Wine lovers will delight in vineyards of southwestern Ohio
COLUMBUS DISPATCH NOVEMBER 6, 2011
MANCHESTER, Ohio — Even if I didn’t enjoy drinking wine — a difficult thing to imagine, I admit — wineries would offer a most excellent excuse to explore a new terroir, even, or perhaps especially, close to home.
I was reminded of this truth while driving along a narrow country road in the hills of southern Ohio in search of a winery. Suddenly I came upon a magnificent vista with the Ohio River opening out below me, the October-colored hills ablaze with pointillist daubs that seemed almost too vivid to be real.And this was before I had consumed any wine, mind you.
Back when the state of California was still just a gleam in the eye of President James K. Polk, the Ohio River Valley was the country’s premier winemaking region. Today, the region is producing wine again — good wine, in many cases.
More than a dozen wineries operate in southwestern Ohio. My personal wine trail led me to five that are open to visitors during the late fall — great places to spend a day or two before the snow flies. (For, alas, there is no hot chocolate trail.)
Be sure to call ahead for tasting room or restaurant hours, which are limited this time of year.
My first stop was Moyer Winery & Restaurant, on one of the most beautiful stretches of the Ohio River.
Moyer caters to lunch and dinner guests in a riverfront structure that once was the River By dance hall. It has no traditional tasting room or tours, but my waitress assured me that the staff is happy to show visitors around the winery operation housed in the first floor below the restaurant.
I opted for a delicious pork tenderloin sandwich and, being so close to Dixie just across the river, fried green tomatoes.
Not knowing which wine to pair with green tomatoes, I asked for a few tastes, which the waitress was happy to bring to my table. (I went with Moyer’s River Valley White.)
The restaurant sits on a fortuitous spot. The J.M. Stuart electric-generating plant, not far downstream, is hidden by a bend in the river, and few structures of any kind were visible on the Kentucky bank, although that might change once the leaves drop. Call 937-549-2957 or visit www.moyerwinery.com.
Coco, a friendly chocolate Lab, was the first to greet me when I arrived at the tasting room of Meranda-Nixon Winery in Brown County.
But the rest of the family in this family operation was just as welcoming.
Owner Seth Meranda grew up in Brown County and today operates the winery from what was his great-grandfather’s farm.
The county was once the heart of Ohio’s tobacco region, and the family grew the crop until 2006. But seeing the writing on the wall (or the cigarette packs), Meranda planted his first grapevines in 2003.
Now, although there’s no tobacco, 10 acres of the farm are devoted to European, American and hybrid grape varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, Cynthiana (also known as Norton), chardonnay and traminette. And the wine is very good.
Meranda-Nixon is one of the few Ohio wineries where the sweeter stuff isn’t the best-seller.
“We’re known for our full-bodied red wines,” Meranda said.
In the large tasting room with many tables, visitors can also order appetizers or pizza. The winery also hosts special dinner events throughout the year. Call 937-392-4654 or visit www.meranda-nixonwinery.com.
Ohio has the economic downturn to thank for one of its newest wineries: Bardwell, which opened this fall in the town of Mount Orab.
Gayle and Randy Weddle decided to open a winery when they couldn’t find another tenant for a historic commercial building.
A broker, Mr. Weddle found his real-estate traffic “so slow we decided to open another business,” his wife said.
They’re hoping for more success than the building’s first occupant.
“The building was built as the Moon Buggy Factory,” Mr. Weddle said. “As soon as it was built, the car put them out of business.”
But for Bardwell, so far, so good.
“We see new people every weekend,” Mrs. Weddle said.
The winery, which has a tasting bar and a small seating area, offers fare such as hot appetizers and pizza.
A semi-sweet Niagara is the biggest seller at Bardwell.
But the winery also offers drier wines such as pinot noir, which has become Mr. Weddle’s personal favorite.
Call 513-309-0781 or visit www.bardwellwinery.com.
The small McIntosh Winery & Restaurant operation near Bethel was one of the first wineries to open in the Ohio wine renaissance that dates from the 1970s, decades before most of the state’s 115 or so currently operating wineries were established.
The original owner, Charles McIntosh, set up his winery in 1973 in what had once been a garage for his trucking company.
“People thought he was crazy,” said Randy Weddle of Bardwell Winery.
“As a kid, I remember people making fun of him in the store: ‘He’s that guy who’s trying to grow grapevines!’ ”
But McIntosh had the last laugh, establishing a pioneering and enduring business.
Today, the winery is owned by Ed and Marsha Covert, who bought the business in 1993.
The family-friendly restaurant, which seats 50, was full on a Thursday night, but I took a seat at the Formica bar to sample some wines and the dinner fare.
Although grapes were once grown at the winery, McIntosh now buys grapes and juice from other local producers.
The wine, as it was in Charles McIntosh’s day, is exclusively traditional American varietals such as Niagara and Catawba.
“Some people say it’s too sweet but not to me,” Mrs. Covert said.
I, too, prefer a drier wine but found the winery’s Sauterne drinkable, especially alongside one of the best steak burgers I’ve ever had — which, though lean, was not at all dry.
The Coverts raise their own longhorn cattle, fed exclusively on grass — and their $4 Texas Longhorn burger was a delicious, unexpected treat.
Valley Vineyards, a large winery near Morrow, helped set the stage for Ohio’s wine comeback when it was established in 1970 on land that has been in the same family for 120 years.
But the winery — and its wines — have kept pace with the times.
They still grow, make and sell the sweet varieties that once dominated the industry.
“After all, nobody starts out drinking cabernet sauvignon,” said owner Kenny Schuchter.
But they have also won dozens of awards for their wines from European and hybrid grapes, which are grown on 70 acres of the 150-acre estate.
In all, Valley Vineyards grows some 35 varieties of wine grapes.
The vineyard was also the first in Ohio to produce true ice wine, a delectable treat made from grapes frozen on the vine. Today, Valley Vineyards grows 10 acres of the Vidal Blanc grape, much of it harvested on the first 12-degree day of each winter and made into ice wine.
Valley Vineyards also hosts cookouts most weekends throughout the year. Guests can purchase their own steak or salmon or similar fare and grill it themselves on the winery’s outdoor or indoor grills. A recent Saturday event had more than 450 guests.
The winery also offers self-guided tours, with ample signage explaining each stage of the winemaking process.
Wine lovers can find wine from Valley Vineyards, now one of the largest wineries in the state, at more than 650 stores in Ohio.
But the vineyard still sells most of its wine on site.
On a lovely fall day, with the sun shining on a hillside of grapevines, the leaves fluttering in the last warm breezes of the season, it was easy to understand why.
Call 513-899-2485 or visit www.valleyvineyards.com.For more information about all of Ohio’s wineries, visit www.tasteohiowines.com.