine Fearnow and Rick Hofstetter. The wines were grouped into seven categories. All submitted wines were “produced” in Indiana. Most, but not all, of the fruit was also grown in Indiana, and the majority of that within the Hoosier Uplands American Viticultural Area (“AVA”).     



Dry Red

            GOLD: Heritage, Huber Winery 2015, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (40%), Cabernet Franc (35%) and Petit Verdot (25%). BEST OF SHOW

            SILVER: Patoka Lake Select 2016 (Cabernet Sauvignon)

            BRONZE: TIE

            Huber Generations 2015, a blend of Chambourcin, Cabernet Franc and Blaufrankish.

            Cedar Creek “Dark Secret” Pinot Noir N. V.

TASTING NOTES: This category showed considerable strength, and Huber’s “Heritage” once again took “Best of Show”. It is a well-kept secret that Huber produces some of the best Bordeaux-style wines in the world, and every last grape is grown on its family estate in the Hoosier Uplands AVA. The Heritage was an unusual unanimous choice by the judges this year. A pleasant surprise in this category was Patoka Lake’s “Select” 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, a beautifully complex wine despite its youth. A wine of this quality would have won a gold in every category, but for Huber’s Heritage. Huber’s “Generations” took the Bronze, in a tie with Cedar Creek’s “Dark Secret” Pinot Noir. The “Generations” was estate grown; the “Dark Secret” pinot noir was not.  Pinot noir is a notoriously fickle grape to grow, and we encourage Hoosier vintners to take on that challenge.  

Dry White

            GOLD: Knobstone Vineyard Pinot Gris 2017

            SILVER: Winzerwald Gruener Weltner, N.V.

            BRONZE: Huber Vignoles 2017

TASTING NOTES:  This category was dominated by hybrids, as one may expect in this AVA soil and climate. The gold was crisp, completely dry and estate-grown in AVA. Winzerwald did a commendable job of producing an Austrian-style Gruener Weltner, crisp and dry and typically colored. We visualized the Tyrolian Alps when we sipped it. It might have won the gold, but it was not estate grown. The bronze was another Huber estate-grown AVA, with a hint of sweetness.  


            GOLD: Ertel Cellars Catawba, N.V.

            SILVER: Ertel Cellars Stuben, N.V.

            BRONZE: Huber “Stella di Luce” Sweet Rosado, N.V.

TASTING NOTES: This category is defined by color and not sweetness, and so we experienced wines ranging from semi-dry to sweet. Our effort was to select the best wine regardless of sweetness. Ertel Cellars dominated with two excellent sweet wines made from Catawba and Stuben. It was nearly a toss-up, but the Catawba won the gold for being slightly more complex.  We gave Huber’s “Stella di Luce” the bronze because it showed interesting complexity and semi-dryness. All three medal winners in this category were estate grown AVA.    

Sweet White

            GOLD: Simmons Winery Late Harvest, N.V.

            SILVER: Ertel Cellars Vignoles N. V.

            BRONZE: Huber Winery Moscato (sparkling)

TASTING NOTES: All wines in this category ranged from sweet to semi-sweet. We judged them by their complexity, and Simmons’ Late Harvest was winner by consensus. Ertel continued to dominate in white grapes, taking a silver. Huber was a pleasant departure from the rest, a sparkling Moscato made in the traditional Champagne method. All metal winners were estate-grown AVA.  

Sweet Red

            GOLD: Ertel Cellars “Luscious Red” , N.V.

            SILVER: Huber “Sweet Marcella”, N.V.

            Huber “Starlight Red”, N. V.

TASTING NOTES: The gold and silver in this category were predominantly Concords, a grape native to the US. “Sweet Marcella” is Huber’s best-selling wine and pleases the Hoosier palate. The “Starlight Red” was an interesting blend of Chambourcin, Chancellor, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, all estate grown. The judges could not get used to the associating these grapes with sweetness but thought that Huber ought to be commended for making that effort.


