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Category Archives: wineries

Regional Wine Week: I heart Virginia Wine

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Drinking local started for me while living in the heart of Virginia wine country, though at the time, I didn’t know I was. I was recently single, working way too many hours as an HR manager for The Home Depot, and my days off were Tuesdays or Thursdays. I needed something to do that didn’t involve thinking about work. So when I overheard someone talking about great hiking trails, I started asking questions, and the set out on a few day hikes. Exercise in the beautiful hills of the Shenandoahs was just what the doctor ordered.

Low and behold, I discovered there were wineries on the way to and from my hikes. I’d grown up with wine, having had many a holiday meal with my family where wines of varying degrees of “excellence” were poured (remember Blue Nun?) But even having lived in California for 6 years, I wasn’t much of a wine drinker… until I walked into Gray Ghost Winery, just outside of Warrenton,Virginia.

Grey Ghost wine labelGray Ghost Vineyards is just off Hwy 211 from Warrenton, heading to Amissville. They are well known and loved in Fauquier and Rappahannock Counties, and do holiday events and a volunteer harvest program that draw enthusiastic wine drinkers from miles away. This is not your mom and pop winery however, as they have been producing award winning wines since the mid 90’s, as recognized by some of the most prestigious international competitions in the country.

I have spent many an afternoon in the upstairs loft of the tasting room at Gray Ghost, nestled in with a bottle of their Cabernet Franc ($24). The Adieu ($24 for 375ml), a lovely late harvest vidal blanc, graces my holiday tables every year that it is produced. That is… if I haven’t sipped through the bottle as I am preparing my meals. ūüôā Their Reserve Chardonnay ($25) is one of my go-to wines when I want to show off what Virginia is really capable of in the wine world.

Gray Ghost consistently produces incredible wines. And the owners, Al and Cheryl Kellert, and their staff have always made me, and any guests I’ve ever brought to the winery, feel welcome. Wine tastings are $3 for their current 11 wine offering, and the logo glasses are $6. This winery is easy to get to if you are on the Northern Virginia to Charlottesville route of US Rt. 29. I highly recommend stopping in for a tasting and tour.

In the years I lived in Warrenton, I probably visited about 90 wineries of the almost 200 currently operating. I’d love to talk about each and every one, but I’ll include 2 more here that have shown to be outstanding for their own unique reasons.

front entrance to breauxBreaux Vineyards in Purcellville, Virginia (that’s purcy-ville, if you stop for directions) is one of the most customer service oriented wineries I’ve encountered. They take great pride in their wines, and equivalent pride in their customers. It’s as if Jen Breaux-Blosser and her husband Chris Blosser strive to bring each of their customers into the family. They were awarded ‚ÄúVirginia’s Favorite Winery‚ÄĚ for the 4th consecutive year recently and its obvious why folks love this place. Jen has set a standard for winery activity on social media, engaging with a customer base that spreads nationally and internationally ‚Äď for good reason.

Breaux has a reputation for making some truly beautiful wines. Their Nebbiolo ($38) is one I covet regularly, and their Viognier ($24) tends to improve on an already existing deliciousness with each vintage. The Merlots are some of the finest I’ve tasted anywhere, especially if you can get your hands on the older vintages. The 2002 was a dream. Their 2004 is available for $26. The Equation X ‚Äď on the lower end for $15 is a great sipping wine, and their Cellar Club will spoil you senseless with their offerings. If you want great events, a beautiful venue in the Virginia countryside, and outstanding customer service. This is your winery.

There are so many wonderful winemakers out there on the Virginia wine trails. People who are passionate about what they do in the Commonwealth and are very willing to share that passion. I hesitate to pull one of these winemakers out as standing above the rest. They all bring a unique perspective, incredible experience, and passion for wine to the industry in Virginia. Some of my favorites, in no particular order are Luca Paschina at Barboursville, Andy Reagan at Jefferson Vineyards, Kristy Harmon at Blenheim Vineyards, and Lori Corcoran at Corcoran Vineyards.

One of the most approachable winemakers I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet is Stephen Barnard at Keswick Vineyards just outside of Charlottesville. Keswick is on the beautiful Edgewood Estate, in an area where ‚Äúestate‚ÄĚ still means big old house on lots of land. Once inside the tasting room, the staff is quick to greet you and pour their beautiful wines. Stephen will occasionally emerge from the depths of the winery or the vineyard to answer questions or chat with guests. He’s easy to spot, as his South African accent stands out as much as his love of winemaking. The wines of Keswick, under his guidance, are creative, minimalist and beautifully crafted.

