Winemaking has a long history in Lake Erie and in Ohio. But it isn't the past that interests winemakers and state officials so much as the burgeoning present.
Winemaking in Ohio has been in resurgence since the 1960s, said Christy Eckstein, executive director of the Ohio Grape Industries Committee.
The growth has accelerated in recent years, she said.
"We have for the last 24 months seen approximately two new wineries open per month in the state," she said.
Ohio had 80 wineries in 2006 and now has 150.
"We've almost doubled in the past nine years," she said.
In 2007, Ohio winemakers produced more than 850,000 gallons of wine valued at $75 million.
The state tried to give the wine industry a boost when it awarded 19 Ohio grape growers $2,000 grants this summer under the Vineyard Expansion Assistance Program, allowing growers to plant 19 additional acres. The money came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Specialty Crop Block Grant program.
None of the grants went to local wineries, but another $40,000 of federal grant money has become available and will be awarded later this year, Eckstein said.
More vineyards are needed in Ohio, said Salvador, 53, an Italy native who lives in Danbury Township.
"We do not have enough vineyards on the ground to meet the demand of the market right now," Salvador said.
Salvador and a partner are the owners of Lonz Inc., the parent company of the Firelands, Mon Ami, Lonz, Mantey and Dover wine brands, producing 104 different wine labels and 180,000 to 200,000 gallons of wine each year. Firelands is one of the biggest wind producers in Ohio, if not the biggest, Salvador said.
Firelands, located at 917 Bardshar Road in Sandusky, is an estate winery -- it produces wine from grapes it grows itself. It has 52 acres of vineyards on North Bass Island and another five acres on the mainland.
Firelands also quietly produces wines that other local wineries sell under their own label.
Gesturing toward boxes loaded on pallets at his winery, Salvador says, "This is about to go out for other wineries around here. I'm not going to tell you who they are."
Many wineries in Ohio essentially are bars, but Firelands is a complete winery that has won numerous awards, Salvador notes.
"We are more of a California style winery," he said.
Firelands is a regional winery which sells its wine in states such as Michigan, Minnesota and Kentucky.
But the real growth for Firelands has been in selling its wines in Ohio, spurred on by the local food movement.
"There has been a lot of going back to the roots moment. A lot of chefs like to use an Ohio product," said Salvador, who said his wines are served in many fine restaurants in Columbus.
Ohio is a particularly good place to grow wine grapes for white wine, Salvador said.
"The white wine from Ohio you can put against any variety in the world ... we can compete against the big boys," he said.
Red wine production is "very much dependent on the weather," but this year's hot summer has been very good for red wine grapes.
"We are going to have some great red wine this year," he said.
Wineries in Erie and Ottawa counties
1. Heineman's Winery, Put-in-Bay, www.heinemanswinery.com.
2. Mon Ami Winery and Restaurant, Port Clinton, www.monamiwinery.com.
3. Paper Moon Vineyards, Vermilion, www.papermoonvineyards.com.
4. Quarry Hill Winery & Orchard, Berlin Heights, www.quarryhillwinery.com.
5. E & K Winery, Sandusky, www.eandkwinery.com.
6. Firelands Winery, Sandusky, www.firelandswinery.com.
7. Hermes Vineyards and Winery, Sandusky, www.hermesvineyards.com.
8. Classico, Huron.