Ohio's winemakers are making strides

7/11/2006

Ohio has played a role in the birth and development of America's wine industry. But only since the end of Prohibition, as the industry has been gradually revitalized on a large scale, have many Ohioans come to know about Ohio wines, much less become customers.

With the 12th annual Vintage Ohio wine festival on the horizon Aug. 4 and 5, I'll spend the next couple of weeks previewing the event and discussing Ohio wines.

If you expect to pour a California wine out of an Ohio bottle, you'll be surprised, and maybe disappointed, too. Wines belong to the land, culture, and cuisine in which they take root, and only rarely can they be closely reproduced elsewhere. The point was borne out in an all-Italian wine tasting last month: 10 wines, most of them unfamiliar to the group but deliciously different from one another, each from a different one of Italy's 20 wine regions.

Ohio wine grape growers aren't yet masters of the vine. With a near-idyllic setting, California after two centuries produces wines of great elegance and charm. Ohio, without a setting to match, makes plain, sturdy, healthy wines of lower alcohol content.

Like growers, winemakers have to master the fermentation science that explains how fresh grape juice, with a dab of yeast and the whites of a dozen eggs, turns into wine. Besides regional influences in the beginnings and favorable soil chemistry, winemaking demands knowing how to put it all together using science and machinery.

Ohio winemaking, following the flourishing West Coast commercial development by roughly two decades, first showed glimmers of a positive future in two broad areas of the state: the Ohio River valley centered on Cincinnati, and among second and third-generation German and Italian immigrant families along the south shore of Lake Erie and the Lake Erie islands.

I plan to go into greater detail on Ohio's winemaking industry in the weeks before this year's Vintage Ohio, which will be in Kirtland, about a half hour east of Cleveland near U.S. 6 and State Rt. 306.

Contact Robert Kirtland at: rkirtland@theblade.com