In her book Ohio's Lake Erie Wineries (Arcadia Publishing, $21.99), Claudia Taller reveals a little-known fact: About 150 years ago Ohio was the top wine-producing state in the country. She blends fun historical tidbits such as this with profiles of Lake Erie's 42 current-day Ohio wineries in her book due out June 20.
CM | What stilted the growth of Ohio's wine industry?
Prohibition pretty much stopped the wine industry in Ohio, [but] Welch's figured out a way to make unfermented grape juice. They set up Welch's Concord grape depots along the lakeshore on the railroad lines, and so it was easier for farmers to grow grapes and give them to Welch's. [They were] selling grape juice with instructions on how not to ferment the wine. Of course what people were doing was making wine at home [from the juice].
CM | Why does Ohio have a reputation for producing sweet wine?
When [wineries] started back into business, they were making sweet wines, the ones they were used to making in their basements. In the 1960s, Markko Vineyard was established in Conneaut, and Arnie Esterer started growing vinifera grapes. He's kind of the guru of Ohio winemakers. [He] started showing other people in the area how to grow European-style grapes to make European-style wine. So today you have a lot of cabernets and chardonnays and pinot grigios. It's not just sweet wines anymore.
CM | What Ohio winery is a must-visit?
Markko Vineyard in Conneaut. The wines are kept in the basement, and you go past this area where they store all the wines and equipment. [The tasting room] feels like a dining room, and it's more like being at somebody's home.