By Donniella Winchell
You can’t hang a label on a destination as diverse as Central Ohio wine region. You’ll find the lush vineyards, fresh-and-fruity wines and quiet bed-and-breakfasts that most rural areas offer, but in these parts they also teach winemaking, brew mead – the ancient drink of fermented honey and water – and run urban wineries and wine bars.
We shouldn’t be surprised that winegrowing thrives in Central Ohio – after all, it’s one of our most fertile agricultural zones. And for attracting visitors, wineries here have a distinct advantage over those along Lake Erie or the Ohio River Valley: they’re accessible to every corner of the state. With our great highway system, at least one Central winery is no more than a couple of hours from any corner of the state.
The region also offers some unique perspectives on viticulture (grape growing) and enology (winemaking). Without the moderating influences of the Lake or the River, most grapes grown here are winter-hardy French American hybrid and Elmer Swenson varietals. In the mid-1800s when French vineyards were devastated with a root louse called phylloxera, French researchers hoped to save their precious vines through either hybridization or by grafting vines onto phylloxera-resistant, American-sourced rootstocks.
While the latter solution proved most effective, thousands of the hybrid experiments remain in the French countryside today and yield much of the country’s vin ordinaire. In the middle of the 20th century, several of these hybrids, recognized for their adaptability to our relatively harsh climate, were widely planted throughout the eastern United States. And Elmer Swenson, a pioneer grape breeder at the University of Minnesota in the 1970s, launched a family of interesting cultivars that produce lovely wines and are cold-hardy to temperatures of -40°F. Swenson’s breeds, and those mid-century hybrids, now serve as the foundation for most Central Ohio grape-growing.
And for those looking for a hands-on experience, several wine families offer instruction for making your own vino. As you explore the region, you’ll encounter winemakers happy to share their passion for their craft, and their love of all things wine, with anyone who wants to learn.
The wines of Central Ohio range from sweet to dry, from fruity to full of oak and tannins. They are made from grapes, honey, a myriad of fresh fruits and concentrates sourced from the world’s most famous regions. It’s a destination worth including in your fall travel plans.