Keswick usually sells out of their wines faster than most wine lovers would like. This is another one of those Virginia wineries where you greatly benefit from joining their Wine Club.

Some of my favorites include the Verdejo and the Petit Verdot (simply divine!) – both of which are sold out right now. Still available is the 2010 Viognier ($22.95) ‚Äď a prime example of why Viognier has been declared the state varietal.

Keswick also has a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon that defies my usual opinion of Virginia Cab Sauv. Its bold, complex and fruity, and the tannins will mellow beautifully as it ages.

No discussion of Keswick Vineyard would be complete without mentioning Kat Schornburg, Stephen’s wife. She is light and laughter in the tasting room and manages the social media efforts at the winery – among other things! Regular tastings are $5, and select tastings $8. Its worth a trip to the Charlottesville area wine trails to stop at Keswick, and then continue to any of the other wineries in the area.

I have a deep appreciation for Virginia Wine, and the personalities within it. There is beauty to be found there. If you are looking for more information on Virginia wineries, I suggest reading Swirl Sip Snark, and VirginiaWineTime. They are friends with similar palates and love of the Virginia wine industry… and they write about VA wineries all the time!

I’ll be posting profiles of my Virginia winery experiences as they fit into the events of MissWineOH.

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Carolina Wining

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North Carolina has three distinct geographical areas. The mountains, the Piedmont and the beach. Each of those areas are distinctive in their grape production. Primarily vinifera in the mountains, a blend of vinifera and french-american hybrids in the Piedmont, and native grapes along the coast. Let it not be said that North Carolina is not a hospitable state ‚Äď they can provide any wine drinker with the right wines, in the perfect settings.

The Beach

Entrance to Duplin Wine Cellars

Massive Production, with southern hospitality

The wines you will find along the coast of North Carolina will primarily be from the native grapes of muscadine, catawba and scuppernong. The most popular (and largest winery in the state) is Duplin Winery, just off I-40 in Rose Hill, heading toward Wilmington. Bottle prices on their wines are mostly less than $10 per bottle, and the winery is an extremely popular local destination. They have over 1800 acres in 4 states under vine, and a multitude of growing partners to keep up with the demand of the winery. Duplin is distributed in 10 states, and can ship to any state that permits direct shipping. You can pick up a bottle of their wine at Professor Market in Tremont, as well as several local supermarkets in the Cleveland area.

This winery has been doing what it does since the 1970’s as a family run business, and they produce 1.5 million gallons, or 650,000 cases a year. Many of their wines sell out on an annual basis. These types of wines are not really my thing, but its obvious that they are doing something right for this wine style. 1.5 million gallons a year can’t be wrong.¬†If you want to see an incredible wine production facility, its worth a stop in Rose Hill. They have a restaurant for a mid-day meal, and tasting and tours are free.

The Piedmont

Arial view of Grove Vineyards.

Vineyard along the Haw River

I consider the Piedmont wine area to be east of I-77, and west of I-95. Others have a slightly different definition, but this is my website, so it’s my definition. Wineries in the Piedmont typically produce vinfera, french-hybrid wines and fruit wines.You will also find a cidery or two in the area. The Piedmont encompasses the Haw River Valley AVA and a sizable chunk of the Yadkin Valley AVA. You can get a little bit of everything in the Piedmont, including the beautiful cities of Raleigh, Greensboro and Winston-Salem.

One of the most notable wineries south of the Yadkin area is¬†Grove Vineyard and Winery just north of Greensboro on Highway 29. The folks there are always pleasant and very enthusiastic about their winemaking. Grove opened in 2004, and produces about 3000 cases of wine a year. They are great supporters of area canoeing and biking events because of the winery’s proximity to trails and the Haw River. Their primary wines are vinifera grapes of Cabernet, Cab Franc, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Chardonnay and Tempranillo. They also do well with their popular Traminette and an incredible Norton, grown from vines on a winery owned southwestern Virginia property. I am (perhaps overly) fond of their 2006 Merlot, the Nebbiolo, 2009 is currently available, and their Norton.

