Ohio’s in the midst of a grape-growing, wine-making revival, and its wines are winning wine competitions on a national level. East of Cleveland, Ashtabula County has more wineries per square mile than any other region of the state and is home to over half of the wine grape acreage in Ohio. Ohio was the first state to cultivate grapes and was the leading producer of wine in the United States during the early part of the 19th century when Nicholas Longworth of Cincinnati planted his grapes in the Ohio River Valley.
Grape growing on the Lake Erie Islands--Kelley’s Island, South Bass, Middle Bass, and North Bass--as well as in Danbury Township on Marblehead Peninsula and in Sandusky, was well established by German immigrants by the mid-1800s. Immigrants from France, Italy, and Hungary followed. Mon Ami Winery in Port Clinton produced some of the countries best Champagnes by 1870.
Prohibition destroyed the wine industry in Ohio, but the farms along Lake Erie’s moderate shore continued to grow grapes. Grapes were sold at the Welch’s depot on Route 83 and other depots along the train route from Erie to Toledo. During the 1920s, many vineyards sold their juice with sly instructions on how to make wine, and families served their own wine on their tables at dinner.
Wine making in Ohio took a dramatic turn in the 1960s when Arnie Esterer of Markko Winery in Conneaut started experimenting with European varietals and French-American hybrids, including Chambourcin, Vidal Blanc and Seyval, as well as ice wines from Vidal Blanc grapes. Property owners with family farms followed course and Chardonnays and Cabernets became as common as Concords with help from the Ohio State University Research Center.
Today, award-winning Pinot Noirs from St. Joseph share the stage with Emerine Estates, which produces fruit wines, like blueberry and country apple wines, among others. Quarry Hill Winery sells its wines in an apple barn and Mon Ami serves its wine in elegant dining rooms. The wine trails along Lake Erie's lakeshore provide an afternoon or weekend adventure with sweeping views of Lake Erie along scenic byways. A great selection of wine can be enjoyed in cozy tasting rooms or fresh-air patios. Serenading accordion music and oven-fresh bread lull into Old World siestas, Lake Erie style. Check out the industry at http://www.ohiowines.org/.