Sandusky/Lorain-Area Wineries Seek Their Own Viticultural Designation

By Gary Twining

The lakeshore of Lorain and Erie counties boasts a distinctive climate for the cultivation of wine grapes, and the region’s wineries may soon be able to distinguish themselves on their wine labels and elsewhere based on that uniqueness.

Winery owners in the Sandusky and Lorain areas are taking initial steps toward proposing to the federal government a designation of an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in their counties, to highlight the distinctiveness of their region’s grape-growing and winemaking.

The potential new AVA, which does not yet have a name, lies within the larger Lake Erie Viticultural region, as does the more site-specific Grand River Valley AVA that includes portions of Ashtabula, Geauga and Lake counties. The broader Lake Erie AVA encompasses coastal areas in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

The Sandusky and Lorain-area winery owners who are seeking the new AVA for their region believe it will help them clearly identify their regional wines to consumers.

Wine origin and quality are fundamentally linked, and winemakers historically have sought to identify and promote those distinctive vineyard plots that produce top-quality wines with special character. The Buckeye state is just beginning to explore where the best grapes are grown for quality wine, and part of that process is establishing new AVAs.

Large bodies of water such as Lake Erie ease temperature extremes for those vineyards planted in proximity to the shoreline. The lake effect can deliver more frost-free growing days and reduce freeze hazard, allowing vines to survive cold snaps.

In the summer, cool breezes coming off Lake Erie help to moderate the hottest summer days, which reduces heat stress on the vines. In spring, the soil heats faster than the water, and the cold lake prevents early bud break when there is still a chance of a killing frost. And in the fall, the lake extends the growing season by acting as a reservoir of heat, enhancing ripening of the fruit on the vines.

Western Lake Erie’s shallower depths and shore outline modifies the climate in a distinctive way, its winery owners say. The shallower water depths offer a somewhat less-intense lake effect, allowing the shore to be more quickly heated and cooled.

These quicker temperature fluctuations, with slightly more extreme high and low temperatures, result in a warmer climate and more frost-free days than the rest of the Lake Erie Viticultural region. Those fluctuations also mean lower precipitation (up to an average of five fewer thunderstorms a year), as well as less fog and cloud cover during the extended autumn. These factors enable consistent grape ripening, especially for red-wine varietals.

The process of petitioning the federal government for a new AVA is challenging, and it must include long-term climactic research and data. Documentation must show the uniqueness of the area. Arguments must be presented as to the AVA’s boundaries and their accuracy. And coming up with a name for the new AVA that is distinctive while still encompassing historical and geographic relevance will be a particular challenge.

Here is where you can play a role in naming the new appellation.

If you have a suggested name for the new AVA, e-mail it directly to the Ohio Wine Producers Association at dwinchell@ohiowines.org. The winning entry will receive a gift basket of wine-related items valued at $100. Entries must be received by Sept. 30, 2021.

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