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Ultimate Guide to Ohio Wine Country

You might not think of Ohio when you think of wine, but wineries in the state have become much more popular in recent years.
You might not think of Ohio when you think of wine, but wineries in the state have become much more popular in recent years.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Sometimes you just need a getaway, far from traffic and free of crowds. These days, the chic escape is to wine country, where fields extend forever, skies are big, and wine tasting excursions await your romantic weekend, girlfriend getaway, or even your wedding or family reunion.

Wineries around the country are enjoying an increase in popularity as travelers seek unique vacation experiences. But you don't have to travel to California valleys for a vintner-themed vacation. Consider Ohio, for example, with its 148 wineries, producing more than 1 million gallons (3.8 million liters) of wine a year. In fact, the number of licensed Ohio wineries has doubled in the past five years [source: Cuffman].

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Ohio's history of winemaking goes back nearly as long as it's been a state. Most credit a Cincinnati lawyer named Nicholas Longworth for realizing the wine production potential of the Ohio River Valley. Longworth planted the first grapes, the domestic Catawbas, around 1820. Catawbas, red grapes, were able to withstand the freezing cold winters. The wines themselves became quite popular, and by 1860, Ohio was actually the nation's top wine producer. Then, crop diseases, the Civil War and eventually Prohibition took their toll, and the state's wineries withered.

Ohio wineries began to flourish once again in the 1960s, and the region has grown substantially in both the number of wineries and in popularity as a vacation destination. The Ohio wine country has also grown in terms of the reputation of its wines. The state government supported an initiative in the 1990s to boost the quality of Ohio wines, establishing tax credits, vineyard planting grants and a newly appointed state viticulturist who proved highly successful in raising the quality of region's wines. Today, Ohio ranks among the top 10 United States wine regions and wineries that produce national award-winning wines. Wines coming out of Ohio include riesling, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, pinot gris, pinot grigio, pinot noir and more.

With the great successes of Ohio wineries, many of them share the celebration with the public, with plenty of wine tours and wine trails to lead you there.

Wine trails span the state of Ohio, with six major trails ready to delight locals and tourists.

Lake Erie Vines and Wines, Northeast Ohio

The Lake Erie Vines and Wines Trail, on the south shores of Lake Erie and with the most wineries per square mile, produces award-winning pinot gris, riesling, pinot noir, chardonnay, cabernet franc, chambourcin and Vidal blanc, as well as local wines.

There's more to experience, including spectacular views, amusement parks, oodles of indoor waterparks, and unique birding, especially at "Wine Islands," where tourists can see nesting bald eagles and magnificent migratory birds.

Appalachian Country, Southeast Ohio

Two hundred years ago, this region was hills, forests and rivers. As settlers built roads, canals and railroads, soil was piled into hills, which, with the shale base, proved to be excellent for growing grapes.

The area also nurtured craftsmen who created mosaic tiles, pottery, glassworks, basketry, furniture and folk arts. Then as now, crafts, and the area wines, are hand-crafted in regional traditions.

Canal Country, East Central Ohio

Man-made and geological history makes a tour here unique. See remnants of Native American cultures and ancient glaciers' impact on the land. Pioneer settlements and early railroads will place you back in time, as will the southern terminus corridor leading to Amish country. Expect a lot of charm, especially from the area's boutique wineries.

Nicholas Longworth, Southwest Ohio

Named for the father of American winemaking, this area is the most historic Ohio wine trail. Modern techniques led to European varieties, and the region also produces ice wines -- grapes kept on the vine until the first deep frost, pressed while frozen and used for high-sugar, low-acidic wines, often popular for dessert wines.

Capital City, Central Ohio

The Capital City Wine Trail is one of the most convenient, with a consortium of wineries all within 30 or so miles (48 kilometers) of Columbus. Some wineries here welcome you to come for a picnic, and others offer tastings by a fireplace. Some vintners even welcome you into their homes.

Lake Erie Shores and Islands Wine Trail, Northwest Ohio

This trail has more than a dozen wineries, including two on the Lake Erie Islands. It's considered to have some of the best scenery, and it also provides lots of fun with the largest indoor waterpark in the United States, the largest amusement park in the world (imagine 17 roller coasters and 58 rides!) and several other indoor waterparks, as well.

On an Ohio winery tour, you'll get a behind-the-scenes look at how wines are produced in the area.
On an Ohio winery tour, you'll get a behind-the-scenes look at how wines are produced in the area.
Christopher Robbins/Photodisc/Thinkstock

Each of the six Ohio wine regions offers its own unique experience, as well as vastly varying numbers of wineries, with some having as few as five and others with nearly 20.

These days, the Ohio wineries have a lot to celebrate, as the number of wineries in the state keeps growing, and Ohio wines increasingly take home top prizes at wine competitions around the country. The Ohio wine industry is also becoming quite creative when it comes to offering interesting tours.

If you choose a private tour, your guide will pick you up at your hotel (or home) and will usually escort you on a half-day excursion to several wineries, if not more. This sort of private tour often includes lunch; ask for just the right food and wine pairing for your wine country meal, and be sure your tour guide is a walking fact book, ready to describe the history and unique characteristics of your destinations.

Tour companies may offer themed tours, designed to appeal to your specific interests. One example might be a cabernet tour, during which you'll learn about and taste the cabernets of the region. One company offers a moonlight tour, showcasing the beauty of wine country as it looks under the evening glow. You might also enjoy a wine country garden tour. Or, if you're in Ohio wine country for a special getaway, you may want to treat yourself to a bride- or groom-to-be tour designed just for prenuptial fun.

During peak seasons, some regions offer taxi and shuttle wine tours open to the public, with pickups at specified locations. You might enjoy a shuttle tour, as it will allow you to meet other travelers and share the experience. And if you're feeling especially daring, you may want to take a hot air balloon tour.

Whichever way you tour, you'll want to consider timing your visit to coincide with Ohio events such as the Vintage Ohio Wine Festival, a two-day extravaganza in late summer with live music, wine and cheese exhibits, and works by local artists. Or hit the Cincinnati Wine Festival in March, the Cincinnati Food & Wine Festival or the Cleveland Wine Festival in June, or the Viva Las Vino in Columbus or Fleurs et Vin in Dayton in the spring.

For more wine articles, check out the links on the next page.

Related Articles

Sources

  • Cuffman, Jessica. "Number of vintners in Ohio doubles in 5 years." Marion Star. June 27, 2011. (July 14, 2011) http://www.marionstar.com/article/20110627/NEWS01/106270304/Number-vintners-Ohio-doubles-5-years
  • Ohio Wine Producers Association. "The Makings of Great Wines." (July 14, 2011) http://ohiowines.org/
  • Ohio Wine Tours. (July 20, 2011) http://www.ohiovinetours.com/
  • Touring Ohio. "Ohio's Wines." (July 14, 2011) http://www.touring-ohio.com/ohio-wines.html
  • Vintage Ohio Wine Festival. (July 13, 2011) http://www.visitvintageohio.com/

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