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Ohio Wine Regions

by Staff Writer - K. Ash | July 02, 2011

Out of all the States in the United States, Ohio was the first State to be nationally recognized for the quality of its wines. In its heyday, Ohio was known as the "Rhine of America" and exceeded California in terms of annual gallons of wine produced. Unfortunately winemaking has been a turbulent endeavor throughout most of Ohio's history. These turbulent periods resulted in Ohio's national recognition being lost, eventually recaptured and then lost once again. As a result of these unfortunate events, wine areas have been redrawn throughout the State of Ohio.

Ohio's vineyards are scattered throughout five nationally recognized American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). The Ohio AVAs range in sizes from the small Isle St. George AVA to the larger Grand River Valley AVA. Out of the five AVAs found in Ohio, two of these AVAs extend into other States. The Lake Erie AVA is contained within the States of Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York while the Ohio River Valley AVA's territory includes Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia.

The Ohio River Valley AVA contains areas that represent the birthplace of winemaking for the State of Ohio as well as American viticulture. Having been formed in 1983 and amended in 1987, the Ohio River Valley AVA today sprawls over the States of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia. Concerning the Ohio River Valley AVA's relationship to Ohio, the Ohio River Valley AVA is concentrated around the Cincinnati area of Southern Ohio.

The climate of the Ohio River Valley AVA can be considered transitional. With the geographical location of the Ohio River Valley AVA being southern Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia, the Ohio River Valley AVA naturally borders both a Humid Subtropical zone and a Humid Continental zone. Characteristics of a Humid Continental zone include warm and hot summers with cold winters. The characteristics of a Humid Subtropical zone include hot humid summers with cool winters. Because of the unique positioning of the Ohio River Valley AVA, characteristics of both zones can be found throughout the Ohio River Valley AVA. Soil types found in the Ohio River AVA are diverse and provide a good foundation for growing different varieties of grapes. The grape of choice originally cultivated in this region was Catawba, but this variety has given way to French-American hybrids. Today grape varieties such as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling, and Syrah can be found in the Ohio River Valley AVA.

Another large AVA spanning multiple states can be found in Northern Ohio. Established in 1983, the Lake Erie AVA covers Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. Over half of the Lake Erie AVA is contained within the State of Ohio. Concerning the borders of the Lake Erie AVA with respect to Ohio, the Lake Erie AVA stretches from the city of Toledo to the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.

The climate of the Lake Erie AVA is a moderate climate greatly affected by the properties of Lake Erie. During warmer months the warm water of the lake moderates temperatures and slightly extends the growing season of the Lake Erie AVA. In the springtime cool air formed from the winter freezing and subsequent thaw of Lake Erie extends the dormant period of the vines planted within the Lake Erie AVA. This is of great benefit, grape buds will remain closed and protected from periodical spring frosts. Finally, heat accumulation in the Lake Erie AVA is similar to that of the Finger Lakes as well as other famous wine regions in Europe. This is of particular interest as heat accumulation is essential for proper grape ripening.

Soil types contained to the Lake Erie AVA of Ohio vary in their characteristics. Soils tend to be deep and vary in their fertility. Soil drainage also varies with some soils having characteristics of excellent drainage to some soils showing characteristics of poor drainage. These conditions lead to a vast array of conditions that must be taken into account when developing vineyards.

With the grape juice market showing signs of dominance in the 1900s, many grape juice vineyards were developed to fill the needs of the juice market. As such a majority of grapes planted in the Lake Erie AVA are of the Concord variety. As Ohio wineries continue to grow, so do the vineyards dedicated to producing winemaking grapes. Some of the varieties today include the Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Catawba, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Riesling varieties.

Three additional smaller non-state overlapping AVAs exist in Ohio. These AVAs include the Grand River Valley AVA the Isle St. George AVA and the Loramie Creek AVA. The Grand River Valley AVA includes land within 2 miles of the Grand River as well as land located within 14 miles of Lake Erie. Land from the larger Lake Erie AVA is also considered part of the Grand River Valley AVA. Much like the larger Lake Erie AVA, the climate of the Grand River Valley AVA benefits from the thermal effects of Lake Erie. This results in exceptional growing conditions for Grand River Valley AVA vineyards. Grape varieties grown in the Grand River Valley AVA include Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Pinot noir and Cabernet Franc grapes.

The Isle St. George AVA is located on the North Bass Island of Lake Erie. This Island is situated between Sandusky and Toledo and has a climate similar to that of the Grand River Valley AVA. The Isle St. George AVA was established in 1982 and encompasses over half of North Bass Island. Of particular note is the fact that temperatures on North Bass Island can be warmer than those found within the Grand River Valley AVA. Grape varieties such as Catawba, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, and Riesling are grown in the Isle St. George AVA.

Lastly we come to the Loramie Creek AVA of Ohio. This AVA is located within Shelby County in the mid western portion of the State of Ohio. Characteristics found within the Loramie Creek AVA include dark loamy soils in which grape varieties such as Baco Noir are grown. Founded in 1982, the Loramie Creek AVA acts as a supplier of grapes to various other wineries within the State of Ohio.

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