Saturday, June 16, 2012

June is Ohio Wine Month

      Well folks, it is official, June is Ohio Wine Month. Oh, what a joy it was to hear myself say that. I am not kidding…

Just so you know, Ohio used to be the number one producer of wine in the United States. Of course, that was when Ohio was the west and nobody had traveled past the Mississippi.

Therefore, with deep thought and much deliberation I decided to pick two Ohio wines for our club this month. My method for picking these wines was simply the same as always, to find wines that were of tremendous quality, wines that represented their terrior accurately, and wines priced just right. This was so much fun I could hardly restrain myself. I am sure you are getting as excited as I am, so let us get on with it…

The history of wine making in Ohio can be traced back to the early 1800's. Nicholas Longworth, a lawyer from the Cincinnati area, saw the potential of the Ohio River Valley to become a major producer of wine. In 1820 he planted the first Catawba grapes. This domestic variety was hearty enough to withstand Ohio winters and the wine produced from it won quick consumer acceptance. The light, semi-sweet wine was different from the other strong American wines of the day. Soon there were many acres of vines growing in the greater Cincinnati area and by 1845 the annual production was over 300,000 gallons. By 1860, Ohio led the nation in the production of wine. As crop diseases, such as black rot and mildew, began to plague the grapes, the Civil war left the grape growers with little manpower. This led to the demise of wine making in southern Ohio.
      As the southern vineyards wilted, a new Ohio growing area emerged in the Lake Erie Islands. The islands had a unique climate; the waters surrounding them provided a long growing season and insulated the vines from spreading disease. German immigrants who brought the traditions of wine making with them settled the islands. By the turn of the century, thousands of gallons of wine were being produced by dozens of wineries on and near the islands. Vineyards were soon planted along the entire southern shore of Lake Erie. This narrow strip of shoreline soon became nicknamed the "Lake Erie Grape Belt."
     Then Prohibition struck the United States and brought disaster to the Ohio wine making traditions. Some family businesses turned to making wine for sacramental purposes, others produced juice, and still the majority of land was turned into industrial land and housing developments. The general grape-oriented economy of the area collapsed.
When prohibition was repealed in 1933, a few wineries reemerged, but they had a lot against them: the majority of vineyards were in a state of disrepair, government restrictions hindered their wine making traditions, and the few lasting vines had been converted to produce juice grapes. Ohio's one time status as the top wine producer was gone, and with it a long road to recovery.
The turning point for the Ohio Wine industry came in the early 1960's with the planting of French-American varieties in southern Ohio, encouraged largely by The Ohio State University's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster. The hardy, disease-resistant grapes produced wines similar to the older European vinifera varieties. Their success in the south encouraged plantings in the Lake Erie Grape Belt. Since 1965, more than 40 new wineries have been established across the state and each spring wine makers continue to plant French-American Hybrids and vinifera varieties.
In 1975, a group of innovative wine makers formed the Ohio Wine Producers Association. Their purpose was and still is to bring together the grape growers and the wine makers. Through the efforts of the O\VPA, individual members stay better informed on governmental action, technical advances, and research and development programs affecting the grape/wine industry.
 The Ohio General Assembly and Governors, James Rhodes and Richard Celeste established another vital program in 1981. In cooperation with wine makers and grape growers, the Ohio Grape Industries Program was created and charged with the development of marketing and research programs to encourage the continuing revitalization of the fresh grape and grape wine industries.
In the decade of the nineties, one of the significant threats facing the industry was a lack of quality Ohio grown wine grapes. A major effort to increase acreage was initiated under the leadership of Governor George Voinovich. Tax credits, vineyard planting grants, arid the hiring of a state extension viticulturist are having a positive impact on the total number of wine grape acres being planted.
The results can be seen through the continued success of Ohio wines in national competitions. In the early 1990, an Ohio Riesling won Best of Show at the prestigious Sari Francisco State Fair Wine Competition. That award was a tremendous boost for the Ohio Wine Industry', and a new era of respect emerged. Other gold medals in Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, and across the nation have reinforced Ohio's position as one of the major wine regions of the world.
Our wine picks this month come from Halliday Wines. Halliday’s Winery is named after Jesse Halliday, Milton Township’s first entrepreneur. Jesse built a grist mill less than a half mile from the Lake Milton Dam. Our Winery is a tribute to Jesse and the wonderful history of the Mahoning River Valley and the Lake Milton area.
So, with all that said, I have chosen Halliday’s Jacob’s choice for our white wine. Made from slow ripening grapes, primarily Pinot Gris, creating complex aromas of vanilla, apples, lime zest, hazelnuts and a hint of floral, rich body, crispy brightness, spice and fruit flavors enhanced by partial barrel fermentation. This is a great summer sipper. We recommend consuming this wine chilled slightly and may be served with cold appetizers. Our red wine is Jesse’s Red. This is a bold, head turning wine with cabernet notes, a hint of black cherry and cocoa, balanced with oak and acidity. Jesse’s Red finishes with rich and robust flavors. This wine is great served at your favorite barbeque or drink while hanging out with friends and family.
As President Washington said, “I cannot tell a lie,” and so we cannot either. These wines are made for Halliday Wines by the Debevc Family from the Grand River Valley, Ohio.