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The Modest Wine of Ohio

Wednesday, May 23, 2007 at 1:53 PM

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When we think about the world's greatest wine growing regions, chances are Ohio doesn't come quickly to mind. The wine industry in the Buckeye State is modest to say the least when compared to the likes of Napa and Bordeaux. But Ohio shouldn't be counted out when it comes to turning out a fine vintage, as ideastream's Eric Wellman found out during a recent trip to one of the state's more notable wineries.

As we walk through the vineyard of Ferrante Winery in Ashtabula County and the endless rows of Riesling, head wine maker Nick Ferrante carries a glass of the 2005 Golden Bunches Riesling that’s now the gem of his business. It won best in show at the prestigious Riverside International Wine Competition in California.

Nick Ferrante: That’s a huge accolade to win. We might never win an award like that again.

It’s a picturesque scene as we pass through the vines and drink the wine that came out of them. Several large fans - about 20 feet high - dot the landscape. They’re used to pull the warm air down to prevent the vines from frosting over. After all, Ferrante says, wine making in Ohio is a business of extremes.

Nick Ferrante: Our biggest challenge is the cold winters where sometimes we get the influence of cold Canadian air.

More than half of the wines produced in Ohio come from within an hour of this very spot. Vineyards in Lake, Geauga and Ashtabula counties benefit from the more temperate climate along the shores of Lake Erie.

Ferrante’s wines travel to this warehouse about 40 miles to the west, in Independence. The Heidelberg Distributing Company is the last stop for wines from around the globe on their way to the store shelf.

Dan Greathouse: When a truck comes in from a winery it carries about a thousand cases. And this pallet holds about 50 cases of wine.

Heidelberg President Dan Greathouse strides through the warehouse. The room is larger than a football field, filled with anonymous boxes of alcohol. He’s been selling more Ohio wines lately, and they tend to be of the white variety. He explains that cabernets and merlots don’t grow well in Ohio.

Dan Greathouse: Pinot Grigio, on the other hand, is a grape that matures faster, that needs less heat. And so as we’ve grown and learned what grapes really can reach their full ripeness plateau in Ohio, you get into a group of wine that really works here.

And Ohio wine makers are really learning what works - not just what grapes to plant, but how to care for the vines. For example, bunching soil around the shallow roots can help the plants cope with cooler temperatures. Greathouse says Ohio wines taste better than they used to, and they’ve got the medals to prove it.

Dan Greathouse: We’ve had an amazing flurry in this last year or two of Ohio wines that entered in national and international competitions where the wines are tasted blind, and time after time we’ve had these amazing examples where the hometown guys have bested great California producers and great international producers.

It’s pretty easy for shoppers to pick up an Ohio wine at the supermarket, but at Shaker Square Beverages, there are few local wines to be found. Shaker Square tends to cater to customers who have a discriminating pallet. Owner, Jean Veranasi says Ohio wines don’t go over very well with his customers.

Jean Veranasi: They have a place just as hamburgers and popsicles have a place in the food chain. You start with them. But generally, people who are serious about wines are not necessarily going to choose a pink Catawba for the evening.

Standing on their own, Veranasi says Ohio wines taste okay - some have won awards - but as a whole, the north coast doesn’t measure up to the world’s great grape growing regions. But he admits Ohio wines do have their place.

Jean Veranasi: The good thing about Ferrante’s, Debonne and Firelands - some of them have a restaurant. It’s a great visiting place. So really you’re not focusing so much on the wine. You’re focusing on the whole experience and you come away happy. In the final analysis that’s what wines are all about. To gladden the heart.

And that’s a sentiment any wine lover would have a tough time disagreeing with. I’m Eric Wellman.

Additional Information

Ohio Wine Association
Wines & Vines Wine Trail (Wineries in Lake, Geauga & Ashtabula counties)
Canal Country Wine Trail (Wineries in the Akron, Canton, and Youngstown areas)

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