            GOLD: Salt Creek Winery Cherry Rose (white grapes and cherry)

            SILVER: Carousel Winery “Winter Jewel” (80/20 Cranberry/Raspberry)

            BRONZE: Ertel Cellars Strawberry

TASTING NOTES: This category consists of any wine made at least partially from non-grape fruit. Salt Creek won the gold with a provocative blend of grapes and cherries, sweet yet tart and full-bodied. Carousel’s “Winter Jewel” is a mulled wine that was intended to be sipped at 110 degrees F. It was lovely and very tart, and one could imagine sipping  it from a cut crystal glass at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Some of the judges thought it should have been entered in the “Dessert” category instead. Ertel produced a nice and surprisingly complex wine from strawberries to win the bronze. 


            GOLD: Knobstone Reserve

            SILVER: Salt Creek “Sweet Revenge”

            BRONZE: Harmony Winery “Rhapsody”

TASTING NOTES: This category involved sweet after-dinner wines, many of which were fortified and high in alcohol. The Knobstone from Huber was a delicious traditional port-style wine (18.6%), best served with stilton and shortbread. Salt Creek won a silver for a delicious and complex fortified red wine (19%).  Harmony Winery took the bronze with a nice chocolate flavored wine (15%).   

The Story of the Good Earth: Hoosier Restaurant Grows in Style

Jackie Wilkerson, head gardener at the Story Inn


Story Inn’s Chef Eric Swanson has no need to visit a farmer’s market.  Every afternoon the Chef picks it himself. “We’re not ordering much produce these days” he says. “When the earth decides it’s time to fruit, we are there to collect the bounty”.

That’s because Story Inn currently cultivates all of its own seasonal herbs, fruits and vegetables. “The Story Culinary Gardens were an exciting achievement that have allowed us to take our food to a new level” says co-owner and General Manager Jacob Ebel. “We have tripled our gardening program in recent years to include many unique vegetable varieties not typically available in our state. It’s our commitment quality and sustainability.”DSC_0677-2

The Story Inn sits in the middle of an 18 acre, 19th century town in rural southern Indiana, making it unique, in a true seed-to-table way. At 39 degrees north latitude, that means a growing season which begins in April and ends in November (extended on either extreme with hoop houses) each species maturing as Nature commands. “Day-to-day harvests are a huge source of inspiration. Our menu reflects this spontaneity” says Chef Swanson, who is in his fifth season at the Story Inn.

Gardner Jackie Wilkerson and her husband Pete make it all possible.  Together they manage three distinct gardens as well as an orchard consisting of table grapes, apples, peaches, pears, plums and cherries. Both are cancer survivors, making the most of each passing day and season. “I love my job” says Jackie. “Every winter Pete and I plan the garden. In spring we plant and cultivate. In summer we weed, water and maintain. In fall we collect and compost leaves and manure to enrich the soil for another cycle. The only thing we don’t do is harvest; that’s up to the kitchen”.  Story’s main garden, which is fenced to foil rabbits, even has its own water source: a century-old well.

DSC_0702A cold, much-delayed spring has complicated planting this year, but the early greens—butter lettuce, kale, bib lettuce, not to speak of ruby red strawberries, and herbs like basil, cilantro, lemon thyme—are sprouting in abundance.  So are seasonal flowers, which beautify the gardens and grace the tables in the restaurant. “We encourage our dinner patrons to come early and meet their salad” says co-owner Rick Hofstetter. “It’s not unusual to see Chef and his staff, clad in white uniforms, cutting or plucking directly from the Inn’s three gardens and orchard each day. You’ll need to go to Tuscany to see that happening somewhere else”.

Here are some specifics of the Story Inn’s 2018 garden:DSC_0709

  • Seven varieties of peppers-Thai hot, red, green & yellow bell, lunch box sweet, jalapeños, and biquinho;
  • Mexican sour Gherkin (pickled in house);
  • Numerous varieties of lettuces and greens- Friseé, Adrian, red and green butter, spinach, red and green Romaine, Bibb, 3 types of kale, collards and chard;
  • Four varieties of eggplant, including fairytale, white, purple, white & purple;
  • Three varieties of summer squash-yellow & green zucchini, patty pan;
  • Three varieties of beans- paldor yellow filet bean, maxibel green, romano bean.
  • Numerous heirloom tomatoes, including Hillbilly, Mortgage Lifter, Wooly Kate, German Green, and Cherokee Purple;
  • Butternut squash, delicata squash, and sweet corn.

This does not include a perplexing number of herbs, which include three types of basil, cilantro, arugula, rosemary, thyme, chives, and parsley.

Story’s immodest goal is to define and refine what Hoosier cuisine means. “Living in the present season provides the freshest product available”, says Chef Swanson.


