Wine winners

BERLIN HEIGHTS They're finally seeing the fruits of their labor. Two area
Annie Zelm
May 24, 2010



They’re finally seeing the fruits of  their labor.

Two area wineries earned the stamp of approval from the state for their high quality wines made from grapes grown in their backyards.

Firelands Winery, 917 Bardshar Road, and Quarry Hill Orchard & Winery, 8304 Mason Road in Berlin Heights, represented two of the13 statewide winners of the 2008 Ohio Quality Wine awards.

Claudio Salvador, co-owner of Firelands Winery, said the awards represent the best locally-grown wines the state has to offer and provides an incentive for vineyard growers to increase production.

“Before Prohibition, Ohio was No. 1 in the country for wine,” said Salvador, who manages Ohio’s oldestsurviving winery with the highest production in the state. “Now,we’re trying to catch up.”

The program issues seals to a variety of winning wines, signifying to consumers that the product is made from Ohio grapes and has passed a number of chemical analyses and taste tests.

“Ohio’s wine industry is now the fourth largest in the eastern United States and receives high marks nationally and internationally for excellence, but many Ohioans don’t know about the availability and quality of wines made right in their own backyards,” Ohio Agriculture director Robert Boggs said in a news release. “The Ohio Quality Wine Program will help make these products more available to customers and will educate about the high quality of Ohio wines.”

 The owners of the award-winning wineries were recognized by Boggs and the governor during a recent ceremony.

Firelands Winery earned its award for its Cabernet Franc, a fragrant, dry red wine with a soft texture and spicy overtones.

It’s just one of the 18 varieties the winery processes. On Wednesday, glass bottles traveled along an assembly line at the winery to be rinsed, air-dried and injected with swift shots of White Catawba. Moving further down the row, they are capped, sealed and carefully packaged by workers. The winery produces about 7,000 bottles this way each day, Salvador said. Beneath the surface, dozens of 400-pound wooden barrels store fermenting wines in a dim, stone cellar laced with cobwebs. Depending on the variety, the wine will sit here for several years before it is ready.

The cellar and the fermenting process have not changed much since the winery was built in 1880, Salvador said — but technology certainly has.

With assembly operations running smoothly, he said he’s putting more emphasis today on quality control in the vineyards.

“We’re getting better fruit exposure, better pruning — and adjusting the wine with more acidity or sugar to make it more appealing,” he said. “My philosophy is you treat your wine like a newborn, like a child — give it direction, be there to correct it if it’s not right and be aware that wine is very temperamental ... it’s an art, and you have to go into it with an artistic mind.”

Unlike its longtime legacy at Firelands, the industry of wine-making is still a blossoming endeavor for Quarry Hill Orchard, which added a 3-acre vineyard three years ago.

The winery there earned the Ohio Quality Wine seals for its Vidal Blanc and Vidal Blanc Ice Wine, a tantalizing, dessert-style drink made from frozen grapes to give it a more concentrated flavor.

“I’m honored,” Quarry Hill Orchards & Vineyard owner Mac McLelland said while in the process of thinning his grapevines to weed out the less-viable grapes, paving the way for the heartier fruits to become more developed. “It’s nice to be recognized for your hard work.”

McLelland said it may take some time to familiarize customers with the relatively new concept of the Ohio Quality Wines seal. The seal makes no guarantee of the wine’s popularity, but can be a good indicator for those who don’t get the chance to taste the wine before buying it.

“Everyone’s taste is different,” he said, “but the seal is a way to say it was tested by panels of judges, who guarantee its quality.”