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Ohio Wineries Flourishing

Small wineries offer great visiting experience and lots of specialty wines

By Tana Weingartner · October 6th, 2010 · CityLiving
A cool breeze gently blows through rows of leafy green grape vines beside Ed and Beth McDonald’s home. Soft pastel tablecloths ripple across wooden picnic tables adorned simply with silver lanterns. The relaxing sound of water lapping in a pond completes the idyllic atmosphere.

Welcome to Hanover Winery in Hanover Township near Oxford. About 45 minutes from downtown Cincinnati, the McDonalds have created an oasis for wine-lovers right in their backyard.

And they aren’t the only ones. Small agricultural wineries are becoming increasingly popular and numerous across Ohio.

Ed says he didn’t start out the way many vintners do, with a passion for drinking wine. Instead he found his calling while watching television after a grueling day of work in his full-time profession in commercial fire protection.

“I saw part of a program on TV and thought it was neat,” he says.

So Ed went out and found a beginners kit. Eventually he and Beth began taking winemaking courses and getting into what they say was a hobby.

After about five years and with the encouragement of those who had tried their wines at small parties, the couple went all in. They converted their backyard shed into a cozy tasting room with warm red walls and granite countertops. Then they added a large, two-story office and warehouse facility in the back.

Hanover Winery officially opened 13 months ago, and this fall the couple harvested their first crop of grapes grown on their own property.

“We are a full functioning winery,” Ed says. “We press, crush, ferment, bottle, label, 100 percent. It’s all done here.”

Along the way the McDonalds found help and advice from other area vintners.

“Wineries are very friendly with each other, not too competitive, because actually a lot of people like to go to wineries,” Beth says. “So if there’s quite a few in a close vicinity that’s a good thing, because you’ll draw in more people.”

Even though California gets all the attention when it comes to wine, Ohio has a long winemaking history. Famed Cincinnatian Nicholas Longworth began cultivating grapes overlooking the Ohio River in the early 1800s and is considered to be the father of the American wine industry.

He recognized the glacial Ohio soil would be perfect for growing grapes and began importing vines from Europe. Soon after, he discovered the native Catawba grape, and by 1860 his cellars were producing more than 570,000 gallons of wine per year.

The Civil War and disease eventually caused Longworth’s massive collection to flounder, and he sold his holdings to the Meier family of winemakers in Silverton. Meier’s Wine Cellars remains Ohio’s oldest and largest winery.

Retired engineering professor Jim Brandeberry knows about the importance of good soil. Years of crafting wines for his own enjoyment — and winning plenty of amateur winemaking awards — gave him the confidence to open his own winery in his backyard on 10 acres of hilly glacial moraine.

“People say I’m passionate,” Brandeberry says. “I think it’s a hobby, and it’s a lot of fun and I enjoy doing it. That’s what you’re supposed to do when you retire. You’re not supposed to sit around and do nothing.”

Brandeberry Winery has been open for just over a year and offers live music, special events and recently received approval to host private parties on Sundays. That’s all good news considering Brandeberry refinanced his home in order make his dream a reality.

According to Ohio Grape Industries, a division of the state Department of Agriculture, there are 150 licensed wineries in Ohio, up from 124 in 2008. Executive Director Christy Eckstein says the industry has seen about two new wineries open a month for the past two years. The majority of them are smaller wineries in terms of volume produced, and only a few are growing grapes to use in the production of their wines.

Even if many of the newcomers are buying their grapes or grape juice from others, the state still benefits.

“According to the 2008 Ohio Grape & Wine Economic Impact Study, the industry employs more than 4,100 full-time employees and has an economic impact of more than $580 million on the state’s economy,” Eckstein says.

The recession hasn’t kept Ohioans from tipping back their glasses either. Eckstein says fiscal year 2010 (July 1, 2009-June 30, 2010) saw record wine sales with more than 1.1 million gallons of Ohio wine being taxed. It represents an increase of $441,000 in tax revenue since 2006.

Starting a winery can be an expensive venture, but there are plenty of resources available to would-be vintners. One estimate from the Ohio Wine Producers Association puts the initial cost at around a half million dollars. The group offers almost step-by-step instructions and cost breakdowns on its web site.

Meanwhile, Ohio State University’s Farm Science Review is hosting a new Vineyard Expansion Assistance Program this month to teach those interested in starting or expanding a wine grape business.

When they aren’t busy running their real estate business, Gayle and Roy Weddle keep themselves busy planning the opening of one of the state’s newest micro-wineries, Bardwell Winery in Mt. Orab. The couple aims to begin pouring next spring.

“Truthfully, it’s been challenging,” Gayle says. “The (volume of) paperwork is phenomenal.”

There are local, state and federal forms to fill out and submit, she says, adding that nearby wineries (there are at least half a dozen) have been supportive and helpful so far. She says the winery will start with five varieties made from imported grape juice rather than their own grapes.

“We have several sources, and we’re testing the waters to see which ones we like the best,” Gayle says. “It would be fantastic if we could find one Ohio source so all our juice would be local.”

She says the goal of the winery is to produce a good, full-bodied bottle of wine for a moderate price. “We have what we feel is a perfect space — a large historic building in Mt. Orab — and it’s something we’ve been interested in for a long time.”

Where to Find Your Wine

Bardwell Winery (opening Spring 2011)
716 N. High St., Mt. Orab, Ohio

Brandeberry Winery
5118 W Jackson Road, Enon, Ohio, 937-767-9103, www.brandeberrywinery.com

Hanover Winery
2121 Morman Road, Hamilton, Ohio, 513-863-3119, www.hanoverwinery.com

Ohio Grape Industries offers a list of area wineries at www.tasteohiowines.com



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