Wine Judging Announcement! The Indiana Wine Fair judging results are in!


Story Inn Wine Fair Kendal Miller (1)
Photo by Kendal Miller

What are the finest wines in Indiana?  The Indiana Wine Fair judges have just completed two days of sampling and judging. Here’s the verdict:


Huber Winery, “Indiana Uplands Heritage” 2014


Huber Winery, “Indiana Uplands Heritage” 2014

Dry Red:

GOLD: Huber Winery, “Indiana Uplands Heritage” 2014

SILVER: Holtkamp Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

BRONZE: Ertel Cellars, American Cabernet Sauvignon

Tasting notes: This category was, surprisingly, the most competitive with the most submittals. Considering Hoosiers’ sweet palate, that was a pleasant surprise. The Gold was a runaway winner, an estate-grown, barrel-aged and bottled blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. It won Best of Show, and, by default, an extra Gold for being Indiana grown. We are at a loss of words to describe it with justice. We recommend buying several bottles to silence the rudest of California wine snobs. The Silver was a delightful find, being a small and relatively new and unknown winery. It beat some formidable competition, including Huber’s “Generations”. The Bronze, from Ertel Cellers, was beautifully structured and layered.    

Story Inn Wine Fair Kendal Miller4
Photo by Kendal Miller

Dry White:

GOLD: Huber Winery, Knobstone Vineyard Pinot Gris 2016

SILVER: Simmons Winery Sauvignon Blanc

BRONZE: Cedar Creek, “White Lie” American Pinot Blanc

Tasting notes: This was another competitive category. The Gold was a crisp, dry wine with a delightful nose and finish, Indiana grown. Serve this to your California wine snobs while they munch on a cobb salad. The Silver and Bronze were pleasant surprises from smaller wineries. 

Non-Dry White:

GOLD: Patoka Lake, Catawba

SILVER: Huber Winery, 2016 Indiana Uplands Vignoles

BRONZE: Ertel Cellars, Ohio River Valley Vidal Blanc

Tasting notes: Submittals ranged from semi-dry to sweet, challenging the judges, who looked for other qualities. The Gold was a delightful mouthful that spoke unmistakably of the Catawba grape, an American varietal. The Silver was a much sweeter version of the dry Vignoles, and, once again, the grape spoke to us unmistakably. The Bronze was a low-alcohol wine very palatable with food.

Non-Dry Red:

GOLD: Huber Winery, Sweet Marcella

SILVER: Harmony Winery, ‘Dark Star”

BRONZE: Simmons Winery, “Autumn Sweet Red”

Tasting notes: Once again, Huber’s flagship Sweet Marcella claimed the Gold. This category is the cash-cow for many Indiana wineries, and we were left with the impression that many were imitating Huber. The Silver was captured by Harmony Winery, which specializes in dessert wines (winning two of three on that category). Simmons claimed the Bronze with a very palatable pure Concord, another American varietal.  

Story Inn Wine Fair Kendal Miller8
Photo by Kendal Miller


GOLD: Urban Vines Winery, “Sweet Rose” Catawba

SILVER: Ertel Cellars, Ohio River Valley Steuben

Bronze: Winzerwald, Indiana Uplands 2015 Catawba Rose

Tasting notes: There was much competition in this category, since it included all levels of dryness. The Gold was a delightful Catawba, with sweetness that did not overpower the grape. The Silver was a Steuben with a lovely nose and finish; the Bronze was the driest of the three, very fruit-forward.


GOLD: Carousel Winery “Winter Spice”

SILVER: Patoka Lake Winery, Strawberry

BRONZE: Harmony Winery, Copper Tiger

Tasting notes: The Gold is an unusual mulled wine, best served heated. Very delightful, even in warm weather. The Silver was a sweet strawberry that screamed authenticity. The Bronze was an unusual flavored wine with a grape base, with hints of watermelon and cucumber, medium dryness.Photo by Kendal Miller

Story Inn Wine Fair Kendal Miller7
Photo by Kendal Miller


GOLD: Harmony Winery, “Black Forest”

SILVER: Harmony Winery, “Allegro”

BRONZE: Huber Winery, Knobstone Reserve

Tasting notes: The Gold was a rush of cherry and chocolate, to complement a fine meal. The Silver, from the same winery, was a close category second, with a delightful coffee nose and finish. Nothing subtle here. The Bronze was a traditional Port-style wine, elegant and not overpowering.  

