Wines and Vines
by Donniella Winchell
Here’s what you see in the Wines and Vines region: a sparkling lake in summer, covered with ice floes in the winter. A deep river gorge and a cold water creek carved by glaciers centuries ago. Rich loamy and dense clay soils, plowed by hard working farmers with strong ethnic heritages, and rolling, lush vineyards planted with an understanding that wine is truly born in the vineyard. These are just some of the elements that make the wines and wineries on the Wines and Vines Trail so special.
Growers here in the northeast corner of the state understand a fundamental fact: without Lake Erie’s ability to moderate temperatures in the fall and its chilly breezes to delay spring bud break, grape growing in the Grand River Valley and Conneaut Creek districts would be impossible. But to understand the full story of winegrowing along the south shore of the lake, we need a close look at the land itself.
Glaciers’ multiple advances and retreats left diverse soils, microclimates and topographical features that together are called “terroir.” Loam and silt soils and clay deposits, interspersed with small patches of gravel and sand, were created as huge icy heaps covered the area. Now, vineyards are protected from severe temperature swings through most of the fall, winter and spring by gentle winds and weather created by Lake Erie, the most shallow of the Great Lakes.
Vines also love their “dry feet” brought by air movement on the coldest nights, while excess moisture is drained via the river and creek valleys from spring through fall. Families who planted most of the grapes along the Vines and Wines trail came with generations of wine in their veins. From Italy, Slovenia, German river valleys and from grape-friendly Swiss mountains, all discovered the uniqueness of the terroir where they had settled.
As a community, they still work to identify grapes and wine styles that best express their surroundings, and they’ve developed a wide-ranging selection of wines: crisp, fresh Rieslings; buttery Chardonnays, robust Cabernets, luscious ice wines and lovely dry blends; as well as sweet, soft, popular native wines such as Catawba and Niagara. All are produced by vintners who love their craft and the soil from which their wines emerge.