Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Time to Hit the Wine Trails!

It's Time to Hit the Wineries Trails!
On the Wines and Vines trail along Lake Erie east of Cleveland, you're in a historic wine district along the shores of the lake in New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. What makes the Lake Erie Appellation unique is the temperate climate that allows viticulturists to grow vinifera Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, and Chardonnay grapes, as well as Vignoles, Baco Noir, and Lemberger varieties. Notable wineries that make bottle estate-grown wines are Klingshirn, Vermilion Valley, Quarry Hill, Tarsitano, and Markko. The experience of tasting wine ranges from standing in bottle storage room, sitting by a cozy fire by with a view of Lake Erie, or eating a sausage and cheese plate at a picnic table. The Lake Erie Islands are known to have the longest growing season in the Eastern United States. Half of Isle Saint George, also known as North Bass Island, is covered by grapes. Gewurtztraminer, Riesling, and many other grapes grow hardy on the island. Catawba and Delaware grapes have been cultivated on the low, flat island since its settlement in the first half of the nineteenth century. Firelands Winery, one of Ohio’s largest, and Heineman’s, Ohio’s longest continuously-operating winery, use Isle St. George grapes. No wineries exist on North Bass Island. The Finger Lakes region lies south of the Lake Erie region, but the great lakes from New York and into Indiana.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Too long since I posted, way . . .

Too Long. But in the last couple of years I produced a new book--Ohio's Canal Country Wineries, another Arcadia book. Find out more about that book at my website: . Over 40 wineries follow a trail from Cuyahoga Falls to Coshocton and out towards Youngstown, the Western Reserve farmlands. This is not wine country, but it is farm country, and they're growing grapes today. The new book acts as a guidebook, taking people along on weekend journeys or weekday escapes. I hope you like that book as well as you liked the first one. And if you want to learn more about Ohio wines, check out Pairings -- Ohio's Wine & Culinary Experience, in Geneva. Learn how to properly use knives or the nuances of tasting wine, or attend one of their dinners where food is professional paired with wines. Their job is to provide you with experiences that enhance your appreciation of Ohio wines, which is why they are unveiling a new Wine Club. Find out more at . I hope to meet you on the wine trails!

Check out Chancellor Wine at Kosicek Winery in Geneva

The first time I had Chancellor Wine, a deep red, usually made dry, wine from French hybrid grapes, I was in the New York Finger Lakes, on Cayuga Lake, about 20 years ago. Now I've found an excellent rendition of the wine at Kosicek Winery in Harpersfield. Find out more about this great winery, which grew out of a long vineyard tradition, at I'm looking forward to buying more Chancellor and enjoying their warm and cozy dining room.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Continuing the Tradition

Today, after buying 500 vines a year in the intervening years, Arnie has 45-50 acres are planted but he lost his vines in 2014. How Arnie Esterer will carry on after that loss is hard to know. Of the various hybrids tried, the only one that remained was Chambourcin, which does not contain diglycerides and is free of phylloxera, the root louse that caused the demise of European vineyards in the late 1800s. Esterer prefers to grow the great wine grapes—Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Cabernet, and Pinot Noir. Ever concerned about quality, he is ardent about Lake Erie’s reputation. He believes that “if the region is known by hybrids, we’ll be known for second-rate wine.” Markko Vineyards has a 2000-case capacity and produces at least 1000 cases annually. The Markko trellising system, which is shown on Markko Vineyard’s website, features the raising of the bi-lateral cordon to 54 inches to help grapes survive severe winters. With four spur-cane fruiting positions on the arms of the trellis, it becomes a no-tie system that allows the fruiting canes to droop as buds break and shoots grow. In a teaching voice, Esterer writes on the website, “The higher cordon adds benefits of a warmer micro-climate spring, fall and winter, better air flow and leaf exposure, more ergonomic canopy management and picking zone, open foliage for better spray penetration, and most importantly requires no tying of fruiting canes. The only spring tying required depends on securing trunks and cordon arms to the trellis wire.” Arnie does not use pesticides on his grapes, to allow natural, organic, bacterial fermentation. He uses only natural yeast. Esterer interferes with the fermentation as little as possible. He filters only if necessary, and he filters with egg whites, a method called “fining,” if the wine has too much tanninsFining smoothes out the wines. The cellar, which mimics Dr. Frank’s on Keuka Lake, is at 40 degrees for two months every winter, which takes down the acid in the cellar and acts as a cold stabilizer. The juice ferments in the barrels for three or more years, 6-7 years of fermentation for sparkling wines, to achieve the maximum amount of body to the wine and achieve the “in the mouth” balance of salt, sugar, acidity, astringency, and roundness. One of the key ingredients of the Markko cellar is black mold. “Mold is essential in the wine cellar,” Esterer says. Anyone serious about winemaking should keep an eye on Arnie Esterer at Markko Vineyard. He models the idea of allowing the Earth give back to us, the harvest to provide just what is needed, and the wine to ferment in a way that yields a flavor as varied as the colors of the sunset. “Customers need to see how wines are made,” Esterer advises. “Winemaking is an art because it sells like art.” Customers should like and appreciate the winemaker. At Markko Vineyard, Arnie Esterer’s love of winemaking gladdens the heart.

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.