All of these wines will be available for tasting or purchase on Saturday!

About the Indiana Wine Fair:

The 16th Annual Indiana Wine Fair is Saturday, May 12, at the Story Inn. This is one of Indiana’s oldest, and largest, wine festivals, and this year we will be expanding the event to include craft beer and spirits as well! Wineries/breweries/distilleries will be offering free samples and selling beverages by the glass, or bottle for carry-out. Gates open at 1 pm. You may buy your tickets online at You must be at least 21 years of age to enter the festival premises. Bring a chair if you wish, but please no pop-up tents or coolers! We will have enough food to satisfy everyone’s culinary cravings.


Weather report for Saturday: Warm, mostly sunny, little chance of rain. All tasting will occur under tent, so the Wine Fair will go on, rain or shine.

Free Shuttle from Eagle Park two miles east of Nashville: Avoid the traffic and the scrutiny of the local constabulary. Shuttles will run between Eagle Park and Story from noon until 8 pm.  You may speed your entry by checking in at Eagle Park.

Free Parking near Story: As in years past, we will be offering free parking in a farmer’s field near Story.

How to avoid the construction on SR 46:

If you are headed west from Columbus on SR 46, you may avoid INDOT’s boondoggle entirely by taking Mt. Liberty and Valley Branch Roads to Stone Head. It will actually save you three miles of driving—enjoy!

If you are headed east from Bloomington, you might consider these two options: (a) take SR 58 east to SR 135 and arrive at Story from the south. It is less direct, but more scenic; or (b) spring for a park pass, and cut through the Brown County State Park by entering the west gate and exiting the Horseman’s Camp.  This will cut 15 minutes off of your commute, even under the best of circumstances. You may use that park pass at any of Indiana’s fine state parks, too!


Story, Indiana Picks New “Village Idiot”

April 1, 2018


Hoosier Craft Beer and Wine Salesman Brings it Home

Tiny Town Issues its Highest Honor to Brad Brookbank 


Story, Indiana.  Since its founding in 1851, Story has had no mayor, no board of commissioners, no town counsel, and certainly no election commission to oversee the peaceful transfer of power to such non-existent offices.  Yet, despite the dearth of government, democracy thrives in this tiny southern Indiana hamlet.

If one were compelled to identify the seat of real power in Story, it would be the Tavern located in the basement of the old General Store, where town residents and overnight guests huddle to share news, gossip, and solve the world’s problems.  And on April 1 of each year, “town elders” a/k/a tavern regulars, who by default comprise Brown County’s cognitive elite, confer to elect a “Village Idiot”.  “It’s a tribute to the fermentation process” says Rick Hofstetter, the Story Inn’s co-owner and town’s only employer.

The balloting consists of submissions to the tavern’s bartender, Ann Johnson.  “We have only one requirement for voting for, and being elected to, this esteemed position: at some point in your life, you must be a customer here” she explains.

This year’s “Idiot” accolades falls to Brad Brookbank, a salesman from 450 North Brewery/Simmons Winery in nearby Columbus. One may deduce that Brad is no stranger to his own wares.

For three consecutive years, Brad has been presenting Simmons’ wines at the Indiana Wine Fair, a large public event held at the Story Inn each spring. After loading a trailer with product, Brad hitched it to his truck, not paying attention to the fact that it had the wrong size ball hitch. Predictably, the trailer detached itself from the truck when Brad reached cruising speed on I-65, careening into a ditch. There were no injuries, but a total loss of product, and some hard questions from the Indiana State Police.  “We had several cases of our Merlot in that trailer” he says, ruefully.brad2

Brad has also been an occasional presenter at beer dinners hosted by the Story Inn. After one such gathering, Brad retired to one of the Story Inn’s cottages, where he decided to draw a hot bath. Upon discovering that the tub was not equipped with jets, he decided to improvise—by emptying a fire extinguisher into the tub. “I thought it was just air in those things” said he, upon being confronted with a prodigious mess.

The Story Inn’s cottages are all close together, linked by foot paths. While attempting to find parking near his cottage, Brad drove his car down one of those foot paths, and nearly into a creek. The next morning, he discovered the error of his ways, but could not locate his car keys. He eventually found them—under the vehicle. He was three hours late for work that day.

