Grape Growers and Wine Makers Improve Vintage Plans

Listen to the Story

Although cold weather lingers, hundreds of grape growers and wine makers are exploring new ways to cultivate their best crop. The Ohio Grape and Wine Conference at the 4-H Center is being held on the OSU campus.

Experts on making and storing wine give their advice to more than 200 vineyard growers and wine makers. Not all of the growers are from Ohio. The number of licensed wineries in Ohio has jumped by more than 70 percent in the last 5 years. Currently there are 148 wineries statewide. Aaron Heilers of Shelby County about an hour and a half west of Columbus owns 1 acre of property he wants to turn into a vineyard.

“Right now we’re talking about diseases and pests so I’ve got a lot of reading up to do. But I’m looking forward to it,” said Heilers.

When he’s at full production, Heilers expects to grow 6 tons of grapes. Heilers says he will work the vineyard when he is not at his day job.

Several other conference goers are diving into the vineyard business after starting out their careers in another field. Todd Woofter was a basket maker but was laid off years ago. That’s when he got a bachelors degree in horticulture and now works as a vineyard manager in Canton.

“I always had an interest in trees, plants, shrubs, outdoor gardening things like that. I was actually called for the job. Somebody said would you like to apply to be a vineyard manager,” said Woofter.

Woofter says his company now has 3800 vines and will be planting another thousand this year.

“The Marquette and the Frontenac are Minnesota varieties so they’re a little bit more cold hardy for our region. Usually you start to get damage anywhere below 15 degrees,” explained Woofter.

29 year old Patricia Chalfant started out in Biology, but is now a graduate student in viticulture, the study of growing wine grapes.

“It’s a really exciting new industry here. A lot of people don’t know about it, that Ohio is even involved in this sort of thing. I think there’s a lot of potential to really educate a lot of people to get them a little bit more familiar with what’s being grown really within probably half an hour of their house,” said Chalfant.

Other areas of the country are paying attention to Ohio’s growing number of vineyards. President and Founder of Vinters Global Reserve in Washington state, Andy Brassington set up a distribution facility in Steubenville for the wine bottles his company manufactures.

“Ohio is one of the rapidly growing wine regions in America. There are a lot of wineries here. There are small family owned businesses, medium sized and that’s exactly the size of winery we service out in the Pacific Northwest,” said Brassington.

While winery start-ups are gaining popularity in Ohio, it’s not cheap. Essential equipment pieces like sorting tables, stemmer crushes, a europress and tanks can cost up to $70,000.