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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Somrack

Ohio IS Wine Country

ripe grapes in a vineyard at sunrise

Ohio may not be the first region that comes to mind when you think of fine wines. Believe it or not, this land sandwiched between Lake Erie and the Ohio River was once the most famous wine region in the country.

In 1825, Nicholas Longworth, considered the father of Ohio wine, was the first to plant semi-sweet Catawba grapes in the Ohio River Valley near Cincinnati, making Ohio the top-producing wine state at the time. It remained as such until after the Civil War, when the wine industry moved further west towards California.

Catawba wine was highly sought-after, but an outbreak of powdery mildew and black rot caused the industry to shift north towards the lake. In the fertile soil along Erie’s southern shore, Eastern European immigrants found that not only could they grow the coveted Catawba grapes, but also European varieties. After shifting to growing table grapes during Prohibition, wine-making in Ohio continued to gain momentum.

Today, nearly 200 years later, Ohio has more than 480 wineries, and is the 6th largest wine-producing region in the country, producing almost 6 million gallons in 2022.

While Concord and Catawba have historically been the common grape grown in the region, in more recent years Ohio wineries have stepped up their game and branched into more complex varietals.

The area along Lake Erie’s southern shore is known as a “pinot belt,” similar to areas of France, Italy and Oregon, that allow vintners to successfully grow the notoriously difficult pinot grapes. Many have produced award-winning wines that challenge some of the best Pinot varieties from around the world.

wine glasses in a row with red, blush, and white wine

Top 15 Wine-Producing States in 2022 in gallons*

1. California:   680,272,512

2. Washington: 40,747,190

3. New York: 27,969,308

4. Pennsylvania:  12,405,181

5. Oregon: 11,822,972

6. Ohio:   5,938,739

7. Michigan: 2,576,238

8. Kentucky: 2,176,059

9. Vermont: 2,172,526

10. Virginia: 2,157,395

11. Texas: 1,907,299

12. North Carolina: 1,903,060

13. New Jersey: 1,832,325

14. Florida: 1,634,103

15. Indiana: 1,411,540

The 58th Geneva Grape Jamboree

Geneva, Ohio boasts over 1,500 acres of vineyards, thanks to the soil and climate conditions in the 10-mile band of land along the Lake Erie shore. Frozen waters early in spring keep the air cool, preventing vines from budding out early and being lost to late frosts. In fall, warm waters help prevent early frosts from damaging crops before they can be harvested.

Geneva’s Grape Jamboree, held the last full weekend of September, is a celebration of all things grape during the harvest season, especially the Concord. Festivities include two giant parades, grape stomping, a pie-eating contest, live music and entertainment, a 5k run, art, show, baby costume contest, and the Miss Grapette competition.


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