Sunday, August 31, 2014


Wine craftsman Arnie Esterer of Conneaut, Ohio, runs Markko Vineyard, an experimental winery and is a true Midwest wine pioneer who uses spontaneous fermentations, cellar molds, and risky sur lee barrel aging. In Ohio’s Lake Erie appellation, Esterer is the expert to whom everyone turns for advice on growing grapes and making wine at his Conneaut Creek winery. Esterer runs a humble winery where the winemaker is a servant who goes with what the Earth yields. No-frills and heartfelt hospitality reflects Arnie’s feeling that “Wine doesn’t have to be aristocratic.” During Markko’s annual Christmas potluck, Arnie treated everyone to white, pink, and red sparkling wines to celebrate the season. Above the tasting counter, the wooden plaque reads “Gladden the Heart,” a motto that runs through the winery. Born in Germany but raised in Ann Arbor, Esterer graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in Economics and an MBA. He served in the US Navy and engineered for Union Carbide for close to 20 years. Living in the Lake Erie region, he was surrounded by grapes and wine-making. “Everyone was a home winemaker in 1967,” he mused on a recent Friday afternoon while we enjoyed his fish soup with Chardonnay. As we talked about those early days, he said “everyone was growing their own grapes and sharing their product with friends and family back then.” Esterer began making his own wine and was so passionate about it that his wife Katie said he should start working in a winery. In the 1960s, he read American Wines and How to Make Them, a book by Philip Wagner who founded Maryland’s Boordy Vineyards. The book discussed how the cross between labrusca and vinifera wines creates vines that can withstand harsh climates and yield European-style wines, and by 1936, Wagner had introduced hybrid grapes to his vineyards. Esterer was intrigued. In his quest to learn more about wine making, he was also conferring with Doug Moorhead of Presque Isle Wine Cellars, who purchased French hybrid vines from Wagner and vinifera vines from Dr. Konstantin Frank in New York. Esterer became intrigued. He wanted to grow vinifera grapes as well. He contacted Dr. Frank, and in October 1967, Arnie pressed wine with Dr. Frank and other experts from Cornell University. It was then that he was inspired to plant a vineyard. He and partner Tim Hubbard who died in 2000, purchased 130 acres of land on scalloped Lake Erie region countryside. Arnie learned that site selection requires a prospective vineyard owner to “choose a place with remnants of wild grapes.” In the Spring of 1968, Esterer and Hubbard asked Dr. Frank to send them 2000 vines; Dr. Frank shipped them 500, probably knowing that’s all they could handle. Working diligently and ever concerned about quality and good methodology, Esterer was rewarded with the AWS Award of Merit in 1997 and was profiled in a 1974 Esquire magazine as one of the four great winemakers in the United States. Anyone who meets him, just loves Arnie. Whenever I see him, his number-one priority is making me happy--whether it's answering my questions, making sure I taste his latest Chardonnay vintage, or checking to see if I need some more cheese. Over and over again, what I hear from his fellow vintners is how much they learned from Arnie. I hope they learned more than how to make wine.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Vermilion Tour

One of the easiest trails from Cleveland is the Vermilion Valley tour. Paper Moon, Vermilion Valley, and Matus Winery are only minutes from each other, and they highlight how every winery provides a unique experience. Paper Moon has a new Old World feel with its high ceilings, large fireplace, and casual patio near the vineyards where music is heard in the summer and a bonfire blazes in the fall. Vermilion Valley makes a statement with its A-line building on a hill overlooking a pond and rows upon rows of vineyards, while inside, the clean lines of the minimalist architecture complement the business of wine tasting. And at Matus, the oldest of the three wineries, the rugged interior invites parties for people who like wine but aren't quite as serious about it. The three winemakers are as different as the wineries, and their
personalities are reflected in the space provided for people to enjoy their wines. You'll find the wines to be better than expected, but that might be because you haven't tried the estate-bottled and handcrafted wines available only at our local wineries.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

