Ohio wines get some love from outside the Buckeye state

Greene County winery praised as it deals with lingering impact of Polar Vortex

Ohio wines are collecting some serious hardware on the national wine-competition awards circuit, and a Greene County winery is basking in some effusive praise from a Virginia wine writer even as Ohio wineries to overcome the effects of last winter’s “Polar Vortex.”

The first bit of good news came from the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, which, to put this into context, is the largest competition of American wines in the world. This year’s competition drew a whopping 6,417 entries. A panel of 59 judges tasted the entries “blind” — they didn’t know the winery name or the state the wines came from — and awarded “Sweepstake Awards” to the best wines in only five categories: Sparkling, White, Blush, Red, and Dessert.

And an Ohio wine that has already proven to be a competition awards magnet pulled off another coup: the Debonne Vineyards 2013 Vidal Ice Wine was named “Dessert Sweepstake” Winner.

“We knew while harvesting the grapes that it was going to be a special vintage,” Debonne owner Tony Debevc said. The winery owner noted that the grapes for the ice wine were harvested on Dec, 12, 2013 — just a few weeks before the devastating Polar Vortex of early January 2014, which wiped out the 2014 vintage for many Ohio wineries’ prestige grape varietals and in some cases killed grapevines entirely.

Just how popular has the Debonne ‘13 Vidal Ice Wine been on the awards circuit? Well, it also won “Best Ice Wine” at the 2014 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition in New York, which makes some darn fine ice wines itself; “Gold/Best of Class” in the 2014 Pacific Rim Wine Competition; and “Dessert Wine of the Year” in the 2014 Indy International Wine Competition.

And at last year’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, it should be noted, Ohio swept the “best dessert wine” Sweepstakes Award again, this time with the 2013 Ferrante Winery Grand River Valley Vidal Blanc Ice Wine.

In other words, Ohio’s ice wines are putting Ohio wines in general in the national, and international, spotlight. Many of those wine competitions draw entries from outside the U.S.

Both Debonne and Ferrante are located in the Grand River Valley in the northeast corner of the state. Closer to home, Valley Vineyards near Morrow in Warren County also makes a fine ice wine from Vidal Blanc grapes. Joe Schuchter, part of the third generation to operate the family-owned winery, said the wine is a hit with tasting-room visitors, and has shown up as an ingredient in innovative cocktails in some southwest Ohio nightspots.

Also closer to home, Caesar Creek Vineyards (caesar-creek.com) east of Xenia in Greene County, which opened in February 2013, got a nice little shout-out recently from Brian Yost, author of The Virginia Grape wine blog (thevirginiagrape.blogspot.com).

Here’s a little taste of what Brian had to say about his visit to Caesar Creek:

“All of the wines were exceptionally well crafted and quite surprising. I didn’t expect to discover wines of this quality, made from hybrid grapes in a little-known wine-producing area. …

“Southwestern Ohio is producing exceptional wines; it’s just a matter of educating the public. For my part, I was completely blown away by the quality of the offerings and strongly advocate supporting this winery. So make an effort to stop by.”

Walter Borda, Caesar Creek Vineyards’ founder, took great pride in particular that Yost praised the potential for hybrid grapes in southwest Ohio, some portions of which are too cold to reliably produce “vinifera” wines of European origin that are most recognizable to wine consumers (chardonnay, riesling, cabernet sauvignon).

And that’s important because weather events such as last January’s Polar Vortex — which wreaked some havoc in Caesar Creek’s vineyards and in many other Ohio vineyards — may encourage vineyard owners to plant grape varietals that wine drinkers may not be too familiar with, but which may turn out to make some very good wines.

“We can in fact make darn good wine from hybrids grown in our own back yard,” Borda said. “If we in our region play our cards right over the next five to 10 years, we may be able to develop a bit of a reputation for our wines.”

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