Grand River Valley AVA in Ohio producing first class wines? Absolutely!
The Grand River Valley AVA in Northeastern Ohio is a sub-appellation of the Lake Erie AVA. Similar to the Mosel, Bordeaux, and AVA’s in Northern California such as Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley, the Grand River Valley appellation benefits from the thermal effects of nearby water, in this case Lake Erie. If you imagine Ohio producing wines primarily from hybrid and Native American grapes, you’re in for a surprise. Plenty of vinifera is planted throughout this appellation. Todd Steiner (fellow wine judge, state Enologist to the Ohio commercial wine industry, and Enology Program Manager at Ohio State University) recently provided an enlightening tour around the Grand River Valley AVA. I was impressed with the vineyards, winemakers, and wines they are crafting.
St. Joseph Vineyards is owned by Art and Doreen Pietrzyk. Art is the winemaker, and confirms that this AVA typically enjoys a long growing season with warm days and cool nights; perfect for Pinot Noir and other vinifera grapes. Art and Doreen have several acres planted to Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese and Shiraz. Art, who hails from the world of engineering, has done an excellent job exploring and figuring out what grape varieties are best suited for the diverse microclimate of this region. Check out their website at www.stjosephvineyard.com for further info. Among my favorite St. Joseph Vineyards wines tasted are:
2013 Sauvignon Blanc: Expressive floral aromas awaken the senses with this lively Sauvignon Blanc aged in new French oak. It is full bodied and well balanced with bright citrus and a touch of herbs joining crisp apple and melon notes filling the palate deliciously. The suggestion of oak remains subtle in the background, allowing the fruit to shine. SRP: $20
2012 Pinot Noir: Aromas of fresh berries and a hint of earth awaken the senses with this titillating Pinot Noir. Flooding the palate are flavors of black raspberries, pomegranate and dried cherries with exotic tea spice highlights. This pure, precisely balanced wine boasts refined tannins and finishes with elegance. SRP: $40
2012 Sangiovese: Here is a well structured, jazzy wine that offers up juicy red cherry fruit at the core. Accents of cinnamon stick, a light touch of oak, and dried cranberries add further dimension. The tannins are well honed and the level of racy acidity pulls the package together beautifully. SRP: $30
2012 Shiraz: Deep, dark fruit and a trace of gaminess on the nose are mirrored on the palate, along with layers of juicy blueberries, ripe wild berries, cured meat and black pepper deliciously coating the mouth. There is a lushness to this wine giving it a superb mouthfeel, and the juicy fruit is framed by firm tannins leading to a smooth, lengthy finish. SRP: $30
Ferrante Vineyards and Ristorante: Ferrante’s current production is around 60,000 cases of wine from their estate grapes. A family run winery, when visiting Ferrante you may meet up with Winemaker Nick Ferrante, his brother Anthony who looks after the vineyards, and sisters Carmela and Mary Jo among other family members, each who exude a vibe of both passion and joy for their business. Nick also shared some of the challenges they have faced over the years, including a fire 20 years ago that leveled most of the vines (which they replanted), to the polar vortex that devastated the 2014 vintage. Mother Nature can be harsh at times, but as Nick said we must put these challenges behind us and continue moving forward. Based on the outstanding tank and barrel samples I tasted, they appear to have done so quite nicely, with their talents and creativity employed. Their released wines were also compelling, my favorites of Ferrante wines tasted include those noted below. Visit their website at www.ferrantewinery.com.
