By Donniella Winchell
Here’s a historical fact to share at your local wine bar: southeastern Ohio’s Unglaciated Appalachian Plateau region claims the earliest references to grape growing in the state. Documentation about wine production is scant, but we do know that Lenape Native Americans (often known as the Delaware tribe), converted to Christianity by Moravian missionaries, formed several settlements near Coshocton in the mid-1700s. The missionaries tended wild vines in the area, and one community was known as Fox Grape Vine Town – evidence that grapes were plentiful here even before the nation was formed.
But Ohio wouldn’t see the launch of its wine industry for several centuries. The Delaware fought against the colonies during the American Revolution, and in 1782 a raiding party of Pennsylvania militia killed nearly 100 Lenape men, women and children in the village of Gnadenhutten. After that event, much of the region’s “grape culture” disappeared until recent years.
But the current generation of Appalachian Wine Trail growers and vintners have discovered that its steep valleys and rough hill country, sandstone underpinning and gentle streams – all created by the glaciers – provide the foundation they need for growing quality vines.
Producing traditional vinifera varieties along the trail is a challenge, but growers, working with The Ohio State University, have identified appropriate French and American hybrid varieties. Reds such as Chambourcin, and whites like late-ripening Chardonel, thrive in the Appalachian Plateau’s unique terroir.
While lovely wines are a primary reason to explore the trail, travelers to the region will discover a great deal more. Visitors will visit the shops of artisans and artists who craft pottery, mosaic tile, glasswork, basketry, furniture and fine folk arts for which the foothills of southeast Ohio are renowned. Simply driving along meandering roads is a pleasure, and the sunsets viewed from winery decks atop high ridges can be spectacular.
Life slows down a little along the Appalachian Wine Trail, and you will, too. While you’re there, relax with a glass of Ohio wine – more enjoyable now that you know the conditions and events that made it possible.