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Published: Tuesday, 7/18/2006

Erie shore key to Ohio's wine comeback

Prohibition was wiped off the federal statutes in the early 1930s, though several states that had their own varieties of prohibition continued to brand alcohol as a crime.

But the preceding 15 years of Prohibition had effectively destroyed the American wine industry. The revival, which began about seven decades ago, has yet to recapture the vitality of earlier decades.

The foundation of Ohio's prominence in the industry goes back to the efforts of early entrepreneurs to cultivate the same wine grapes as those of the great European table wines - riesling, cabernet sauvignon, and chardonnay - with only mixed success, due to different soils, climates, and skills. Two Ohio areas were important.

The south shore of Lake Erie and neighboring islands is where German and Italian immigrants took it for granted that the farms that produced their meat and vegetables also would make their dinner wines.

And earlier pioneering settlements pouring out of the Appalachian Mountains with a significantly different immigrant mix found rich soil and gentle south-facing hillsides in the Ohio River valley around Cincinnati inviting for wine grape cultivation, which attracted investors.

It's too sweeping an observation, but it's almost fair to say that the talents of these southern developments tended to focus on the business aspect implicit in winemaking, while the Lake Erie settlers were predominantly farmers better equipped to cultivate grapes and to cope with diseases of the vine. One sinister infection, downy mildew, was not subject to chemical solutions, and in a few short years essentially wiped out the Ohio River wineries.

Most Ohio wines in the mid to late 19th century were white, such as riesling. Some were made of native grapes, and others were Franco-American blends, none winners in the marketplace.

What of Ohio wineries and their wines today? Slowly, Ohio winemakers have learned much, drawing on the academic resources and adding to the art of wine-grape growing and winemaking instincts.

For a fuller picture of what we Buckeyes can be proud of in terms of wine, plan to attend the 12th annual Vintage Ohio, Aug. 4 and 5 in Metroparks Lake Farmpark in Kirtland, about a half hour east of Cleveland near U.S. 6 and State Rt. 306. The Ohio Wine Producers Association-sponsored event embraces much more than merely wine: activities, crafts, and entertainment round out programs that offer attractions for small children as well as adults. For details, call 800-227-6972 or see www.ohiowines.org.



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