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Wine boom in Buckeye State grows

Hot commodity approaches economic impact of $1B a year

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At the end of September, Ohio had 233 licensed wineries, and 15 within 60 miles of Toledo.

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Ohio might not be known as a wine state, but perhaps it should be.

The rapidly growing industry is closing in on an economic impact of $1 billion a year, and Ohio wines are winning awards at prestigious events across the country. New wineries have been opening at a rate of nearly one every month.

Ohio isn’t looking to replicate California’s wine industry, but there’s no reason the two states can’t be mentioned in the same breath, said Christy Eckstein, executive director of the state-affiliated Ohio Grape Industries Committee.

“We have every opportunity at our doorstep to increase that recognition and that opinion of Ohio wines,” Ms. Eckstein said. “Sometimes, I think in the Midwest we’re our own worst enemy because we don’t tell people how good we are.”

To effectively tailor that message, the committee has contracted with Cincinnati-based marketing firm Northlich to do first-of-its kind research into how consumers feel about Ohio wines and wineries.

RELATED ARTICLE: Local wineries show spirited growth as industry flourishes, June, 2013

Northlich will spend the next several months assembling focus groups and conducting a series of surveys to gauge what wine drinkers like or dislike about Ohio wines, what motivates them to visit wineries, and what aspects matter most when they make those choices.

“We want to know the different experiences people are having, the different triggers that are leading them into the winery, and the different types of wine drinkers we’re talking to,” said Dan Whitmyer, director of strategy at Northlich.

Ms. Eckstein said the committee has some assumptions about those issues, but it has never done in-depth consumer research.

The group doesn’t know, for example, how consumers define local. Do wine drinkers care whether grapes are grown on site or brought in from other Ohio vineyards? Do they care about Ohio’s history with wine? Before the Civil War, Ohio was one of the nation’s most important wine production states. Ms. Eckstein said that, in 1850, Erie County had as many acres of vineyards as the entire state does today.

Knowing the answers to those types of questions will help the group define its future strategies.

As of the end of last month, Ohio had 233 licensed wineries, with more than two dozen applications pending. That’s up from 175 in 2012. At least 15 are within 60 miles of Toledo.

The Ohio Grape Industries Committee’s efforts are welcomed by Pam Stotz, one of the owners of Stoney Ridge Winery in Bryan.

“They’re wonderful to be part of. They really try to get the word out about agritourism,” she said. “They’re good about trying to get all four corners of the state covered. It doesn’t matter what size of the winery is.”

Stoney Ridge has about 13 acres of vineyard, growing 20 grape varieties. In her view, Ms. Stotz said one of the biggest strengths of Ohio’s wineries is the tourism component and the interest in how wine is actually made.

“People are looking for that,” she said. “That’s made us really attractive.”

Ohio Grape Industries Committee hopes to share the results of its research sometime next year.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134 or on Twitter @BladeAutoWriter.

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