When you think of red wine country in the USA, you probably envision lush rolling fields of grape arbors in California, Oregon and Washington. You should also think of the location that initially put American winemaking on the international map: Ohio.
Yes, Ohio. Political leader, lender, and winemaker Nicholas Longworth is considered the daddy of the American red wine industry. Longworth’s champagne– made from Catawba grapes that delighted in Cincinnati’s abundant hillside soil along the Ohio River– was extremely popular throughout the nation and in Europe in the early to mid-1800s.
While California ultimately ended up being the leader in U.S. white wine production, Ohio remains the 6th largest white wine producer in the nation. Some 400 white wine produces end up 1.2 million gallons– that’s 500,000 cases– of red wine each year. Plus, the Ohio Grape Industries Committee keeps in mind Ohio wineries represent more than 8,000 fulltime tasks, supply more than $1.3 billion in economic impact, and bring in 1.2 million tourists each year.
Those wineries have up until Friday, Nov. 4, to make an application for a perk round of the state’s Vineyard Expansion Assistance Program.
Expansion, or sustaining?
About an hour up the roadway from where Longworth grew his red wine fortune, Eddie McDonald looks at a little field of Marquette grape vines that welcome guests on their way in. McDonald and his spouse, Beth, opened Hanover Winery in their backyard in Hanover Area in between Oxford and Hamilton 14 years back.
“What that is black rot,” he states, pointing to shriveled black clumps of dead grapes on vines rapidly turning yellow. “We had an actually terrific crop for Marquette, but that likewise brought a lot of rain (and) rain brings black rot, downy mold, powdery mildew and other things we have to fight in Ohio with grapes. What you see still hanging is what we didn’t pick since the quantity of black rot on it simply ruined the item.”
As discouraging as that sounds, the real issue is on the vines out back.
“We were struck 4 years in a row with a chemical called dicamba from the farmers around us. It pretty much eliminated six-and-a-half acres of vineyard,” McDonald describes.
A young vine planting at Hanover Winery. [Tana Weingartner/ WVXU]
The winery’s vineyard is mainly surrounded by farmland. Neighboring farmers employ agriculture companies to spray their crops and often those herbicides drift beyond the crops, ending up being overspray that eliminates grape vines. Wineries can register their areas on a database so spray business understand to be careful, however that only does so much, and it’s not like grape growers could cover or camping tent acres of vines even if they knew when a company planned to spray.
Hanover Winery in 2015 obtained and got funding through the Vineyard Growth Help Program to acquire brand-new vines. They’re using again this year, too.
“Some of the vines we thought we could save from being oversprayed didn’t make it another year, so we’re completing ours. We’re not truly broadening our vineyard,” McDonald clarifies. “We’re really completing all the locations that we don’t have any product growing.”
How the program works
The Vineyard Expansion Help Program is a reward task produced by the Ohio Grape Industries Committee (OGIC). It assists wineries establish themselves or broaden their organization with seed money to purchase new vines.
“We have 400 licensed white wine manufacturers in the state, however only about 1,200 acres of grapes being grown,” describes Christy Eckstein, executive director. “There’s a need for more grapes to be grown to assist produce more Ohio wines from ground to glass.”
Wineries apply for the financing, and if accepted, they will be compensated. Eckstein says it’s a two-fold procedure: wineries undergo a pre-planting and a post-planting evaluation by a state viticulture group.
“A person comes out and talk with the candidate about the location, what their strategies are for the grapes, looks at the soil, the climate for that area, what types of grapes are going to appropriate for growing there, and likewise speaks to them about devices and their long-lasting intend on whether they’re preparing to grow grapes and offer to fellow wineries or if, down the road, their strategies are to develop their own winery,” she says. Essentially, “getting a great idea of what their business plans are for the future.”
The important things with vines is it takes a while to get a functional crop. Sure, the vines may produce fruit the first year, but they will not be considered ready for winemaking for 3 to 5 years.
According to Eckstein, the program dates to 2008 when it utilized a USDA specialty crop block grant. When those funds went out, the company got the state of Ohio to enable the OGIC to help wineries with production expenditures. The program was reestablished in 2020. The grant process generally opens in June and funds are awarded in August. Eckstein states there were extra funds leftover this year, so the OGIC opened up an extra round.
Last year the program was broadened to allow growers to apply for funding to replace vines harmed through no fault of their own– acts of nature, chemical oversprays, and so on”Mostly we were seeing and receiving concerns from our growers as they were starting harvest. In September and October, they were seeing type of what a few of those losses may be. And we felt the need to state, hey, we’ll take those existing funds; reopened the program, permit them to use to change and or expand their vineyards.”
Eckstein reports the Vineyard Growth Support Program has actually handed out more than $111,000 since 2020, and another $82,500 is in the works.
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