Grove also produces popular fruit and sweet wines that typically sell out before most folks even realize they were released. This is an award winning winery with easy access from the interstates and highways, and definitely worth the trip. Grove wines are widely available in stores throughout North Carolina, with prices in the $12-20 range, reserves a bit higher, but definitely worth it. Tasting fees run $5 for 6 wines, and you keep the glass.

The Mountains

Round Peak Vineyards

Round Peak has 12.5 acres of grapes

The mountain areas of North Carolina are west of I-77. Most of these wineries are small production, boutique wineries that specialize in vinifera. The further west you go into the mountains, you may encounter wineries that are importing juice from world sources. However, there are many wineries in the Yadkin Valley AVA that are growing their own grapes, and most wineries south of Charlotte are also in the vineyard business.

One of my favorites in this area is Round Peak Vineyards, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Mt. Airy. They embrace the outdoor lifestyle, with so many beautiful trails nearby; the spirit of cooperation in the wine community in Yadkin Valley; and they make some creative and delicious wines.

Les Trois Chiens, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc and Merlot is one my favorites in their lineup at $19, and their Cab Franc is definitely a must try at $16. They also bottle a line under the Skull Camp label ‚Äď these wines are their sweeter vinifera varietals, all with a residual sugar above 1% and they are very popular. The Barbera and Petit Manseng blend in ‚ÄúFlirtation‚ÄĚ, selling for $13, has 1% RSV, and is a great representation of what can be done with Petit Manseng in North Carolina. Sean McRitchie is their winemaker, owner of McRitchie Winery and Ciderworks, and he brings incredible experience to winemaking in the Yadkin Valley. New winery owner Ken Gulaian has completed the Surry Community College Viticulture program, so I can’t wait to see his signature in the Round Peak wines. They do their tastings by flights, 6 wines for $6. The beautiful tasting room and surrounding countryside make this a complete NC wine country package.

You can find more information on North Carolina wineries, get a wine map, and plan a visit. There are over 100 wineries throughout the state. A good one isn’t too far off your path.

If you’ve visited North Carolina wine country, what’s YOUR favorite winery? These are only a few of mine… there are some real hidden gems.

There’s Wine in Ohio?

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Oh yes, dear readers ‚Äď there is nationally award winning wine in Ohio, and it all started in 1802, when Jean¬†Jacques¬†Defour successfully planted vines in the Ohio River Valley. Nicholas Longworth, a lawyer from the Cincinnati area, saw the potential of the Ohio River Valley to become a major producer of wine and relocated to the area from New Jersey in 1804.

Nicholas Longworth

¬†He first produced a wine similar to Madeira, and continued to plant vines, and produce ¬†wine until the 1840’s. Around 1825 he was gifted a cutting of catawba, from the ¬†mountains of North Carolina, by John Adlum. This domestic variety was hearty enough ¬†to withstand Ohio winters and the wine produced from it won quick consumer ¬†acceptance. By 1842 he had 1200 acres under vine and had made the country’s first ¬†sparkling wine, to accolades across the US and Europe. With the surge of German ¬†immigrants into Ohio, and encouraged by the success of Longworth, the annual ¬†production in the Ohio River Valley was over 300,000 gallons in 1845. By 1860, Ohio ¬†led the nation in the production of wine. The light, semi-sweet wine from the catawba ¬†grape was different from the other strong American wines of the day, mostly native ¬†grapes to the United States (Vitis Labrusca) (muscadine, norton and scuppernong were ¬†prominent). As crop diseases, like phylloxera, devastated the trial plantings of ¬†European varietals in the region, black rot and mildew began to plague those and the ¬†native grapes alike. Adding insult to injury, the growing American Civil War encroached ¬†on the area and left the grape growers with little manpower. This led to the demise of wine making in southern Ohio.

As the southern vineyards failed, a new Ohio growing area emerged in the Lake Erie Islands. The islands had a unique climate; the waters surrounding them provided a long growing season and breezes insulated the vines from spreading disease.

‚ÄúGrapes are fastidious in their choice of a home; here they will and there they will not grow. One side of a field they accept, and the other side they reject, and in many localities they refuse to show even a leaf on the trellis. If the soil is unfavorable for the vine, no art can render it favorable. But here on this southern shore of Lake Erie, and upon its islands, the grape flourishes in unrivaled luxuriance, and even the banks of the Ohio, the first stronghold of the Catawba, have been forced to yield a precedence in many points to the northern rival.‚ÄĚ

As of 1873, the number of acres under vine in Ottawa County and the islands was 2,082, and there were 312,134 gallons produced in the region.