On another visit to Story, Brad concocted a practical joke for some friends staying in another cottage (one that was equipped with an outdoor hot tub). He hopped a privacy fence to steal the woman’s bathing suit, only to discover that the people staying there were strangers, and not a bit amused.

Brad celebrated New Year’s Eve at the Story Inn in Bacchanalian fashion, and at midnight, joined patrons in front of the Inn who were setting off conspicuously large rockets (known as “RGS Black Widow Artillery Fireworks”, and probably illegal). For reasons unknown, Brad reclined on the sidewalk, placed the stem of the rocket in his mouth, and lit it with a cigarette. The ensuing shower of sparks ignited his facial hair.

“This is the kind of stuff you see at fraternity parties” observed an incredulous Ann Johnson.

Brad’s victory, though well-deserved, was by no means assured, as competition for “Idiot” became fast and furious. Runners-up included a local resident and tavern regular (name withheld by request) who proved adept at, quite literally, recognizing a “diamond in the rough”. She received one nomination for allowing her pug dog to eat a diamond earring and, not to be “de-turd”, successfully retrieved it from her back yard. She received a second nomination for owning a pug dog in the first place.

Former Village Idiots made gallant efforts to reclaim the title. “The rules do not prevent someone from winning a second term, but that has never happened” observes co-owner Jacob Ebel. Jacob received his first nomination ever, for spending five fruitless days in a tree stand during hunting season, possibly because he refused to turn off his cell phone.

In 2010, Dani Ham was elected “Village Idiot” for igniting her own hair on fire while attempting to tame her coiffure with hair spray while smoking a cigarette and driving a car. “I multitask”, says she, by way of explanation. This year, Dani found two uncashed paychecks, dating back to her “Idiot” award, in the glove box of an old Buick.


Former Idiots Stan Smith and Lou Melillo combined forces in an apparent effort to re-make the movie “Dumb and Dumber”. The duo backed Stan’s truck to Stan’s house to move furniture, and quickly discovered that the truck had become stuck in the mud. Their efforts to extract the truck proved to be futile, but they trashed Stan’s yard in the process. Then Lou (re-named “Loo” at his 70th birthday) discovered that Stan had left the parking brake on.

Loo won “Idiot” accolades in 2012 for, among other things, dropping his wife Holly on her head while attempting to flip her over his back (the couple has remained married for 50 years—any coincidence?).

Holly Melillo’s head injury may well have done permanent damage.  She received a nomination from Loo for losing her cell phone. After fruitless minutes searching, Loo had the bright idea to call it, which he did, whereupon Holly discovered that the phone had been tucked in her bra where she always keeps it.

Ricky Sawyer (Village Idiot 1999—for flipping a truck on its inaugural drive home from the dealership) received a nomination for dropping a pair of tongs into the Story Inn’s deep fryer—and then reaching for it. (Remarkably, he suffered only minor injury.) Thomas Kennedy f/k/a Thomas Doane (Idiot, 2008—for falling asleep in the median of a public highway) received a nomination for legally taking his wife’s name (Kennedy), and then getting a divorce.

Rick Hofstetter (2006 Idiot—for selling desiccated horse turds) made an impressive run for a second term, allowing his Toyota Prius to idle in the driveway for three consecutive days without noticing, possibly because he had allowed his dog Snow to eat one of his hearing aids. By late summer, Rick’s Birkenstocks had become so befouled that bartender Ann Johnson used them to start a campfire. By one extraordinary account—impossible to independently verify—Rick found a tick attached to a most private part of his anatomy.  

Brad captured “Idiot” honors from local artist Brad Cox, who demonstrated his mechanical ineptitude when he drained both the engine oil and transmission fluid from his wife’s car, and refilled the crankcase twice, leaving the transmission bone dry. When his wife called to report problems, he dismissively accused her of driving the car into a creek. (The car sustained extensive engine and transmission damage, incidentally.)

Brad Brookbank will receive a $100 gift certificate, which he will most certainly spend in the Story Inn’s Tavern. He will hold the title of “Village Idiot” until March 31, 2019.

Memorable quote:

“Moments last a second; Story lasts a lifetime; the Story Inn’s Village Idiot lasts forever.”

—Brad Brookbank