Did you know Ohio once produced more wine than any other state in the United States, and Cincinnati was the most important city in the national wine trade?
That was in 1859, thanks to Prohibition in the early 1900s, the state’s wine industry collapsed. Today the Ohio wine industry is budding again with area wineries producing award-winning wines. Our Ohio Wine Travel Guide shares a brief history of the state’s wine country, terroir, where to sip, where to stay, and things to do beyond the vines, all to help you plan your next GRAPE escape.
WHERE IS OHIO WINE COUNTRY?
There are five primary wine trails in Ohio, the best to start your adventure is along the southern shores of Lake Erie and into the Grand River Valley. This magical part of northeastern Ohio gives you access to the most wineries in Ohio per square mile.
BEST TIMES TO VISIT
Summer is an ideal time to visit Ohio wine country, but note that fall is an equally perfect time as gentle warm breezes extend to autumn. In the spring, air is a bit more frosty with cool winds blowing over the icy lake.
Ohio’s wine history dates back to the 1800s when American wine pioneer Nicholas Longworth planted the state’s first grapes in Cincinnati.
Nicholas Longworth, pioneer of Ohio’s commercial wine industry, planted Catawba grapes in Cincinnati in the 1800s. The wine was instantly praised by consumers for its semi-sweet taste, and because of Longworth’s initiatives, Ohio became the leading producer of wine by 1859, but the success was short lived. During the 1860s, crop diseases began to destroy the grapes and the Civil War significantly reduced the labor force, nearly wiping out the Ohio wine industry altogether. However, German immigrants came to the rescue bringing their winemaking traditions to northern Ohio’s Lake Erie Islands.
Ohio wineries again teetered on the brink of extinction during Prohibition. However, the 1960s revitalized the state’s wine production with the planting of disease-resistant French grapes in southern Ohio. Before long, these grapes were flourishing in the Northern Lake Erie Belt.
Today, there are more than 270 Ohio wineries with more on the way.
Producing more than 1.1 million gallons of wine annually, Ohio is one of the top 10 wine producing states in the United States.
Ohio has five recognized AVAs and six wine trails. Each of Ohio’s wine trails are located in different parts of the state offering a variety of grape varieties to grow in the multitude of climates and rich soils.
The area two largest AVA’s in Ohio are the 2.2 million-acre Lake Erie and the 15 million-acre Ohio River Valley (also the second largest wine appellation in the U.S.) Lake Eerie is at most 20 miles at its widest point with clay and glacial rock deposit soil. The area is best known for cool climate grapes like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Cabernet Franc.
Situated along the southern part of the state, the Ohio River AVA spans the catchment of the Ohio River through West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky with humid subtropical to continental climates and a wide range of soils.
The Lake Erie AVA includes more than 2 million acres of land on the south shore of Lake Erie in Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. More than 42,000 acres of the region are planted in grapevines.
The Grand River Valley AVA is located in Lake, Geauga and Ashtabula counties in northeastern Ohio. The gently rolling landscape of the Grand River Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) benefits from a climate moderated by the thermal effects of a large body of water, in this case, Lake Erie to the north.
The Ohio River Valley AVA is the birthplace of American viticulture. The Ohio River Valley is centered around the Ohio River and surrounding areas. It is the second largest wine appellation of origin in the United States with more than 16 million acres in portions of the states of Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia.
Loramie Creek is bordered by Loramie and Tuttle Creeks as well as State Route 47 in Shelby County. The Loramie Creek appellation currently has no operating winery in its jurisdiction.
TOP GRAPE VARIETIES GROWN IN OHIO
OHIO ICE WINE: A TREAT NOT TO MISS
Ohio’s frigid winters brings the state some of its top wine production – Ice wine.
Ice wine comes from grapes left to freeze on the vine. These grapes go through multiple freeze-thaw cycles followed by several days of temps below 8 °C / 18 °F before harvest; generally November or December.
Ice wine can be costly, a result of the additional resources required for its production, lower juice yields, and grapes used. Learn more about what Ice wine is in Carpe Travel’s Wine 101.
In a normal year, growers pick ice wine grapes early in the morning, sometimes at night, so the grapes don’t thaw in the sun. The grapes are kept frozen during pressing as well. Pressing removes water from the grapes, which have dried some already on the vine; the water, still frozen, gets left behind as ice. The juice that results, essentially now concentrated, has sky-high sugar and flavor. In the end, so does the wine it makes.Anthony Nappa, winemaker and principal at Anthony Nappa Wines in Peconic
WHERE TO SIP
With 270+ wineries, Ohio wine country has plenty to sip in.
To help narrow it down, here are a few of the best Ohio wineries for your grape escape.
OHIO WINE TASTING EVENTS
Toast of Ohio, The annual Toast of Ohio Wine Heritage Festival features Ohio wineries, gourmet food, live musical entertainment, and an art show.
Vintage Ohio, An annual two-day festival boasting dozens of pours from Ohio wineries, local artisans, live entertainment, food trucks, and more. Want more palate pleasures? Try the craft beer section. Voted by USA Today 10 Best.
Geneva Grape Jamboree, The Geneva Grape Jamboree returns for its 57th edition. Situated in the heart of Ohio’s rich northeast wine region of Lake Erie, the festival celebrates grape harvest with activities ranging from wine sampling to live entertainment — and of course, grape stomping. Most importantly, it’s a completely free event.
WHERE TO STAY
Sip in More of Ohio
Elaine Schoch (pronounced the German way – Shock) is the editor and founder of Carpe Travel as well as an award-winning travel writer, wine judge, certified by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 and certified American Wine Expert. She is married to The Husband and has two kids, Princess One and Two – who’s interest and knowledge in wine is quite extensive. Not to mention the stamps in their passports.