 ~from The Wine Islands of Lake Erie. Constance F. Woolson, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. Volume 47, Number 277, June 1873 http://www.middlebass.org/Wine_Islands_of_Lake_Erie.shtml

largest winery in the US circa 1860, 500,000 gallons.

Golden Eagle Winery, Middle Bass Island, OH.

As in the rest of the US, Prohibition struck in 1920 and brought disaster to the Ohio wine making traditions. Some family businesses turned to making wine for sacramental purposes, others produced grape juice for a growing jam and jelly industry, but the majority of land was turned into industrial land and housing developments. The general grape-oriented economy of the area collapsed.

When prohibition was repealed in 1933, a few wineries reemerged, but the majority of vineyards were in a state of disrepair. Government restrictions hindered any broad sale of wine, and the few lasting vines were more profitable and less troublesome producing juice grapes. Ohio’s one time status as the top wine producer was gone.

The turning point for the Ohio Wine industry came in the early 1960’s with the planting of French-American varieties in southern Ohio, encouraged largely by The Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. The hardy, disease-resistant grapes produced wines similar to the older European vinifera varieties. Their success in the south encouraged plantings in the Lake Erie era, and the vineyards have expanded to encompass almost any corner of the state.

In the decade of the nineties, one of the significant threats facing the industry was a lack of quality Ohio grown wine grapes. A major effort to increase acreage was initiated under Governor George Voinovich. Tax credits, vineyard planting grants, a state extension viticulturist have had a positive impact on the total number of wine grape acres being planted, and there is room for expansion.

There are 150 licensed wineries in the state of Ohio and as of 2009, Ohio winemakers produced more than 1.1 million gallons of wine. The largest number of wineries are located in Lake, Geauga, and Ashtabula counties, along the eastern shores of Lake Erie.

Ohio is the ninth largest wine producing state behind California, New York, Washington, Oregon, Kentucky, New Jersey, North Carolina and Florida.

In Ohio, there are five recognized viticultural appellations. The Lake Erie Appellation includes the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania. Two smaller appellations within Lake Erie are Isle St. George, near Sandusky and Grand River Valley east of Cleveland. The next is the Ohio River Valley Appellation, bordering the Ohio River. The fifth is the Loramie Creek Appellation in Shelby County (it has no active wineries).

So you see, there is much ado about wine in Ohio. Many are growing vitis vinifera, the wines many of us are used to drinking, and yet others are successfully growing native grapes, or making fruit wines. Grab a map, and picnic lunch, and head out. You don’t have to drive far to find good Ohio wine.

If you want help in planning your Ohio wine trip, there’s more information here. We’ll be happy to give you some suggestions. You will also see a growing list of winery reviews here on Miss WineOH.

Ohio Wine Resources:

Ohio Wine Producers

Ohio Grape Council

Catch Wine

Some images and information obtained from:

Pinney, Thomas. A History of Wine in America: From the Beginnings to Prohibition Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1989. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft967nb63q/

Latimer, Patricia. Ohio Wine Country Excursions Ringtaw Books: University of Akron Press. 2011

The Yumminess Within

cypress hill tasting room, mansfield, oh

Cypress Hill Winery

Or…. I want to go see for myself.

When planning a wine trip, no matter what area of the state, the country, or the world you plan to visit ‚Äď I highly recommend doing your research first. There are wineries in every state, including¬†our fair state of Ohio. What I’ll share is my experiences going to small production wineries on the east coast. Wineries in California can be a different animal, due to the popularity of CA wine country. Regardless, do your research, make sure you know what you are going to visit. It will save heartburn, an offended palate and sympathy buys.

One of the things that you will come across in wineries from the ‚ÄúOther 46‚ÄĚ is wine made from grapes that are not grown anywhere near your winery. Wineries have a few choices when they start making wines. They can grow their grapes, buy their grapes from local vineyards or buy grapes or juice from anywhere in the world. It really depends on the philosophy of the winemaker or owner.

