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Northwest Indiana's newest winery was born out of a passion for crafting vino that started with a Christmas gift of a winemaking kit.

LambStone Cellars opened in 155 W. Linconway in Valparaiso, in the same strip mall as the Four Fathers Brewing craft brewery on the west edge of town.

Susan and Mike Mantai opened the new winery, named after a lamb-shaped rock in their backyard at a home his family has owned for five generations. In their 2,600-square-foot Valparaiso production facility, LambStone Cellars makes dry wines sourced from California and other West Coast grapes as well as largely sweeter wines made with local grapes from Midwestern states including Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio.

"It's been a long time coming," Mike Mantai said. "About 10 years ago, we started a wine club in Northwest Indiana and it evolved from that."

The married couple got into wine after they became empty nesters and started dining out more.

"I saw people with glasses of wine, and was curious about the attraction," he said. "I got interested in it, and got a winemaking kit for Christmas. I wish I had started 30 years earlier."

Susan Mantai, the owner, said they got good enough at winemaking at home that they realized they could open a winery of their own.

"We realized how much better the wines were getting, especially after we started using California grapes," she said.

They make several varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Rose. 

"We try to make whatever we think the public is going to like," she said. "Everybody seems to love the Petite Sirah. It's very peppery. We bring in the grapes from California."

The goal is to have a dozen varietals for sale at any given time, which are available by the glass or bottle in the 2,600-square-foot tasting room, which can seat up to 59 people. Visitors can also order cheese and charcuterie plates while trying complementary samples of the wine.

Most of the bottles are priced between $14 and $22, with wines made with California grapes costing more because of the higher shopping and production costs.

LambStone Cellars plans to start a wine club that would let members sample special reserves, as well as host wine and canvas nights and live music.

The winery can produce up to 5,000 gallons a year.

"We're very small but that's a strength, not a weakness," Mike Mantai said. "We're able to let the wines be what they should be, so they represent the varietal and style of wine."

Eventually, LambStone Cellars hopes to distribute its vino throughout the area. 

"We'd love to be the local house wine and be served at places like Don Quijote," he said. "This isn't just a steel-producing area in the Midwest. People appreciate a good meal and a good glass of wine. Valparaiso has done a great job at bringing in all the finer things."

For more information, call 219-510-5673 or find LambStone Cellars on Facebook.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.