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An Insider’s Guide to Ohio Wine

An Insider’s Guide to Ohio Wine

Kendeigh Worden

Wait… There’s wine in Ohio?

You bet there is!

I have been wandering the Ohio Wine scene for quite a few years now, and I can tell you, there’s more than just corn growing in this midwestern state. In fact, at one point in time, Ohio was the largest wine producing state in the country. Currently, The Buckeye State is part of the top ten wine producing states in the US. The number of wineries in Ohio has just about doubled in the past five or so years. There are new vineyards popping up every year, with wineries and tasting rooms so gorgeous, you’ll be wondering why you haven’t frequented them sooner!

Have I grabbed your attention? Care to learn more about the hidden gems of the Ohio Wine world? Let’s dive in to what makes the Ohio Wine industry.

OHIO’S WINE HISTORY – How wine came to be a “thing” here

In the early 1800’s settlers started exploring winemaking in Ohio. Nicholas Longworth was the man who planted the first grapes in the Ohio River Valley (Ohio’s first wine area, near Cincinnati) in 1823. These grapes were called Alexander and Isabella and they were about as sweet as they come (sweeter wine was much more trendy in that day…not to say it’s not making a comeback these days). This was followed by Ohio’s signature grape, Catawba. Before the Civil war, Ohio was the largest wine producing state with a reputation for very flavorful wines. After the war, though, many vineyards were destroyed from a whole lot of neglect and disease. Fortunately, soon after this, German immigrants started planting in a different area, near the lake Erie shoreline. As a result of  their winemaking skills as well as a cooler lake effect climate, excellent wines began to emerge.

OHIO’S CLIMATE – Let’s talk land and soil

Where grapes are grown is important. Everything about the weather, soil, and climate of a specific region will influence the characteristics and flavors of a grape. (In France they call it “Terrior”). Ohio’s climate is generally cooler, therefore you will tend to find a lot of grapes that are better suited to the cold. Quality varietals are grown near Ohio’s two main sources of water, which are The Ohio River and Lake Erie. Lake Erie is warmer than many of the other great lakes which is great for moderating the cooler temperatures. Ohio has five American Viticultural Areas (AVA’s), which include:

  1. The Ohio River Valley AVA: The birthplace of American viticulture located near Cincinnati
  2. Grand River Valley AVA: The “Napa/Sonoma” of Ohio, located in Northeast Ohio (Geneva)
  3. Lake Erie AVA: Shared with New York and Pennsylvania
  4. Isle St. George AVA: Near the Lake Erie Islands
  5. Loramie Creek AVA: Near Ohio’s central-western border with Indiana

OHIO’s GRAPE VARIETALS – What wines should I try?

Historically, Ohio is known for producing American grapes (Vitis Labrusca). Now you will find both American and European (Vitis Vinifera) grapes. Vitis Labrusca include varietals such as Concord and Niagara. Vitis Vinifera include varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Generally, the varietals that show the most promise in Ohio are sweet or semi-sweet varietals, but don’t dismiss Ohio Wines based on this. Many wineries experiment with some great dry and off dry wines as well.

Some popular varietals used to make sweet wine include:

  • Catawba: Ohio’s signature musky red sweet grape
  • Niagara: A white grape similar to Riesling in taste with lemon and honey notes
  • Vidal Blanc: A grape often used in ice wines with tropical fruit notes and high acidity
  • Riesling: An aromatic grape with peachy and flowery notes
  • Gewurztraminer: An aromatic grape with lychee, floral, and spice notes
  • Traminette: A cross of Gewurztraminer with similar fruity/floral flavors 
  • Pinot Gris: A varietal with subtle tropical fruit and melon notes 

Popular varietals used to make dry wine include:

  • Marechal Foch: An inky purple varietal with dark fruit and bitter chocolate flavors
  • Cabernet Franc: A Bordeaux varietal with red fruit and bell pepper notes
  • Pinot Noir: A light and fruity varietal found in many moderate and cool climates around the world

TIP: Most Ohio wineries produce wine from their own vineyards, while some will source their grapes from other vineyards or states. When shopping for Ohio wine, look for the Ohio quality wine logo or gold sticker on the bottle. This means the wine is made from at least 90% Ohio grapes.

 

TOP THREE OHIO WINERIES TO VISIT – Where do I drink this great wine?

Ohio is full of small family wineries as well as larger corporate wine businesses.

My husband and I have been around the state checking out various wineries and vineyards and I’ve hand picked my top three. The following are worth a trip to Ohio:

South River Vineyard

Located in Geneva, this is the most picturesque of all! South River was established in 2002 in an old church. You can choose to sit inside next to the original stained glass, or outside on their veranda with views of the vineyard. There is also a cozy pavillion with a fireplace located next to the vineyard. Order wine by the glass or by the bottle. They are the only producers in the area to bottle European varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc. They also produce blends and ice wines.

Visit http://www.southrivervineyard.com/ for more information

Laurentia Vineyard and Winery

This place is gorgeous! The winery, which was established in 2013, is log cabin style with a deck overlooking the vines. There is also an open cellar tasting area, with views of the concrete tanks and barrels. This winery produces French American varieties. I had one of my favorite Gewurztraminer wines here.

Visit http://laurentiawinery.com/ for more information

Quarry Hill Winery

This winery is part of the Lake Erie Wine Trail near Cleveland, in Berlin, Ohio. They have indoor and outdoor seating, both with panoramic views of the vineyard and Lake Erie in the distance. This winery showcases some wonderful Ohio hybrid varieties and fruit wines.

Visit http://www.quarryhillwinery.org/ for more information

Other wineries of note include: Sarah’s Vineyard, Paper Moon Vineyards, Valley Vineyards, Vinoklet Winery, The Winery at Wolf Creek, and Harpersfield Vineyard.

If you want to try a number of Ohio wines at once, it’s worth checking out one of the many wine festivals througout the year. These showcase many Ohio varietals in sweet and dry styles, which you can try by the taste or glass, at your leisure, all day long!

My personal favorites are the Vintage Ohio Wine Festival and Columbus Ohio Wine Fest

To learn more about Ohio’s grapes, wine trials, events, etc. visit http://www.findohiowines.com/