In 1978, a small group of Ohio winemakers declared June as Ohio Wine Month.
Their intent was to celebrate an old and respected winemaking industry that had its roots in the 1820s, had fallen on hard times over the next 150 years and was just beginning to reemerge.
Since then, Ohio Wine Month has been celebrated annually in some form or another, first through the informal efforts of winemakers, then with official proclamations from lawmakers and governors. After nearly 35 years of hodge-podge recognition, the Ohio General Assembly in 2012 passed legislation permanently designating June as “Ohio Wines Month.”
It’s good to see the state’s elected officials finally recognize the contributions the wine industry makes. Today, Ohio’s grape and wine production is an integral component of the state’s agriculture industry. Wine and vineyards have a more than $1.3 billion economic impact in Ohio, and the industry accounts for more than 8,000 full-time jobs with a payroll of about $265 million.
That’s a far cry from the state of the industry in 1978. There were barely a dozen small winery operations at the time, subsisting mainly on summer tourist traffic. Although some had been experimenting with vinifera grapes since the mid-1960s, many were still producing sweet wines from native grapes such as Niagara and Catawba.
Fast forward to today. Ohio currently has more than 280 wineries, more than half of which have opened in the past 15 years. Those wineries tend about 1,500 acres of grapes — Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling, to name a few — that produce more than 1.2 million gallons of wine each year. Located all over the state, today’s wineries for the most part are year-round operations offering tours, tastings, fine dining, musical entertainment and special events.
Ohio now recognizes its top wines through the Ohio Quality Wine Program, a rating system based on industry standards which identify the best estate-grown wines in Ohio. The wines that meet or exceed these criteria are designated as Ohio Quality Wines and receive a seal of distinction to create awareness with consumers.
And that recognition doesn’t stop at Ohio’s borders. Since the 1990s, Ohio wines have been top performers in national competitions, winning medals and drawing praise from coast to coast. As wine experts and consumers alike have come to appreciate the quality of Ohio wines, so too have wine retailers. Shelf space is now given to Ohio vintages right along side those from California, Europe and elsewhere.
Even if there was no official designation of June as Ohio Wines Month, it is still a great opportunity to raise a glass — be it a Lake Erie Chardonnay or an Ohio River Valley Seyval Blanc — and toast the progress the Ohio wine industry has seen and to the promise of a bright future ahead.