By Christy Eckstein, Executive Director, Ohio Grape Industries Committee
Picture this: You’re sitting on a tranquil patio, gazing across the horizon at acres and acres of lush grapevines ripe for the picking. Everything is so green. You’ve got your pick of a sweet summer sipping wine or something bold and dry, depending on your mood. The person pouring your glass is genuinely interested in helping you find the right wine, and does so with that patient smile you don’t find everywhere anymore. Any guesses where you are?
This magical place, which boasts some of the highest quality wines – and nicest people – is Ohio. Not always top of mind for connoisseurs (or even newbies) looking for an amazing wine tasting experience, it’s one of the best kept secrets in the wine world. And trust me: you want to get on board before the masses catch on.
Believe it or not, this Midwestern state was one of the “original” vino makers in the mid 1800s, with winemaker Nicholas Longworth successfully planting semi-sweet Catawba grapes along Ohio’s southern border near Cincinnati/Ohio River — making Ohio the nation’s top producing wine state during that time. The interest in grape growing and wine making quickly spread in Ohio, extending to the state’s northern/Lake Erie region, where the climate and soil is ideal for growing grapes. Nearly 200 years later, Ohio boasts more than 280 wineries with countless grape varieties fitting every taste preference.
You can still get the tried and true Concord and Catawba wines throughout the state, but Ohio’s wineries have stepped up their game in recent years and branched into uncharted territories in the grape-growing world. The north shore, along Lake Erie, is located along the same “pinot belt” as Oregon and parts of France and Italy, enabling Ohio’s wineries to nurture these notoriously hard-to-grow grapes and produce award-winning wines that stack up against the best Pinot varieties around the globe. Another must-try in Ohio is its world-class ice wines, created when grapes are frozen on the vine and harvested to produce a very sweet (and higher alcohol content) wine.
Where should I go wine tasting?
The options are endless, and with Ohio situated just a day’s drive from 60 percent of the U.S. population, it’s an easy and affordable trip for just about anyone. There are the state’s largest estate wineries – Debonné Vineyards in the northeast and Valley Vineyards in the southwest – which are excellent spots to try a wide range of top notch, Ohio-grown wines. If you’re seeking a high-end dining experience to accompany your vino, consider Firelands Winery’s Osteria Gusto exposition kitchen along the northwest Lake Erie shore, complete with an open prep kitchen and large video screens allowing guests to see their food as it’s prepared. Those wanting a place to rest their heads overnight, look no further than the indulgent, Tuscan-inspired Villa Suites at Gervasi Vineyard in Canton or the luxe cabins and cozy cabins at Indian Bear Lodge near Ohio’s capital city, Columbus.
When should I go?
Most of the state’s wineries are open year round, but summer is a special time with Ohio Wine Month being celebrated in June. New this year is the Celebration Case Contest, encouraging people to “build” their own virtual case of Ohio wines for a chance to win various prizes; and the Pinot Quest, where visitors to some of the state’s “pinot belt” wineries can experience this hard-to-grow grape throughout June for super low prices. For more information about Ohio’s wineries and available experiences, visit FindOhioWines.com.