I first met Arnie Esterer, winemaker and owner of Markko Vineyards in Conneaut, on our first Ohio wine country adventure. Arnie, with partner Tim Hubbard, started experimenting with European varietals and French-American hybrids in the late 1960s after purchasing one hundred acres of land, as instructed by Dr. Konstantin Frank of New York’s Finger Lakes. It’s easy to miss the stone gates on the edge of the woods on a dirt road. At the end of the drive is a dark weathered house with a non-descript entrance into a tasting room that opens onto a wooden deck. There are no pretences at Markko—it’s all about the wine. The chardonnays and cabernets at the boutique winery are the best in Ohio because they’re handcrafted and estate bottled, and Arnie admits that they are expensive. We always have some Markko wine in our wine cabinet, for special occasions.
When I gave Arnie an article I wrote about the winery, he gifted me a bottle of his Riesling, and when I told him I was writing a book about Ohio’s Lake Erie Wineries, he sat me down on his deck with a bottle of his Cabernet and shared his stories. Arnie’s the guru of winemakers in the Lake Erie Appellation, and other vintners like Ken Tarsitano will admit they learned how to trellis vines and craft a decent wine from Esterer. Arnie readily explains how the vines in our region must be kept three feet off the ground to prevent moisture that leads to rot. The dark cellar of stainless steel for his Rieslings and oak barrels for the Chardonnays and Cabernets remind me that the grapes become wine all on their own, and it’s the winemaker’s job to create an excellent, drinkable wine from the results. When we first stood at the counter in the tasting room and tasted dry wines with complimentary cheese, Markko became our favorite Ohio winery because Esterer wants to create the best wine possible from what the land offers, and he does. Read more in my Associated Content article published a few months ago.
Arnie's begun transitioning the winery operations to the next generation, but I have no fear that Arnie's philosophy and high quality wines are in danger of being lost in the transition. Arnie cares too much about leaving a trace to allow that to happen.