On the Job:“Where’s Waldo?” and Other Winery Gems

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“Where’s Waldo?”
and Other Winery Gems

By Sandra Gurvis

Gone are the days when Ohio was seen as a humdrum flyover, and the state’s wine industry plays a major role in our new image. Our wineries – more than 200 now – form a diverse community: in addition to contrasting soil conditions and climates, growing philosophies and even how they relate to each other, wineries in each region face distinctive challenges. Each offers differing varietals and unique customer experiences. TheWineBuzz chatted with three winegrowers across the state to get their perspectives.

M Cellars – Geneva

A first-generation boutique enterprise, M Cellars opened in 2012 and is a bit of an upstart among the more established Northeastern Ohio wine community. “Much of our focus is on the science of growing,” explains owner, vineyard manager and winemaker Matt Meineke, who has consulted with experts at The Ohio State University, UC Davis as well as East Coast winegrowers. He and his wife, Tara, quit their day jobs and took a leap of faith from “making wine from kits in our basement,” to purchasing a 12.8-acre site in the late 2000s. They tinkered with varietals that would eventually produce award-winning dry Grüner Veltliner, Chardonnay, Terroir Red, Meritage and others.

Along with using the VSP (vertical shoot positioning system) growing style “found in most major European wine regions, California and Canada,” they took a hard lesson from the devastating winter of 2014, in which they lost 100 percent of their grapes. From a vineyard in Prince Edward County, Ontario, they learned the technique of burying a cane (new growth) in the soil to protect it from the frigid temperatures. That move saved almost their entire crop during last year’s equally abominable “snowpocalypse.”

But it’s not all rough growing in the nether regions of Ohio. Although M Cellars is located five miles south of Lake Erie, “it’s actually warmer in the springtime and the lake effect minimizes the risk of frost,” Meineke says. The vineyard also sits on a relatively higher elevation, so much of the cold air remains trapped in a valley below. “Plus the soil is heavy clay,” he adds, with results similar to vineyards in France. And we all know how that has turned out.

Shamrock Vineyard – Waldo

If you’re looking for wine in Waldo, you’ll get lucky with Shamrock. Bonded since its opening in 1984, the winery was established by the late Dr. Thomas N. Quilter and his wife, Mary – grandparents of current owner Van Creasap. “My grandfather started growing grapes in 1971, initially selling to home winemakers and other vineyards,” he recalls. As a result of their successful plantings, the first in Central Ohio, the Quilters were honored as pioneers and inducted into the Ohio Wine Hall of Fame in 2004. At various times, Shamrock’s vineyards have seen more than 25 varieties, including French-American hybrids, labrusca and some vinifera.

Creasap makes no bones about the challenges of winter, especially given their location near Mansfield, often called the “Bermuda Triangle” of bizarre Ohio weather. “We get more subzero temperatures than much of the state, even up north,” he observes. “Mother Nature often dictates the success of the crops” and as result of the past two winters, the Creasaps have scrambled to grow or find Ohio-grown grapes – the only kind they use for their wines. Plus, “along with birds, bees, pests and rodents, we also have to deal with heavy clay soil,” he says. If the soil retains too much water, it can damage the crops and requires a tile mitigation system and constant monitoring.

He remains upbeat, despite cyclical setbacks. “Some years everything seems to align, others not so much.” A supportive local community of wineries also helps. “We work together and help each other out,” he says.  Twilight dinners, vineyard tours and a variety of other private and public events also keep Shamrock in the green.

Valley Vineyards – Morrow

As with Shamrock, Valley Vineyards of Morrow had its origins in the late 1960s/early 1970s, when founder Ken Schuchter abandoned his desk job to revitalize the family farm. “An agriculturalist suggested growing grapes,” recalls his son, Kenny Joe, who now oversees the winery and vineyards. A family history of grape growing and winemaking dates back to their origins in Austria. An abundance of rich, rolling, well-drained soil, a warmer climate and the region’s longstanding tradition of wine production sealed the deal. Not knowing how much room grapes needed to mature, Kenny Joe says, “my father bought what he thought were enough vines for two acres. In reality, he had enough for 20.”

Today, as one of Ohio’s largest wineries, Valley Vineyards encompasses some 200 acres, 96 of which are vineyards. Their impressive wine list includes a large selection of dry and sweet, red and white as well as honey mead and ice wine. A revolving “pick of the valley,” for instance, might highlight a hillside red that features a blend of Chancellor, Chelois and Marechal Foch grapes. The recent addition of an on-premises craft brewery adds some beer with that wine, along with cheeses and homemade pizza. Valley Vineyards also hosts public and private events, tastings and tours.

Although the tough winters have created challenges, “with 35 different varieties of grapes we’re diversified enough to compensate for most losses,” Schuchter adds. “And after you’ve been hit a few times, you learn how to deal with setbacks.” He also counts himself extremely blessed: “We have a longer growing season and a well-established, tightly knit community of wineries which work together and promote each other.” So while some people may be headed for nearby King’s Island, others will saddle up for the wine trail.


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