Come September, what will your children know that they don't know now? For some families, the answer may depend on summer vacations that are not only fun but include real-life learning, too.
Little Buckeyes, for example, can learn a lot about what makes Ohio special if a family vacation includes a visit to one of the 92 bonded (officially approved) Ohio wineries scattered about the state, especially along the Lake Erie shore and on the Lake Erie islands. Even Mom and Dad might learn a thing or two about Ohio winemaking.
It isn't jelly or grape juice that sets Ohio grape farming apart, because going back to very early settlements of European stock, pioneers and their children crushed and pressed the purple juice of the grapes they planted, and then, a year or two later, drank the concord and catawba wines that rewarded their labors.
Like all farmers from the beginning of time, grape growers were and are dependent on nature for enough sunshine, water, and rich soil for the minerals and natural chemicals that nourish fruit. If rain or hail is carried by an autumn storm over a vineyard just as mature, plump grapes are ready to be harvested, the water-swollen grape skins split and the fruit is harvested by birds, deer, and destructive insects, which means a farm family's entire season's labor may be lost.
But if nature smiles on the land, farmers all harvest the fruits of the earth. A vineyard visit may be early enough at summer's end to see a working vine harvester, a specialized tractor that straddles rows of vines and gently combs their ripe grapes into the hopper. If grapes are not harvested by machine, they are reaped by hand by workers using short, strong, curved scissors to pick the clusters from the vine.
The grapes, with leaves and stems, are dropped into a crusher-destemmer, where a strong cylinder drive sheds the debris as it pushes the grapes firmly ahead, dropping the stems and leaves that may be the raw material of next year's mulch. The juice is carried by hoses to the top of a large tank, the fermenter. Over several days, yeast and the sugar in the juice spark a chemical change into a limited amount of beverage alcohol that makes the difference between plain grape juice and wine.
While the fermentation is going on in the closed tank, the fermenting juice rumbles and burps as it generates heat. The winemaker must control the temperature and rate of fermenting, and the tank, which may be made of steel, glass-plated steel, wood, and even concrete must be refrigerated, with pipes of cold water running around outside the tank or inside the fermenting liquid.
Besides heat and alcohol, fermentation also produces carbon dioxide, which is the reason the juice bubbles and burps. It usually is left to float away harmlessly in the air, unless it makes the bubbles in a bottle of champagne or sparkling wine.
At any time of the year, the winery may decide to prepare some bottles for market, and you will be lucky to see the working of a bottling machine, an astonishing, noisy apparatus of steel and glass that washes empty bottles, fills and caps them, pastes on labels front and back, wraps the bottle tops and caps with colorful capsules, and packs the completed bottles in wood or corrugated cartons, set to go to market.
Some wineries may not be prepared to welcome visitors, at least without advance notice. You can get a free brochure that gives visitors' information for all Ohio wineries, as well as maps showing where to find them, from the Ohio Wine Producers Association, 800-227-6972 or www.ohioWines.org.
Where to buy wine? Two related impressions focus on grocery stores of roughly the same size, with notable wine departments: Schorling's, at 3115 West Bancroft St., and Kazmaier's 5-Star Market, at East Second and Elm streets, Perrysburg. Each store offers choices of whatever variety you might want. The shortcoming is the lack of readily accessible advice, though the sales probably would not justify the added cost. But if you know what you want, each of these two friendly stores will save you a trip.