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Wineries developing a new generation of wine drinkers

By Matt Reese

Lee Wyse’s Rainbow Hills Winery was the 36th licensed winery in the state and he has watched his business grow as other wineries have come to the area. Now there are more than 140 wineries in Ohio generating more than $500 million.

Ohio has a long history of grape and wine production, particularly along the Ohio River and Lake Erie. As it turns out, Ohio is a great place for growing grapes.

The trouble in terms of wine is the grapes that readily grow in Ohio are sweet varieties that do not produce the fine dry wines revered around the world.

That is changing, however, as Ohio’s wineries have made great strides in recent years in vinifera grape production. The grapes are growing, the wines are improving, but changing Ohio’s reputation as a sweet wine state may take a while.

“Ohio still has a stigma for only having sweet wines,” said Bob Guilliams, owner of Raven’s Glenn Winery in Coshocton County. “People are reasonably open to the product once they try it and Ohio’s wine quality is improving every year, but the bar is set pretty high with Europe and California. We are facing this international standard and nothing happens fast with wine.”

One thing that is helping bolster the esteem of Ohio wines is the fact that more young people are exploring the world of wine that may not have some of the pre-conceived notions of wine as their older wine savvy counterparts.

“Around 60% of our customers at the winery are female, there are a lot of couples and they are getting younger, in their mid 20s. And we’re finding that our younger wine drinkers tend to be more sophisticated than some of our older customers,” Guilliams said. “Now young people can enjoy the explosion of great wines we are seeing from Ohio and around the world.”

The fact that younger people are gaining interest in wines is likely behind the tremendous success of Internet marketing for Raven’s Glenn.

“Everything revolves around what we do on the Internet,” Guilliams said. “We have a virtual winery tour on our Web site to show the customers what we do here. It is all about the customer’s experience here and the Internet has been a big part of that.”

As per capita wine consumption has been steadily increasing in the U.S., wine is finding its way into a broader cross section of society.

“We are building a generation of wine drinkers in this county,” said Lee Wyse, who owns Rainbow Hills Winery in Coshocton County. “Thirty or 40 years ago, it was only the very rich or the winos that drank wine. In the last 20 years, more people have started drinking wine and Ohio has been able to move into the wine industry very well.”

As the international awards pile up and the standing of Ohio wines grows in world stature, more people are seeking out wines with Ohio appellations. The number of Ohio wineries has grown from 124 in 2008 to 143 in 2010, and wine production increased nearly 500,000 gallons from 2006 to 2008. Ohio wine production now contributes more than $580 million to the state economy and creates 4,000 jobs with a payroll of $124 million. The growth of the industry has been so rapid that grapes are in high demand in Ohio.

“The winery growth in Ohio is way ahead of the grape production and it is a real growers market right now,” Wyse said. “Grape prices are very high.”

Around 150 to 180 gallons of juice are produced per ton of grapes and a gallon of juice produces 5 bottles of wine.

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