By Gary Twining and Mark Fisher
2020 and its dastardly pandemic delivered blow after cruel blow to Ohio wineries, wreaking havoc in winery tasting rooms and forcing the cancellation of countless festivals, concerts, weddings, special dinners and other events.
But the year also served up one tiny, shiny glimmer of hope for those wineries that make wines from Ohio-grown grapes: A potentially spectacular vintage.
“2020 brought an exceptionally long harvest season,” says Donniella Winchell, executive director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association. “And it turned out to be an incredible vintage.”
Many Ohio winemakers believe their 2020 wines will be as good as two other stellar vintages of the last decade, 2010 and 2017, Winchell says. And a strong vintage 2020 will help provide a lifeline for Ohio wineries recovering from the impact of the coronavirus.
A high-quality vintage for wine grapes needs a few things to go right: enough warmth for the vines to produce sufficient grape sugar, ripeness and flavor; adequate rainfall to maintain yields and fruit concentration; absence of disease and pest pressure to ensure the fruit reaches maturity in pristine condition; and predominantly dry harvest weather so that wine grapes can be picked at optimal balance and ripeness.
And all indications suggest that 2020 delivered the positive conditions that lead to a great vintage.
Todd Steiner, enology program manager and outreach specialist at Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, has given advice and guidance to Ohio wineries and winemakers across more than two decades of vintages.
Steiner noted that some Ohio vineyards suffered frost damage in the spring of 2020 that adversely impacted yields of certain grape varietals, but growing conditions improved through the rest of the season.
“The fall harvest conditions were good throughout the state,” Steiner said. “I think we’re looking at some really nice wine quality in the 2020 vintage.”
That quality will extend to both white and red wine-grape varietals, the state’s chief enologist said.
Ohio winery owners and winemakers echoed that assessment. Here’s what some of them had to say about vintage 2020:
Joe Juniper, Vermilion Valley Vineyards:
A pretty solid season. We had smaller berries and lower yields but with a good balance of sugar and flavor concentration. Cooler days and nights late in the season helped to maintain acidity in the grapes. We saw perfectly ripe fruit and anticipate some great wines.
Bob Matus, Matus Winery:
We had five weeks of no rain and some bird challenges, but the fruit came out with awesome quality, excellent ripeness, and very good sugar levels and flavors. Colors and pH levels are also ideal. We really harvested perfect fruit, the quality of which grape-growers dream.
Lee Klingshirn, Klingshirn Winery:
The vintage turned out surprisingly good considering all the rain on both ends of the growing season and the heat in the middle. We personally had a great vintage, with fruit at lovely flavor levels, full ripeness and balance.
Mike Williams, Winery at Versailles
Although the harvest has been light locally, primarily because of late frosts, the quality has been good to very good. Some vineyards had a difficult time getting grapes to finish to maturity, resulting in later-than-normal harvests, but there has been very little rot or damage to fruit, and the resulting wines are fresh, with lots of fruit on the nose and in the finish.
Art Pietrzyk, St. Joseph Vineyard:
We are enthusiastic about the potential quality, having enjoyed a nice year without rot in our tight-clustered grapes and balance in all the varietals. Our Italian varietals will be more concentrated due to the higher temperatures, and our signature Pinot Noir crop was very good. Overall, a quality vintage with excellent sugar levels and moderate-plus abundance.
Tony Debevc, Debonné Vineyards:
This year celebrates my 50th harvest as a passionate Ohio grape grower/wine producer with what was one of our better vintages. The stars aligned, and our reds have really good color and tannin. The Chardonnay and Riesling harvest was split on either side of the rains, which added complexity due to the differences in fruit flavors. Our quality was very good, and we are quite pleased.
Walter Borda, Caesar Creek Vineyards
The 2020 harvest of our cold-hardy Noiret and Frontenac is very promising. While the quantity of each variety was somewhat limited, the quality is excellent, with Frontenac producing a full-bodied red destined for barrel aging, and the Noiret producing a light, fruity rosé. They are aging nicely in the winery now, and time will tell how good they will be.
Nick Ferrante, Ferrante Winery & Ristorante:
Thirty-four days of nice weather helped make up for the rains. Harvest came over a week early with the fruit coming in nice and clean. We look forward to releasing balanced wines of fine quality.
Tony Kosicek, Kosicek Vineyards:
It would be hard to grow grapes any better than we did in 2020. All the fruit came in in good condition, without any rot, and it was probably one of the best harvests in recent years, along with the fine vintages of 2017 and 2019. We were also fortunate to pick our Cabernet after a long hang time with good ripeness.
Matt Meineke, M Cellars:
A crazy year with really positive results. We had very little rain, which gave us an upper hand, and the wines should be really terrific. The perfect fruit in pictures you have seen from this year I can attest is every bit as good as shown.
Larry Laurello, Laurello Vineyards:
Our white grapes were pristine, and the weather allowed the Cabernet to hang on the vine until ripe, which is not typical. The warm harvest weather and green foliage enabled the vines to keep putting sugar into the fruit, so our sugar levels were higher than normal, while our whites maintained optimum pH and acidity. It was a much-better-than-average vintage.
Bill Holden, Buccia Vinyard:
2020 turned into an ideal growing season when things finally warmed up. We had a nice, warm summer, with rain when it was needed. Our disease pressure was down, and the conditions resulted in a vintage with a nice yield and nice quality. We are very happy with the results.
The bottled wines from Ohio’s 2020 vintage will start hitting the shelves this year and over the next couple of years. Savvy consumers should stock up on the vintage when it is released.
That way, as the pandemic’s misery begins to fade from our consciousness, we can replace those bad memories of 2020 with the warm glow that comes from sharing an excellent bottle of Ohio wine with friends.
It might not redeem 2020 entirely – but it will sure help.