There’s a whole lot to love about Ohio wine, and judges tend to agree. At the January 2020 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, which is the nation’s largest, boasting some 6,700 entries, a wine from Ohio’s Ferrante Winery & Restaurant took Best Dessert Wine for a most tasty Vidal Blanc Ice Wine. The same wine also won the top prize at the recent American Fine Wine Competition.
Ferrante Winery & Restaurant is just one of many great Ohio wineries producing award-winning wines. Today, there are more than 200 producers and upwards of 700 acres of winegrapes planted—far beyond the wildest dreams of the first known “Johnny Grapeseed” of his era, Nicholas Longworth, who first planted Alexander and Isabella grapes in the Ohio Valley in 1823. Longworth then planted the native Catawba, from which he made a sparkling wine so sought after that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem dedicated to it called “Ode to Catawba Wine.”
The influx of German immigrants to the Ohio Valley guaranteed him success, as they liked his style of wines. By 1860, the Buckeye State was the nation’s largest wine producer, with Cincinnati the major distribution hub. Longworth earned himself the title Father of American Grape Culture.
Ohio Wine By the Numbers
Ohio has five AVAs: Lake Erie, which also includes parts of Pennsylvania and New York; Isle St. George; Grand River Valley; Ohio River Valley; and Loramie Creek. Six wine trails wend their way through the state: Appalachian, Canal Country, Capital City, Ohio River Valley, Lake Erie Shores & Islands, and Lake Erie Vines & Wines.
Like all 50 states, Ohio enjoys significant economic benefits from the American wine industry. WineAmerica President Jim Trezise shared these statistics in a recent newsletter:
- $6.13 Billion Total Impact
- 233 Wine Producers
- 761 Vineyard Acres
- 54,022 Jobs
- $2.0 Billion Wages
- 892,255 Tourist Visits
- $366.5 Million Tourist Expenditures
- $750 Million Total Taxes
- $431 Million Federal Taxes
- $319 Million State and Local Taxes
Ohio Wine Influencers
Originally founded on American native (vitis labrusca) grape varieties, Ohio now grows a diversity of French-American and Cornell cultivars along with European (vitis vinifera) varieties. Ohio State University has a fine research and extension program that includes Todd Steiner as enology program manager and outreach specialist.
WineAmerica’s Trezise tells us that Ohio has been a leader in national organizations, pointing to Debonné Vineyards owner Tony Debevc, who served as the first President of the Association of American Vintners (AAV), the original version of WineAmerica. In addition, Ohio has always been one of the leading states in terms of the number of WineAmerica members.
Says Trezise, “No description of the Ohio grape and wine industry’s success would be complete without mentioning Donniella (Donnie) Winchell, executive director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association (OWPA). For more than four decades, through thick and thin, she has catalyzed the growth and improvement of the Ohio wine industry through creative promotions, organizational initiatives, consumer education, and much more.”
Trezise reports that Winchell has earned the moniker, “Queen of Festivals,” having long ago created the highly successful Vintage Ohio, which has been copied in many other states. “She’s also widely recognized as a national leader, having created the popular License to Steal national wine marketing conference which has become affiliated with the Eastern Winery Exposition. She also chaired WineAmerica’s State and Regional Associations Advisory Council for several years. Passion, creativity, and collaboration are in her DNA,” says Trezise.
(For an in-depth conversations with Winchell about the Ohio wine industry and her work, see “Donniella Winchell in Her Own Words.” It’s a good reminder that the most valuable resource of the wine industry is its people. As Jim Trezise likes to say, “The product is a pleasure, but the people are the treasure.”)