And Next -- Ohio's Canal Country Wineries

I launched into deep research for my next book by spending a couple days at Gervasi Vineyards in Canton, an amazing Tuscan village on an old tree farm within city limits. Gervasi is a destination winery, as is Breitenbach, where I met with the impressive owner who showed me his winemaking operations. Paul and I visited wineries in Dover, Atwater, and Coschocton, some that grow their own grapes and others that don't, but all with the same passion I found when I wrote "Ohio's Lake Erie Wineries." More details about the wineries I recently discovered and weekend winetasting trips can be found here, until I create space of its own for the next book.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


I'm looking for fellow wineries explorers to join me on weekends over the coming months.  Our mission:  to learn as much as we can about the Canal Trail wineries of Ohio.  Come along with me as I research my next book.  Any takers?  Send me an

Friday, November 9, 2012

Upcoming Book Signings

Coming up on Winter again, the harvest over, we hope this winter will be kinder to our grapes than last winter was. An early spring followed by a frost hurt last year's crop, but the warm summer created some really great juice for next year's wines.

I'm going to make the most of winter by planning a wineries tour for mid-January. This should stave off the winter blues. Until then, find me and my books (which make great Christmas gifts) at Laurello Vineyards in the Geneva area on November 17 from 12-5PM; at Markko Winery in Conneaut from 11AM-6PM on December 1; and at Quarry Hill in Berlin Heights from 2:30-6:30PM on December 8.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Silver Lining Riesling

Silver Lining Dry Riesling was released at Paper Moon Winery on Thursday, March 8th. Last summer, Adam Cawrse (winemaker), visited Canada to attend a Reisling conference, and he was inspired to try some new techniques. Only 139 cases of their Silver Lining wine was made available, and we were able to try some during the September wine tasting. The Riesling grapes in this wine were hand-picked from Ohio vineyards in the Lake Erie appellation. The grapes were crushed, lightly pressed, and juice was pumped to a tank for cold settling where it fermented for 3-1/2 weeks. The wine is exceptional with pear, melon, and citrus flavors. It is a great wine, and if you get there soon, you can try it! Paper Moon is on Route 60 in Vermilion.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

No One But Hermes Would Dare . . .

To grow 25 varieties of grapes on land near Lake Erie in Sandusky.  The first vineyards were planted at Hermes Vineyards & Winery in 2002, ten years ago.  A country drive south on Route 4 in Sandusky travels through lush farm country not far from Lake Erie’s shores.   Hermes Vineyards, surrounded by wild flowers, hosts wine tastings in an old threshing barn with a dilapidated silo.  But don’t be fooled by its rustic interior—the barn has been restored into an intimate spot in which to enjoy Ohio wines from European-style vinifera grapes. 
The wine list contains no grapes native to Ohio, no Catawbas or Concords or anything other varieties enjoyed in the area during Ohio’s early winemaking days before the Prohibition. The super-peppery Grenache and the award-winning 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon can make this wine maker proud.  As can the amazing variety of wines. White wines include the well-made Semillon and true German Gewurztraminer and Reisling. Unlike most white wines, the Sauvignon Blanc is semi-sweet.  The red wines include grapes originating in Spain, like the Tempranillo, some from France--French Petit Verdot and Merlot--and Italian vines including Sangiovese and Nebbiolo.  The Sandusky vineyards contain only vinifera grapes--Italian, Spanish, Rhone, and Burgundy grapes are brought in from nurseries after the owner studies the clones. The grapes include Vignior, Alianco, Sangiovese, Nebiola, Cabernet, Tarilea, and Reisling. 

Owner Dr. David Kraus's mother’s family grew grapes in Germany’s Moselle Valley where the Hermes family still grows grapes today.Formerly known as Sand Hill Winery, its name was changed to Hermes Winery to solve the confusion raised by the name of the vineyards, which has always been Hermes.