Ohio uproar: Local wineries shunned
Every state in the U.S. and most of the Canadian provinces boast commercial wineries nowadays, and most of them produce wines that range from credible to pretty doggone good.
But do they get any respect?
Once we get away from California, Oregon State and Washington, a few select New York producers, and maybe British Columbia and Ontario's Niagara Peninsula, it's hard to find a wine enthusiast who will admit to having tasted, much less admired, a North American wine from an out-of-the-way source.
Part of this problem, of course, is that lack of demand results in lack of supply. Most North American wineries are small "mom and pop" businesses that make no real effort to market their wares widely, most often selling the product only at or near the winery door.
Local wineries across the continent are turning out quality wines, but South Dakota wines rarely reach South Carolina, and vice-versa. A wine enthusiast, or even a wine writer, would be hard-pressed to get his hands on enough of these hand-crafted, small-farm wines to evaluate them.
But, as I occasionally preach from this pulpit, local wines deserve a little more attention - and respect - than most of us give them.
An instructive story on this topic came across my desk this week from Laure Quinlivan, a reporter on the investigative "I-Team" at WCPO Television in Cincinnati. Turning from her award-winning investigative work on pharmacy prices, public-education scandals and other weighty topics to something a bit lighter, Laure and her team dropped in on the annual "Taste of Cincinnati" bash last weekend, looking for a glass of fine Ohio wine.
Wine, after all, has been made in Ohio since 1820, when Cincinnati lawyer Nicholas Longworth planted Catawba grapes on the gentle slopes of the Ohio Valley, producing a light, sweet wine that proved popular enough to make Ohio the nation's largest wine producer until crop diseases and the Civil War nudged the nation's vineyard economy farther west.
Still, the Buckeye State boasts nearly 90 wineries in every corner of the state, from the Ohio Valley to the shores of Lake Erie. But were any of them being poured at the "Taste of Cincinnati," a two-day showcase for local food and drink?
"People can try a variety of beers, including local favorites brewed right here in Cincinnati," Quinlivan said on camera in her July 11 report. "But what people can't find at the Taste - is local wine."
In fact, she found, although the festival was awash in a sudsy flood of brews from mass-market Miller Lite and the local Christian Moerlein and Barrelhouse beers, only two brands of wine were available to thirsty revelers: Trinity Oaks from faraway California, and Reynolds from even farther-away Australia, neither of which is a label that, to put it politely, is sought after by connoisseurs.
The camera shifts to Jackie Goins, wine maker at Cincinnati's tiny Vinoklet winery: "People have asked me how come you're not down at Taste of Cincinnati. I says, 'Well, I don't think we can because, you know we couldn't get a booth.' I thought isn't that odd, we're a Cincinnati winery and I heard they had Australian wine."
Quinlivan asked Don Outterson, wine maker at Ohio's Woodstone Creek: "You tried hard to get in here?"
"Every way I could," he said. "City council, telephone, fax, e-mail, everything." But Taste organizers - the Cincinnati Restaurant Association and Chamber of Commerce - demanded a $7,800 fee for the exclusive right to provide all wine at the weekend event, a sum out of reach for these small businesses. "We've selected other brands," read the terse communication that Outterson received from organizers in May.
"He didn't have a full range of products," Taste of Cincinnati Chairman Dale Menkhaus told WCPO-TV on camera. "That's the primary reason we didn't select him."
"Wait!" Quinlivan responded in a voice-over. "Outterson has 14 different wines. But, Menkhaus says he doesn't have White Zinfandel."
Menkhaus's on-camera response: "We like to offer to our customers what they want to drink. They like White Zin."
For links and information about all the Ohio wine producers, visit the Ohio Wine Producers Association Website,
Looking for a local winery? An excellent resource for wine lovers in the U.S. is Bob Hodge's All American Wineries Website, a thorough and accurate compilation of links and information about wineries in all 50 states. Click to
You'll find a useful list of links to Canadian winery Websites and related topics on CanWine.com, Home Page of the Canadian Wine E-mail list,
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I'll ask your brief indulgence as I underscore the lesson of today's sermon by featuring brief notes on a couple of Eastern wines that, unfortunately, few readers will be able to taste unless you live or travel within reach of these small-farm wineries. Rather than looking for these wines in particular, though, I encourage you to take advantage of the season by planning a day trip to visit and taste at a local winery, wherever you may live.Smith-Berry (Kentucky) non-vintage American Seyval Blanc ($9.99)
This is a clear, straw-color wine with a light brassy hue. Its surprisingly complex aroma offers appetizing white fruit with accent notes of wildflowers and a distant hint of wool. Crisp, juicy fruit flavors are citric and tart, lemon-lime fruit held up by tart, zingy acidity, with intriguing wooly-mineral notes lingering in a flavor profile that reminds me quite a bit of a Muscadet from the Loire. Seyval Blanc is one of the sometimes maligned "French-hybrid" grape varieties common in the Eastern U.S., but in fairness, it's one of the most popular white grapes for Eastern whites, and deservedly so: As in this case, it makes wines that even the experts can't distinguish from the more familiar vinifera. LABEL NOTE: The "American" appellation and absent vintage indicate that this wine was made from grapes brought in from a non-contiguous state - probably Arkansas. (July 15, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Fine with seafood and fish, it would be perfect with fresh oysters; in a different approach, it gave good service with a simple omelet filled with Emmentaler cheese.
VALUE: A fine value at the $10 price in a Louisville wine shop.
WHEN TO DRINK: Probably best when fresh.
WEB LINK: Here's the Smith-Berry Website:
FIND THIS WINE: Smith-Berry wines are sold only at the winery and a few fine-wine shops in Louisville and Lexington, Ky.
RayLen 2002 North Carolina Viognier ($15)
RayLen Vineyards, in the Yadkin Valley of the Blue Ridge mountains near Winston-Salem and Greensboro, N.C., produces wine from traditional European varieties. This Viognier, a white Rhone variety, is made in an oaky style; it's certainly competitive in quality with Viogniers from more traditional wine regions. Golden in color, surprisingly bright, it breathes lush aromas of peaches and pears, with oak manifesting its presence as spice and butterscotch. Ripe, peachy fruit, "sweet" oak and bright acidity meet in a rich, mouth-filling flavor that's very much in the "New World" style for Viognier. (July 15, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: A simple omelet filled with Swiss Emmentaler cheese makes a find match with this aromatic wine; also try oaky Viogniers with smoked salmon.
VALUE: It's hard to find a Viognier for less than $15, and this one is certainly competitive at the price.
WHEN TO DRINK: Drink up within the next year or two.
WEB LINK: Winery Website:
FIND THIS WINE: RayLen wines are sold at the winery and via E-commerce on the winery Website, with shipping available in the U.S. where the law allows.
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Friday, July 16, 2004