Ohio wineries pour local flavors

 by Tim Titus

Ohio contains a vibrant wine country.   It tends to be characterized by small, often family-owned businesses that cater to their local communities, offering visitors a place to sit down, relax and sip a bottle of Ohio red or white among the green trees and blue lakes that pop up around the countryside.

Tasteohiowines.com, a website run by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, details the state’s history with growing grapes and making wine. That history is longer than the casual observer might expect.  It began when Nicholas Longworth first planted Catawba grapes in the Cincinnati area, and–over many ups and downs– led to the growing business that it is today.

“We have a budding wine industry,” said Janeé Houston, manager of Barrel Run Crossing Winery and Vineyard in Rootstown.  “Our climate isn’t suitable for most recognizable wine grapes, which makes it exciting to try new varieties that are suited for our climate and in doing so, creating our own unique flavor.”

Three wineries local to the Kent area reflect the character and culture of Ohio wines.  At Barrel Run Crossing visitors are treated to another view of grape fields and rolling green hills.  Barrel Run Crossing is a family-owned business with a mission statement that emphasizes utilization of “high-quality grapes” and creation of “superior wines self-sufficient on the site in Northeast Ohio.  Offerings include some tart wines made from local grapes, like “BRX” and “First Class.”  Barrel Run also makes some sweeter wines that carry creative names like “Tipsy Conductor” (white) and “Sweet Ride” (red).

Barrel Run Crossing also offers food as well as a sunny, open patio on which customers can enjoy a lazy afternoon.  Appetizers include the goat cheese and pita chips as well as the “Locavore Meat and Cheese” platter, which contains kielbasa from Rootstown and cheese and mustard from Cleveland.  “BRX,” as the winery refers to itself, also offers a selection of “gourmet bagel” sandwiches and paninis.

Karl Hoisington, who manages the grapevines at Barrel Run Crossing, described the “Ohio flavor” as, “a strong grape flavor and a tendency to acidity.”  He said the winery is focused on the local area.  “The vast majority of our wine is grown on site,” Hoisington said.  “We sell food and crafts from local vendors, and promote the same vendors.”

Houston agreed.  “We grow a lot of our own grapes for our wines. That allows us to pick out which varieties best suit us and care for them meticulously on the vines,” she said.

Barrel Run Crossing maintains three vineyards in its local area.  This affects the flavor of the wines, Hoisington said, because each plot of land has a different microclimate, each imparting “unique properties” to the final product.

Nestled along the shores of Lake Milton are the tree-lined balconies of Myrddin Winery.  Owners Evelyn and Kristofer Sperry share the entire operation of this small business.   The winery, which features, as its website says, “handcrafted wine made right here with fruit from pretty much right here made exactly by us,” spent much of its formative years in legal battles.

Myrddin got off to a difficult start.  Some of its new neighbors did not want a winery on the property, protesting with signs of “Wino’s [sic] Go Home!”

The township sued the Sperries twice on zoning grounds, but won both times.  After an Ohio Supreme Court victory, the business’ legal status is no longer in dispute, and the winery is now legally able to create, advertise and sell its products.

Myrddin’s wine list shows a penchant for the magical and the Celtic.  “Myrddin” is the Celtic name for “Merlin,” and the label design is a silver wizard’s hat.

The tasting menu includes such Camelot-esque offerings as “Pendragon,” a peppery red blend; “Morgaine,” a dry wine made from merlot grapes, and “Lady of the Lake,” which Evelyn described as a “semi-dry white blend.”

Myrddin is situated within a forest of green trees, at the edge of a hill, overlooking Lake Milton.  Two patios are available for customers to eat, drink and be merry while enjoying the view.  Evelyn described Myrddin’s winemaking styles as “creative and experimental,” and she stressed that winemaker Kristofer “makes the grapes stand out and never forces them to be something they don’t want to be.”

Maize Valley Market and Winery in Hartville combines bottled offerings with a selection of handmade jams, jellies and other products as well as fresh fruits and vegetables from the local area.

At the tasting bar, Maize Valley pours a number of creatively named offerings.  Titles like “Hanky Panky Pink,” “Big Red Pecker” and “Summer Fling” dot the list.  The winery also offers a number of beverages made from other fruits.  The menu features apple, “Apple Pie,” cherry, cranberry, “Very Berry,” and raspberry flavored wines.

Maize Valley also has a kitchen.  Visitors can order from a menu including bleu cheese balsamic chips, grilled Reuben sandwiches, and something called a “Pumpkin Cannon” while they sip a glass of their chosen wine on the patio.  Maize Valley hopes to create a comfortable environment for its customers.  The tasting notes state clearly: “There are no rules- we don’t believe in them.”

Ohio wine country is large and varied.  A search of the Canal Country region yielded 22 operations.  Lovers of the vinifera grapes– cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay and other common wine grapes– may need to get used to the different grapes that grow in Ohio, but these are the grapes that characterize Ohio.

Ohio grows the grapes that work in its own climate, reflect its heritage and produce wines that have won more awards than people from other states would realize.

“When someone cares for how a product is made, it shows,” Houston said.  “I think the new wineries coming up are growing from a passion for winemaking and their skills are really shining through.”