For many years, Ohio wines have generally been a "hard sell." Immediately after Prohibition, the nascent industry was not making outstanding wines because the vineyards, the winery machinery, and the know-how of veteran wine grape growers and wine makers had been dissipated and became rusty.
Meanwhile, other American regions attracted state agricultural support and entrepreneurs who were prepared to invest heavily in winning wines made in other parts of the country, such as California, upstate New York, Missouri, and the Pacific northwest.
How good are Ohio wines today? It's startling to read of Ohio wines - whites especially - entered in national and international competition with identical varieties entered by California wineries, and winning. On a broader spectrum, the plain fact is that Ohio wines are both good and different.
If you overcome the unfair negative reputation and pour yourself a Lake Erie riesling from somewhere between here and east of Cleveland, it's not going to taste like a riesling from Mainz, Germany. But it's good. For one thing, it has 2 or 3 percent less alcohol, leaving space for a growing appreciation of the wine, an appreciation that layer by layer reveals the aromas and flavors - drawn from the juice of the grape and, through the grape, from the limestone subsoil - that set apart any honest wine from most liquors.
Ohio wines, like Germany's, trend white: chardonnay, riesling, sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio.
With lots of patient, loving care, the balance is shifting, ever so little. I've had a sip or two of the Cabernet sauvignon that Arnie Esterer makes from a few vines along the top of his ridge at Markko Vineyard in Conneaut. Year after year I've had to shake my head and say, "no," but at last, Arnie's '03 is the real thing, with more emphatic personality and varietal character than many California cabs at twice the price. And among Ohio's 103 other wineries, Arnie has colleagues and customers who share his vision and his patience.
A BOOK TITLE sure to catch your eye is Women of Wine: The Rise of Women in the Global Wine Industry (University of California Press, 252 pages, $24.95), by business college professor Ann B. Matasar. She gathers a collection of thumbnail biographies demonstrating that there are decision-level opportunities for women in wine-making and selling, in the U.S. and the western world.
This smoothly readable report rests on dozens of interviews that convey a sense of meeting real, wholesome people. The book says rather less about the wine industry but for one narrow aspect, the international market; it is sociology rather than oenology.
IT'S NOT too early to mark down the Mobile Meals of Toledo annual Wine Gala in your calendar: Nov. 4.