Ohio has a long tradition of growing flavorful grapes that produce quality wines. It first began in the early 1800s when Nicholas Longworth, a pioneer in the commercial wine industry, planted Catawba grapes in Cincinnati above the Ohio River. Unlike the stronger-tasting wines of that era, Longworth’s Catawba grapes produced a semi-sweet wine that quickly won the praises of consumers. His initiatives proved so successful, that by 1859, Ohio had become the leading producer of wine, boasting more than 3,000 acres of grapes along the river between Cincinnati and Ripley, Ohio.
But by the late 1860s, when crop disease destroyed grapes and the Civil War reduced the labor force, winemaking in southern Ohio was virtually non-existent. However, German immigrants brought their traditions of winemaking to the Lake Erie Islands in northern Ohio. This area’s unique climate and its surrounding waters were ideal for growing grapes, and
wine production prospered once again.
By the turn of the century, dozens of wineries inhabited the islands of Lake Erie, and thousands of gallons of wine were produced in this area. Its reputation for flavorful wines led to the addition of more vineyards along the entire southern shore of Lake Erie, which soon became known as the “Lake Erie Grape Belt.”
Although Prohibition virtually obliterated winemaking in Ohio, the post-Prohibition years of the 1960s marked a time of resurgence for Ohio’s winemaking industry. It was then that hardy, disease-resistant French-American grapes were planted in Southern Ohio. These grapes produced popular wines similar to the less-sweet European varieties, and before long, these grapes were thriving in the Northern Lake Erie Grape Belt as well.
Today, Ohio is one of the top 10 wine-producing states with more than 1.2 million gallons produced every year. Ohio’s grape portfolio now includes vinifera, the type of grape from which Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Riesling wines are made.
So, while consumers still enjoy the old favorites "Heritage" varieties like Catawba, they also satisfy their palates with European-style wines made right here in Ohio. In fact, Ohio’s Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Gris/Grigio, and Pinot Noir wines have gained favor with wine lovers far and wide. Numerous Ohio wines have been selected as “Best of Show” winners in well-known national wine competitions.