Ohio Wine Country
It surprises folks to learn that Ohio winemakers produce great wine. And not just the sickly sweet stuff, either. Currently, there are over 100 licensed wineries in the state. Each year they produce over 750,000 gallons of wine valued at $75 million. Most have tasting rooms and welcome visitors to sample the latest vintages.
In 1860, Ohio led the entire nation in wine production. Growers learned early on that areas near Lake Erie enjoyed unique microclimates that provided long growing seasons. Wineries were first established on the Lake Erie Islands, but soon they began popping up along the entire southern shore of the lake. This area was long referred to as the Lake Erie Grape Belt.
Prohibition shuttered most Ohio wineries. And when production did again become legal, most operations set up shop in California. But over the years there has been a steady resurgence in Ohio grape growing, and new wineries continue to open throughout the state. Most are located along Lake Erie in Northeast Ohio, where long, dry autumns give the grapes plenty of time to mature and ripen.
Ohio has a deserved reputation for producing sweet wine, and many wineries do still concentrate on those styles. Catawba, a domestic variety first planted in the 1820s, is still a popular choice for sweet-wine fans. But more and more, sophisticated winemakers are planting classic European varietals such as cabernet franc, chardonnay, and pinot noir, which thrive in the cool climate. The wines these vintners make routinely earn awards and garner national attention.
While visiting all 100 wineries would be admirable, most people choose to arrange more reasonable expeditions. The Ohio Wine Producers Association has divided the state into six wine-producing regions, each with its own wine trail. Stretching from Cleveland to the Pennsylvania border is the Lake Erie Vines and Wines Trail, a strip of 40 some wineries. To sample some great juice, visit Markko Vineyard, Tarsitano Winery, and Harpersfield Vineyard. When hunger strikes, stop by the lovely Ferrante Winery & Ristorante for Italian fare or the uber-casual Hil-Mak’s Seafood for killer fried lake perch.
If you are in the area over the first weekend in August, consider hitting Vintage Ohio (www.visitvintageohio.com), a huge wine and food festival held at Lake Metroparks Farmpark.
© Douglas Trattner from Moon Cleveland, 1st Edition