2012 Reserve Chardonnay: Mouthwatering apple pie aromas waft from the glass and are echoed on the palate with accompanying notes of butterscotch, poached pear and nutmeg spice. The creamy mouth feel is rich and velvety, offset by vibrant acidity that holds through the lingering finish. Similar impressions on the equally lovely 2013 vintage Chard. SRP: $24
2013 Gruner Veltliner: True to its variety, this Gruner packs a spirited punch with a melding of passion fruit, citrus notes, garden fresh lettuces, a dash of white pepper and a pleasant touch of herbs. Clean and refreshing from the tasty start to the upbeat finish. SRP $14
2013 Signature Series Golden Bunches Dry Riesling: A bowlful of fresh sliced white peaches greets the nose and has you begging for summertime; delectable! River rock minerality is showcased through a palate full of juicy stone fruit, vividly accented by lime zest and splendid acidity. The tinge of sweetness is well placed, too. SRP: $15
2013 Gewurztraminer: Gorgeous floral and spicy aromas vie for your attention as you hover over the glass before the first sip. Passion fruit and clementine flavors mingle with the lovely spice notes that dance on the palate. This Gewurz is well balanced, snappy and pure throughout. SRP: $15
2013 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine: Wow, intense scents of honeysuckle and pineapple get the juices flowing. On the palate a lovely glycerol texture carries bright flavors of tangerine, sugar-dusted pineapple and honey drizzled roasted nuts, mouthwateringly delicious. SRP: $30
Debonne Vineyards: winemaker Edward Trebets shares that the winery was originally founded by Anton Debevc, who purchased a fruit farm in Madison, Ohio in 1916. In the 1960’s Anton’s son Tony Sr. expanded the vineyards. In 1971, Tony Sr. and his son Tony began their journey as commercial winemakers. Debonne Vineyards was launched as a winery in 1972 with the construction of a winemaking facility and enchanting Chalet. With ~175 acres of Vinifera, French American Hybrid and Native American grapevines planted, their current production is around 80,000 cases. Visit their Website at www.debonne.com to learn more. Among my favorites tasted at Debonne are:
2012 Chairman’s White: This bright white wine crafted from Niagara is a tribute to Tony Debevc Sr. This wine showcases the Niagara grape brilliantly with fresh peach and floral aromas joining candied grape flavors and a hint of citrus through the palate. Well balanced and easy to quaff. SRP: $8.49
NV Moscato-Riesling: If your palate leans to sweeter wines, try this tasty elixir. Fruity, floral Moscato is blended with vibrant, apricot and peach scented Riesling with orange candy undertones. The result is a richly flavored, smoothly textured sweet table wine. SRP: $9.99
2013 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine: This luscious ice wine showcases juicy stone fruit at the core, with notes of clover honey, apricot preserves and candied mango accents. Rich and pure with a gorgeous texture and a pretty touch of peach schnapps that lingers on the lip smacking finish. SRP: $29.99
South River Vineyard: To many visitors, South River Vineyard is known as the church winery, as it is housed in a century old church building. Owner Gene Siegal was intrigued by an abandoned church he observed during a drive to Kent, and after inquiring about it, he eventually moved it piece by piece to his current site in Geneva. It has been in operating as a winery since 2002. Gene welcomed us to a terrific tasting of his Karma and Cab Franc wines. Learn more about South River Vineyard at the winery’s website; www.southrivervineyard.com. You may also want to visit Gene’s Red Eagle Distillery, another fascinating property.
My favorite South River Vineyard wines tasted include:
2013 Semillon: A beguiling herbal aroma sets the scene for a silky entry. The fresh palate abounds with tropical fruit, fresh apricots, lemon curd and highlights of crushed herbs. This is a gracefully structured Semillon with racy acidity and good length. SRP: $17
Karma 2010: This plush blend of 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 25% Cab Franc and 8% Syrah is rich and smoothly textured. Unveiled on the palate are layers of tasty blackberries, blueberries and boysenberries accentuated by savory spice. Pure and nicely balanced through the pleasing finish. SRP: $17
South River Vineyard’s second rendition of Karma 2010 is a blend of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Syrah. Here, cherry and blueberry fruit take center stage, with exotic spices and hints of cola weaving throughout. The acidity is lively and remains elevated from the first sip to the last drop. SRP: $17
2010 Cabernet Franc: This generously fruited Cab Franc flaunts dense black cherries, wild berries and roasted green pepper notes from the expressive aromas through the bright, berry packed palate. It is richly textured and well balanced with a finish that reveals a subtle accent of toasty oak. SRP: $17
NV Cask 1014: The cask project in the Grand River Valley appellation began in 2010 with five participating vintners, using a solera type blending method to create a red blend from estate grapes. Each year one third of the wine is taken out of the barrel for bottling and replaced with the new vintage. I had the opportunity to taste three of the cask 1014 wines during my visit:
St. Joseph Vineyards Cask 1014: This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc boasts juicy raspberries and blackberries with a hint of roasted green pepper and soft, silky tannins. A precisely balanced and polished blend.
Ferrante Winery’s Cask 1014: Crafted of Cab Sauvignon, Cab Franc and Shiraz, this blend is full bodied and intense with good depth of spice accented red and black fruit flavors and firm tannins; a fine expression of cool climate red wine.
Debonne Vineyard’s Cask 1014, composed of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, here is a wine that delivers juicy wild berries and a touch of spice; it is smoothly textured and nicely balanced, very easy to quaff.
I hope to taste the other two Cask 1014 wines, crafted by Laurello Vineyards and Grand River Cellars Winery, very soon.
The January 2014 polar vortex (frigid air) that descended upon Ohio with subzero temperatures decimated the 2014 vintage in wine regions including the Grand River Valley AVA. I encourage you to get out there and show support for the state of Ohio’s wine industry. The vintners will fully appreciate it, and you’ll enjoy tasting for yourself some of the well-crafted wines coming from talented producers there!