I’m not at all saying wines made from juice from Australia but crafted at a winery in Ohio are bad wines, but I prefer to taste local wines because they are grown and made in the area I’m visiting. The philosophy of ‚Äúdrinking local‚ÄĚ is rooted in the concept of ‚Äúterroir‚ÄĚ (terr-wor), loosely translated as ‚Äúa sense of place‚ÄĚ. A wine made from non-local juice might give a taster a sense of the winemaker’s skill, but many winemakers will tell you that wine is made in the vineyard; that it has much to do with what happens to the vines; and on a secondary level with what the winemaker does as he is crafting it.

When you are looking at wineries, pay attention to the types of wine you like to drink. If you are up for an adventure, you will find fruit wines, sweet wines, vitas labrusca, and vitis vinifera in any combination. If you have a particular palate, you will want to choose wineries that make the styles of wines you like. But I’ll tell you, I have been pleasantly surprised by wines I didn’t think I’d like simply because I go into a winery willing to try whatever wines they offer. Its worth it to try at least one or two unfamiliar styles, particularly in Ohio, where tasting wines can be a very inexpensive proposition.

On the costs of wine tastings. Ohio does something that many other states don’t do. They charge for each individual taste, and do so at about the rate of $.25 or $.50 per taste. Some wineries do a full tasting or featured tasting charge for anywhere from $4 to $12 for the tasting.Most other states I have visited do their tasting as a set number of pours for a set price. A reasonable amount is about $6 for 6-10 wines. If a winery in this region is charging more than this amount, for my money, they had better have incredible, well known, award winning wines.

Now you’re in….

Once you are there, its a matter of tasting the wines. As an experienced taster, or a taster who wants to know more about wine, I encourage you to ask questions. Winery owners and winemakers, like anyone else, love to talk about themselves and their wines. Here is a short list of questions I always ask at wineries, or to the winemaker, if he or she is available.

  1. When was the winery started?

A very young winery most likely won’t be making wines from their own grapes. It takes 3 years for vines to produce viable grapes for harvest, so they could be buying grapes, juice, or even wine! It has become a more consistent practice, however, to wait to open tasting rooms until planted vines are producing ‚Äď again, a little research should tell you if this is an experienced winery and winemaker ‚Äď or one just starting out.

  1. What is the case production for the winery?

I ask this to get a sense of the volume of wine they produce. Smaller boutique wineries can have a different feel, or philosophy, from larger wineries.

  1. Which of your wines do you consider your ‚Äúpride and joy‚ÄĚ?

Every winemaker has at least one that he or she has puts their heart and soul into.

  1. What wine do you drink if you aren’t drinking your own wine?

I am always looking for new good wines to try – who better to ask than a winemaker?

  1. What new releases are coming?

A sense of the future of the winery! Always fun.

 Ok, its in my glass, now what?

wine glasses of white and red wine

¬†Well trained tasting room staff will give you information about each wine you taste, telling ¬†you what varietals are in it, the vintage, if it was aged in oak or in stainless steel. If the ¬†tasting room associate doesn’t provide the information, feel free to ask! Not every winery I ¬†encounter is great about customer service, but when they are, WOW… you may walk away ¬†with much more information than you ever thought you’d want.

When tasting a number of wines, always drink whites before reds, dry before sweet, and old  before young. This system allows your palate to adjust according to the qualities of each  wine.

These are the basic questions to ask:

                           What is the varietal?

                            What is the vintage?

                            Is this estate wine?

                            What oak do you use for aging this wine? (if appropriate)

If you are driving and want to stay sober, but still taste wine, consider spitting. While you ¬†may feel weird about it at first,this is an accepted practice among tasters. I carry a opaque ¬†travel cup in my car for this purpose, but many wineries will provide dump buckets ‚Äď they ¬†are perfectly fine for spitting. Also, do not feel obligated to finish a large tasting pour. Dump ¬†the wine if you do not like it or do not want to finish it. This is also an accepted practice.

And then we have the purchase. You will be charged for tasting in most locations, so please purchase ¬†a bottle only if you’d really like to take one home, but ignore that nagging feeling if there’s ¬†nothing that you really like. Many who travel the wine trails have purchased the sympathy ¬†bottle, and then struggled to remember why. Its okay to offer a polite thank you and go on ¬†your way.

However, if the wine is really good, and the ambiance is to your taste, enjoy your visit by extending it a bit. Take in the scenery. Choose a glass or a bottle of wine from the selections provided. Grab a cheese plate, or bring your own picnic if the wineries allow it. Many wineries also provide music on the weekends to make your visit a truly memorable occasion.

