5 Must-Visit Ohio Valley Wineries
I visited my first Ohio Valley winery back in 1977. I knew little about wine at the time, but even in my blissful ignorance I recognized that the wines I was drinking were not very good. Well, things have improved to the point that I can point to a few wineries that are making exceptional and even world-class wine.
I have admittedly not visited all the wineries clustered along the river, but I have been to enough that I can offer an informed list of at least five that simply must be explored.
Shade Winery — Appalachian Region
Owner and winemaker Neal Dix completed he licensing process and the winery was bonded in 2004. He then opened a beautiful little tasting room in 2010. Dix also planted just over two acres of vines that include a mix of vinifera (European varietals) and hybrids. Using a combination of estate and sourced fruit, Dix is producing a lineup of extremely respectable wines.
One of the striking features of Shade Winery is the wine-country feel that is achieved on a property just minutes from Athens, Ohio. The experience and wine quality are two reasons to stop in and lend support to producer doing great things in an area largely overlooked as a wine producing region.
Caesar Creek Vineyards — Ohio River Valley Region
This is a winery that completely changed my outlook on cold-hearty hybrid grapes. Owner Walter Borda hired a complete novice to make his wine with unbelievable results. Trisha Chalfant entered the winemaking world armed with an undergraduate degree in chemistry and a graduate degree from Ohio State in horticulture. What she has achieved using grapes like Frontenac, Foch, Cayuga, Seyval Blanc and Traminette is nothing short of remarkable.
Located midway between Dayton and Washington Court House, this is another of those wineries located in a very nontraditional location, but don't let that stop you from checking them out. If you find yourself anywhere in the vicinity or you are looking for a weekend road trip destination, make this one of your stops.
Olde Schoolhouse Vineyard and Winery — Ohio River Valley Region
I asked someone with intimate knowledge of Ohio wineries to recommend some top producers in Southern Ohio. The reply contained only two vineyards. Olde Schoolhouse was one of them and with good reason. Mark Zdobinski and Jim Meeks partnered on a venture that intended to produce quality, boutique wines and have met with stunning success. Zdobinski had no professional winemaking experience before his present gig, but you would never guess based on the quality of his product.
Quality of the wine is only one reason to visit. Zdobinski and Meeks converted a 19th-century schoolhouse into a tasting room/production facility. It is a very charming little venue sitting amid the sprawling farmland near Eaton, Ohio. Everything about Olde Schoolhouse screams "visit." Show them some love and put this on your short list of Ohio wineries.
Valley Vineyards — Ohio River Valley Region
This is the winery I visited in 1977 at a time when Valley Vineyards was best known for Concord wines. Much has changed in the last 40 years. Today Valley is growing vinifera (European varietals) and high-quality hybrids in the largest vineyard in southern Ohio. The moderating influence of the Ohio River allows those grapes to adequately ripen and the result is truly world-class wines produced just a few miles from Cincinnati.
Producing something in the order of 25,000 cases annually, Valley is the largest producer on this list and experienced the larges volume of visitors. Don't be put off by that. Customer experience is not impacted and this is winery has something for nearly every palate. This is definitely a must-visit winery.
Meranda-Nixon Winery — Ohio River Valley Region
I saved the best for last.
I am frequently reminded that Northeastern Ohio produces the state's best wine. Despite that oft-echoed claim, Meranda-Nixon is likely the best wine producer in the Buckeye State. Owner/winegrower Seth Meranda is an extremely talented grower with an intimate understanding of his craft. In addition to his viticultural skill, Meranda is also a naturally gifted winemaker. Those two abilities come together at this boutique winery north of Ripley, Ohio to produce world-class wines using a combination of estate-grown vinifera and hybrid varietals.
If I was going to recommend only one Ohio winery, Meranda-Nixon would be the one. You simply must visit this winery and explore the entire tasting menu.
A little-known fact is that in the 19th Century the Ohio River Valley was the largest American wine-producing region. The industry went into decline after a series of fungal infections, for which there were not remedies at that time, decimated the vineyards. The industry never completely recovered, but there is a precedent for wine growing in Southern Ohio. It is a region that definitely needs to be explored and as you make your way through some of the wineries, I would love to hear your thoughts.