Ohio’s Winery Heritage

Ohio’s in the midst of a grape-growing and winemaking revival. Many people are unaware that in the mid-1800s, Ohio produced more wine than any other state. Historically, Ohio’s wineries are known for their sweet native, or labrusca wines, like Concord and Catawba, but today’s vintners are crafting Pinot Grigio and Cabernet Sauvignon as well.

Nicholas Longworth started Ohio’s wine industry when he cultivated 1,200 acres of Catawba grapes in the Ohio River Valley in the 1840s. While Longworth became wealthy by cultivating Catawba grapes, powdery mildew eventually destroyed his vines, and the vines of others along the river. Grape growing moved to the Lake Erie shores and islands to take advantage of moderating temperatures and lake breezes.

The islands were settled by German immigrants like the Heineman family of South Bass Island, which has continuously operated its winery since 1888. Heineman’s survived when California competition, industrialization and the temperance movement combined to destroy most of Ohio’s wine industry. Prohibition rang the final death toll for Ohio’s wineries when grape growers were forced to sell their grapes at Welch’s grape depots and people started bottling their own wine.

In 1968, Markko Vineyard’s Arnie Esterer started cultivating vinifera grapes like Chardonnay, Riesling, and Cabernet Sauvignon after studying with Dr. Konstantin Frank in New York’s Finger Lakes. Today, many of the more than 40 Lake Erie Appellation wineries grow their own grapes. Some sell only estate-bottled wine, while some buy grapes or juice or wine for sale at the wineries.

The lure of a romantic lifestyle and self-sufficiency leads new vintners to follow their dreams every year, not just in the Lake Erie Appellation, but throughout Ohio. The Ohio River Valley, made famous in the 1800s by Nicholas Longworth’s pink Catawba, is making a resurgence.

Ohio’s wine-making heritage is old and sweet, but today’s wineries are forward-looking and successfully compete with the award-winning wines of California.

Claudia Taller’s book Ohio’s Lake Erie Wineries will be released by Arcadia Publishing on June 20. Her passion for words has led to creation of Word Lover’s Retreats. Find her at http://www.claudiatallermusings.blogspot.com.

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