SW Ohio wineries clean up at Ohio Wine Competition

Southwest and west-central Ohio wineries turned in a strong showing in the 2015 Ohio Wine Competition, sweeping the top “best-of-show” award and several other key categories.

The results were released this morning by the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Ohio Grape Industries Committee, which sponsors the competition each year to spotlight the best wines produced in the Buckeye State. Judging for the 2015 Ohio Wine Competition was held last week at Kent State University’s Ashtabula branch.

Vinoklet Winery, in Colerain Twp. in northwest Hamilton County, captured the overall top designation of “Best of Show” for its 2013 “Brother Joe” red blend. The Valley Vineyards 2013 Syrah, estate-grown from Warren County near Morrow, tied for “best red,” while Brandeberry Winery in southern Clark County earned “Best Fruit Wine” for its “Black Dog,” a blend of red raspberry wine and Cayuga white grape wine. And The Winery at Versailles in Darke County won “best sparkling wine” for its “Stampede,” a sparkling red wine.

Ferrante Winery in the Grand River Valley northeast of Cleveland snagged two awards: “Best white” for its 2014 Ferrante American Riesling, and a tie with the Valley Vineyards syrah for “best red” for its 2013 Ferrante Cabernet Franc. The two red wines were elevated to co-champions in the “best red” category after the Vinoklet red blend captured “best of show.”

Matus winery in Lorain County in northern Ohio won “best blush/rose” for its pink Catawba, and Gervasi Vineyards in North Canton captured “best dessert wine” for its “Sognata” Vidal Blanc Ice Wine.

The eight-person judging panel – I served as one of judges — evaluated the wines “blind,” unaware of the price and the identity of the producer or brand.

The 2013 Vinoklet Brother Joe received overwhelming support during the “best of show” judging. Vinoklet founder Kreso Mukulic, an 81-year-old native of Croatia who launched Vinoklet 34 years ago, said the wine blends 25 percent of his six-acre vineyard of estate-grown chambourcin, a French hybrid red grape, with cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot sourced from California. The wine is burnished by 15 months in French and American oak prior to bottling.

The Brandeberry Winery Black Dog that was deemed the state’s best fruit wine started out as a simple fund-raiser for winery founder Jim Brandeberry’s daughter’s favorite charity.

“I first made this wine as an amateur,” prior to the founding of the winery in 2008, said Brandeberry, the retired dean of the college of engineering at Wright State University. “My first commercial batch was a small batch in the fall of 2013 for my daughter’s Dogtoberfest in October, a fundraiser for the Clark County Humane Society, in which customers are invited to bring their dog to the winery.”

The most recent bottling of Black Dog, consisting of 120 cases, was released last Saturday at the winery in conjunction with a fund-raiser for the Clark County Humane Society. The winery sold 159 bottles on the release date, Brandeberry said, and donated $1 a bottle to the humane society.

The 2013 Estate Syrah from Valley Vineyards – which celebrates its 45th anniversary with a two-day festival on Friday night, June 5 and all day Saturday, June 6 — is the result of “hard work and attention to detail in the vineyards,” according to Joe Schuchter, part of the third generation of the family that operates the winery.

“We’re proud to surprise our customers with the quality of wine that is being produced in this region,” Schuchter said.

And the Winery at Versailles Stampede that won “best sparkler” is a sparkling version of the Darke County winery’s Rodeo Red, a blend of Concord and Niagara grapes.

“It’s a tribute for our daughter and granddaughter’s love for horses, for country living, for everything rural Ohio has to offer,” said Winery at Versailles founder Mike Williams. “It’s fresh, fruity, fun and festive.”

Ohio is the 7th largest wine producing state in the country, with an annual production of 1.2 million gallons, or more than a half-million cases, of wine. More than half of the state’s wine-grape acreage is in the northeastern quadrant of the state.

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