What questions do you ask when you visit wineries?

Do you have any other tips I should add to the list?

Please leave them in the comments!


Where did the Wine go?

Labor Day weekend called for a trip to southern Ohio. Kinkead Ridge Estate Winery was going to be open, and we just had to taste their latest offerings. After hearing Brian Kirby wax philosophical about all things Kinkead, I knew that this was our chance.

With a 5 acre vineyard, they are known for their Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, and also grow and bottle Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Viognier, and Riesling. along with smaller quantities of Roussanne and Sauvignon Blanc.

At the little house in Ripley, OH – home to their tasting room – which is open only select weekends depending on the quatities of wines available we encountered a lively group of tasters and many people discussing the wines.

From Kinkead Ridge website… my camera didn’t cooperate.

We were able to taste 5 of their wines. The 2009 reds were released under the secondary label, River Village Cellars. The whites are the 2010 release for Kinkead Ridge, plus their River Village traminette.

The 2010 White Revelation is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and some secret grape thatI couldn’t pick out. Its a tart wine, reminding me much of New Zealand SB – with just a hint of the vanilla that you get from oak. At $13.95, its a good buy for Sauvignon Blanc fans, but the alcohol, at 14.8% was a little overwhelming for us.

The 2010 Viognier/Rousanne has some of the very distinct viognier characteristics, but the addition of the larger amount of rousanne, I think, makes the wine just bit flat or flabby. At $15.95, its not one I’ll recommend for a quality-price ratio winner, but it does make a nice sipper.

The 2010 Riesling was MrWineOH’s favorite in the bunch. I’m not sure how many bottles we walked out with, but I know it was more than one. Nice and dry, with a 1.2% residual sugar. (I was shocked – I didn’t think it was more than .05%) Very crisp acidity, a fruity finish and a hint of efforvescence, this will be a wine we’ll thoroughly enjoy. At $11.95, it is definitely high on the QPR scale, but they only made 82 cases, so get after it… after I get mine.

The reds, as I said, were bottled under the secondary label. Ron Barrett noted in his winemakers notes that he was concerned about the 2009 vintage. That concern shows in the reds.

The 2010 Cabernet Franc… this is one I was SO looking forward to – and what I tasted was all oak, all the time. I had no notes of cherry fruit, no green pepper, just oak. I think many folks who like their oaky reds will love this, especially at the price point of $11.95 – but this is not the Cab Franc that we will go back to.

If I was looking for my favorite Kinkead Wine – I hit the jackpot with the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. Many of you might say… “Cab Sauv? In Ohio? Really?” but I have to tell you this one is delicious. Cabernet Sauvignon with a blending of petit verdot and syrah. The PV, one of my favorite varietals, shines through with its soft velvety finish. The Cabernet provides the fruity palate that many expect in a bold Cab. At $12.95 on the River Valley label, its a great value.

I want to love Kinkead, I think I was exposed to it at a bad vintage. I’ll be hunting for the older vintages in the wine shops, because I’ve heard amazing things about their Cab Franc and Petit Verdot.

Please – try their wines. They do good work, and while I wasn’t overly impressed with a few of their wines, we walked out with a half case of the good stuff, and I’ve committed their Cab Sauv to my Ohio Wine Tasting lineup for the season. They are THAT good.

A Dry Wine Desert in Ohio

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Ten years of visiting vineyards, ten years of looking for beautiful wines in any given state’s wine making, and ten years of hearing the same thing. Sweet wines pay the bills. It doesn’t matter which state on the east coast I’ve been in, I’ve heard very few exceptions to this statement from winemakers or winery owners. I’ve also witnessed first hand the customers who ask for “the sweetest wine you have”, without stopping to taste anything else the winemaker might have to offer. So the numbers don’t lie, the sweet wines do pay the bills, but are they serving the best interests of wine consumers and a state’s wine reputation? The disheartening looks from some winemakers and other customers tell me there’s another story that is yet to be told.

Cabernet Franc – courtesy of Red Wines

There are some universal truths to a successful business:

Your product must be one that potential customers want to buy. 
Your product should be of a quality that encourages repeat customers.
You must have passion for what you do, and strive to do it well. 

There are businesses that can be successful in spite of themselves, lacking one or all of these characteristics – but those exceptions are not the standard most business owners want to emulate. We go into business because we feel strongly that we can do something better than or at least equal to what other businesses in the space are doing, we feel we have a good product and people want to buy it, and we have passion for our chosen business and want to share that with our customers. 

