Episode 41: Ohio

Welcome to episode 41 of the Make America Grape Again podcast, featuring the Buckeye State, Ohio.  Featuring one of the more unique flags of a US State, Ohio has a long and lauded history with the American Wine industry. It is fitting, therefore, that the bottle we have chosen for our first Ohio episode: the En Plein Aire pét-nat from Vermilion Valley Vineyards, is somewhat of an homage to that storied history.  This sparkling wine, made as a méthode ancestrale, is a field blend of roughly 75% Pinot Noir, and 25% Muscat Ottonel, with minuscule percentages of Lemberger and Müller-Thurgau, sourced from their vineyards in the Lake Erie AVA. For those who are new to the natural wine game, this method, known also as pétillant-naturel, allows the initial fermentation to finish inside the bottle without any additives, imparting a gentle carbonation by trapping carbon dioxide; there is no addition of new yeast for a secondary fermentation, nor disgorgement (unlike with Champagne and other sparkling wines of that ilk).

So, why a Sparkling wine to start Ohio off? To answer this question, we must go to the Ohio River Valley around 1825, and visit one Nicholas Longworth.  He planted, in the end, over 2,000 acres of Catawba grapes, and ended up producing sparkling wine that won not only national acclaim, but actually beat out titans from Champagne in at least one competition in Europe!  The resulting victory lead to a famous poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, entitled “Ode to Catawba Wine.” (I’m thinking this poem may be the subject of a dramatic reading in Season 2.) However, by the late 1850’s, black rot and powdery mildew had destroyed much of these vineyards, and the viticultural center of Ohio had moved to the region surrounding Lake Erie, where at the time, 33,000 acres of grapes and 161 wineries flourished.  Alas, like in other states, the grim specter of Prohibition ended this idyll, and to survive, most vineyards were converted to the growing of Concord for juice production–some vineyards dating to this period, such as Meier’s Wine Cellars survive today in this mode. By 1963, only 27 wineries survived, with only half making wine from Ohio-grown grapes.  The state was ripe for a renaissance.

Oddly, compared to other states we’ve explored in the course of our podcast, Ohio never needed farm winery legislation to aid that renaissance.  Instead, two major organizations devoted to viticulture jump-started this transition.  The first was the Ohio Wine Producers Organization; the second was the Ohio Grape Industries Program.  Both of these groups have catapulted Ohio wine to the impending super-stardom where the industry lurks at this time. Today, the state of Ohio has over 290 wineries, located within Five distinct American Viticultural Areas: the Lake Erie AVA, the Isle St. George AVA, the Ohio River Valley AVA, the Grand River Valley AVA, and lastly the Loramie Creek AVA.  Producing over 3,582,902 gallons, Ohio is (as of 2016) actually ranked 6th in the US in terms of wine production, and 8th in terms of total acreage under vine. Wine Enthusiast actually recently wrote an article about why Ohio wine is something to look out for, as well, so winemakers in the state are making some noise.

This bottle was kindly provided to the Make America Grape Again Podcast by the winemaker himself, Joe Juniper. I reached out to him after a kind couple in the tasting room I work for in Arizona mentioned that Vermilion Valley Vineyards was their favorite winery in the state. Thank you again, kind sir for your contribution, and for joining in on our podcast!

A sparkling wine in the oldest tradition, the En Plein Air from Vermilion Valley Vineyards starts our journey into Ohio Wine.

Episode 29: New Jersey

Welcome to Episode 29 of the Make America Grape Again Podcast, where we return to the Mid-Atlantic region and visit the Garden State. Our wine for this episode is the 2017 Outer Coastal Plain Blaufränkisch, from Tomasello Winery; this winery happens to be one of the oldest in New Jersey.

The history of New Jersey wine, as in so many places in the Mid-Atlantic States, begins with British colonization. In 1758, the Royal Society of Arts sought to incentivize agricultural innovation and cultivation in the North American colonies by offering a cash reward of 100 British pounds for the planting of vineyards and the production of “five tuns of red or white wine of acceptable quality,” and the wine produced equal “those Sorts of Wines now consumed in Great Britain.” In 1767, two men had been recognized by the society for their undertakings. William Alexander (the self-styled “Earl of Stirling,” which is a much cooler title than “Wine Monk”) informed the society in 1767 that he had planted 2,100 vines at his estate in Basking Ridge, located in what is now Somerset County in central New Jersey.  Sterling reported that his plantings were “chiefly Burgundy, Orleans, Black, White and Red Frontiniac, Muscadine, Portugals, and Tokays.”  Edward Antill, another colonial grower, advised the society that he had a vineyard of 800 vines of Madeira, Burgundy, and Frontenac grapes as well as a few “Sweet-water Grape vines, and of the best sort of the Native Vines of America by way of tryal.” The award was split between the two, but their work did not lead to any sort of long term success or the establishment of a thriving industry for viticulture in the state.  This instead had to wait until the 19th century, when New Jersey was again recognized for its suitability for growing grapes, largely by new German immigrants to the area. In 1859, an agricultural society was organized in Egg Harbor City and tested over forty different grape varietals for local cultivation.

However, as in so many places, Prohibition killed most of the wine industry in New Jersey, except for one winery that received an exemption to produce medicinal wines.  At the end of Prohibition, legislation was enacted in New Jersey that limited a winery license to one winery per million people; effectively limiting the number of wineries in the state to seven; one of these was Tomasello.  The industry here remained largely stagnant until 1981, when the state legislature passed the New Jersey Farm Winery Act, which sought to facilitate a rebirth for the state’s wine industry by exempting low-volume family-owned wineries from these restrictions, and also allowed wineries to create outlet stores. This act effectively allowed anyone with a minimum of three acres and 1,200 vines to apply for a winery license, which began the meteoric rise to the state of the industry today.

Today, New Jersey is home to over 48 wineries, spread across the state, with over 1,043 acres devoted to the cultivation of grapes. New Jersey also has three AVAs spread throughout the state, though only two of these have wineries and vineyards planted in them. The odd one out here is the Central Delaware Valley AVA, which covers includes 96,000 acres surrounding the Delaware River north of Philadelphia; on the New Jersey side, its southern border is near Titusville. At this time, all of the wineries in this AVA are located on the Pennsylvania side of the river.  The oldest planted AVA located in New Jersey is the Warren Hills AVA, which was created in regulation in 1988. Roughly 100 acres (with 5 wineries) are planted with grapes in this AVA, with a primary focus upon French-American Hybrid varietals. Currently, there are 5 wineries in the Warren Hills AVA.  In terms of vineyards, however, the Outer Coastal Plain AVA is the heart of the New Jersey Wine scene. The Outer Coastal Plain, created in 2007, is home to over 28 wineries and covers over 2.25 million acres in Southeastern New Jersey. (I couldn’t find a total number of vineyard acreage for this AVA, however.)

This bottle of the 2017 Outer Coastal Plain Blaufränkisch was acquired by my fellow wine junkie and podcast cohort Megan (@venivididrinki on Twitter) from the winery tasting room, specifically for this podcast. Thanks, Megan! In other news, the Make America Grape Again podcast now has a Patreon!  Check it out at https://www.patreon.com/TheMakeAmericaGrapeAgainPodcast if you are interested in supporting the podcast.

New Jersey episode 1
The 2017 Outer Coastal Plain Blaufränkisch, from Tomasello Winery, provides our introduction to the wine scene in the state of New Jersey