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Fruits of his labor

Melissa Topey • Aug 27, 2014 at 2:40 PM

As a boy he would follow around his mother, who worked as a winetender at Hermes Winery.

He’d tag along as often as possible, doing what he could to learn the vintner’s way.

And at the ripe old age of 10, he started making wine under the guidance of family members, all of them wine-lovers.

So, yes, Joseph Fowler always knew he’d own a winery some day.

The 22-year-old Sandusky native can now call himself a vineyard owner. On Nov. 1, he became a partner at Vermilion Valley Vineyards in Wakeman, at the request of owners Jack and Fran Baumann and David Benzing, a botanist and beloved professor who retired from teaching biology at Oberlin College.

“It’s exciting,” Fowler said. “They’re putting a lot of trust in me”

About 5 years ago, Fowler found his way to Vermilion Valley Vineyard, where he became a pupil of Benzing, who mentored him and groomed him to cultivate a vineyard.

They meshed well, to the point they’re almost the same person, Fowler said, possessing similar views on most everything.

“I did not expect this to come this quick” Fowler said.

Fowler is the youngest person in Ohio to own a stake in a winery, said Donniella Winchell, executive director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association.

“Hurray for another generation,” Winchell said. “He is smart with good opinions and he is committed. I am excited for them”

The winery’s transitions these days aren’t limited to matters of ownership.

Henrietta Township voters approved the Sunday sales of wine, allowing Vermilion Valley Vineyards to begin offering Sunday wine sales.

“We are one of the few wineries that will be open on Sunday” Fowler said. “We would have tourists stop by on Sunday as they left the area. It killed me — I had to tell them it was illegal for me to serve them”

The owners are also building a beautiful pavilion on a grassy knoll, with a pond nearby for weddings and special events.

“Everybody wants to have a wedding here,” Fowler said. “We’d have temporary tents set up outside, or we would shut down to outside business, which was not fair to walk-in’s”

The project should be ready sometime in June. The winery has already booked an event for June 21.

Another big change: A considerable push over the next year to solicit restaurants and bars to sell Vermilion Valley Vineyard wines.

“I have huge visions and dreams” Fowler said.

Fran Baumann said they’re excited about Fowler coming in as a partner.

No matter what changes are in store, it all comes down to the grape, Fowler said.

Vermilion Valley Vineyards is one of the few vineyards that grow the old-world European varieties, which Fowler said are some of the highest-quality grapes.

That, of course, makes for some of the best wine in the area.

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