So why do I see passionate winemakers who put incredible resources and energy into their vinifera wines giving a back seat to many of those products in marketing and placement efforts? Some winemakers say its because that’s what the customer wants, but how would the customer know if what they taste is a small percentage of your product selection? 
How do I know I’d prefer a Cabernet Franc if I all I taste is 5% residual sugar Riesling? I pick that Riesling because I do not know there’s something that I’d like better. I settle due to a lack of knowledge, or perhaps decide not to purchase at all. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with sweet wines – on the contrary there is a huge market for those wines, along with many others. But what I do see is a crowded tasting room and a by the taste menu in Ohio wineries that encourages customers to stick to what they know, and not deviate from their comfort zones.

What’s a winery owner to do?

Plan a tasting menu for your winery. Set that menu to include the best you are making in the wines you want to promote (the dry wines you are putting so much effort into). Include one or two of your sweet wines to show off those products, and add your ice wine for an additional charge if you need to recoup those costs.

If you want to promote a tasting menu of your sweet wines, reverse the process. Put a few of your dry wines into the tasting. White to Red, dry to sweet. Don’t serve sweet white wines before your dry reds. It kills the tasting, and customers will never realize how good those red vinifera wines really are.

Set a fee for your tasting, and try to avoid a “per taste” fee. $5 is an easy number to manage for up to 10 wines. If your customer is thinking about how much each taste costs, she’s not thinking about your wines. Most consumers don’t need a two ounce pour, somewhere around an ounce will give any taster enough wine to discern the aroma and  flavors. If they are at your winery to drink more than 7-10 ounces via a tasting, they will happily buy a glass of their favorite wine, and bottles to take home. If you want to stick to a two ounce pour, most customers will find that to be a generous amount over the course of 10 wines. And please, provide a dump bucket. Don’t force your customers to drink the wine because they feel it would be rude to leave it in the glass for you to pour out in order to go on to the next taste. 

Educate the customers, don’t just serve them. Pour each wine into a proper glass as you discuss it – where it came from, what it should taste like. Sell the wine as you watch the customer experience it. This doesn’t have to be overdone, but a wine with a story sells better than a wine without. Don’t risk the customer confusing your prize winning chambourcin with your award winning Cabernet Franc, or your Pinot Grigio losing its flavors and aromas because its in a plastic cup far away from your tasting associate.

Talk to your customers about your wines, make them excited about drinking the wine you made. That may mean spending more time educating your staff on your products and how to gauge a customer’s knowledge level, but it will increase the sales for those wines you hold near and dear to your heart. Today’s consumers have done research on your winery before walking in the door. They want to experience the engagement of your staff and if the staff is excited, that feeling is definitely contagious in the tasting room!

Why do I recommend these steps? Because I was a sweet wine only drinker until a tasting room associate got me to taste other wines… now I drink both!

Readers, tell me what you’d like to see in a tasting room. What turns you on, or off, when you head out to taste the grape?

If you are a winery or tasting room manager looking for information on how to best set up a tasting program or train your associates in customer service directed to the educated consumer, contact Southern Wine Trails for assistance. 

SoWineTrails goes WBC.

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From July 21-24, Southern Wine Trails will be attending the National Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville, VA. We will be presenting Ohio wine (details of which wineries forthcoming) at the “Other 46 Tasting” on Friday evening along with wines from Missouri, Indiana, Texas and Virginia.

We will also be attending all of the incredible events and educational sessions that are the core of #WBC11. You will be able to follow the event by keeping your eyes on @tlcolson, following the #WBC11 hashtag on twitter, and to this website. All discussions on Ohio wine will be hashtagged with #OHwine

We are very proud to represent our adopted state of Ohio at this great conference of bloggers, critics, vendors and supporters of the American wine industry.

This will a bit a of a returning home for this girl, and her wine as I started with wine and hiking in the VA mountains over 4 years ago. I hope to visit some of the wineries that I haven’t seen in a while, and I look forward to reconnecting with some of the most generous and intelligent wine people out there.

If you are an Ohio winery and interested in having your wine featured at this tasting, please contact me directly at sowinetrails@gmail.com or call 440.941.1892

There’s still time if you want to attend. More information here!

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