Ohio State Fair First: Wine, Beer

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This year the Ohio State Fair is selling alcohol for the first time in its 161 year history. Representatives of the state's beer and wine makers are selling their homegrown potables right next to vendors of Ohio corn, beef, pork, poultry and lamb.(Photo: Ally Marotti / WOSU)
This year the Ohio State Fair is selling alcohol for the first time in its 161 year history. Representatives of the state's beer and wine makers are selling their homegrown potables right next to vendors of Ohio corn, beef, pork, poultry and lamb.(Photo: Ally Marotti / WOSU)

This year the Ohio State Fair is selling alcohol for the first time in its 161 year history. Representatives of the state’s beer and wine makers are selling their homegrown potables right next to vendors of Ohio corn, beef, pork, poultry and lamb.

Upon entering the Taste of Ohio Cafe nestled near the middle of the Midway, a visitor sees banners announcing the availability of Ohio pork, corn, beef, poultry and lamb.

Finding the wine stand is more difficult. Tucked unannounced to the side of the circular building housing, the cafe sits a small display featuring Ohio made wines. Christie Eckstein is the executive director of the Ohio Grape Industries’ Committee. She said when the Committee began in 1981, Ohio counted about 30 wineries.

“We now have 150 wineries in the state,” she said. “We’ve grown by five times almost and with that though we’ve grown in the last 36 months by about one-and-a-half to two new wineries a month opening their doors.”

Eckstein said having a wine display at the fair gives consumers a chance to experiment with the vast array of Ohio wines.

“Our brand is ‘Ohio wines: Love at first sip’ and it’s really getting it into the mouths of the people and that’s what happening here is they’re pleasantly surprised at what it is that they get to taste,” Eckstein said.

While at the fair, the Ohio Grape Industries’ Committee is working with its neighbors in the cafe who sell corn along with beef, poultry, pork and lamb sandwiches. Cards with suggested wine pairings have been placed at each booth.

“There cabernet franc is suggested to go with our roasted lamb sandwich and their sparkling grape juice with our gyro,” said Quenton Vignernon.

The Ohio Sheep Association’s Quenton Vignernon mans the Lamb sandwich booth. He thinks the new display helps inform consumers about the quality of Ohio wines.

“I think Ohio wine’s definitely taking off a lot too. Here in the past it’s only been about the last four or five years or so that it’s really started to get big but I think people are starting to notice it a little and how good it is,” Vignernon said.

At the Ohio cattleman’s beef stand, vendor Betsy Grove agrees. She said wine sales in the cafe could be beneficial for all of the vendors.

“I believe it could be if some people are drawn in to test out the wine and then they realize that they’re suggesting to try it with specific foods it could help our sales as well,” Grove said.

Amy Crutchfield drove from Mansfield to Columbus specifically to attend the fair. She said she didn’t know when she got to the cafe that Ohio wine was available this year. It was the suggested wine pairings at another booth that tipped her off.

“I looked at one of those sample cards over at the beef area while I was waiting for my sandwich and then the person at the beef counter told me that they were sampling them over here,” Crutchfield said.

Worthington resident Valerie Kerbler made the wine display a definite destination when she came to the fair this year.

“I wanted to try something different,” she said. “We’re going up to Geneva-on-the-Lake this weekend and try Firelands Wine. We’ve been there before. We like their wine. ”

And it would seem many people like the idea of trying Ohio’s wine at the State Fair.

“We have had a huge, tremendous response,” said concessionaire Pam Cox. “Positive. Very, very positive today on the selling of wine at the State Fair.”

Ohio beers are also featured at the Fair this year. Beer is available at the Celeste Center during concerts and lottery events.

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