Ohio Wineries Harvest $1.3B in Tourism Annually

Ohio Wineries Harvest $1.3B in Tourism Annually

GENEVA, Ohio — Donniella Winchell sits in her office at the corner of South Broadway and Main streets here. She looks out her window onto the street at a fire hydrant painted purple and green and smiles knowing what the colors represent – the wine-producing grapes and their vines, which grow on more than 1,500 acres in Ohio.

The hydrant, although small, is just one of many reminders to Winchell on how big the wine industry has grown not only in Geneva, but across Ohio.

“Geneva understands wineries are a huge tourism attraction,” says Winchell, executive director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association.

“Wineries are encouraged by local economic development groups who see wineries as a tool to help build regional tourism.”

Geneva is in the Grand River Valley, which covers portions of Lake, Geauga and Ashtabula counties. The Grand River Valley is a designated American Viticultural Area that has the highest concentration of wineries in the state. They produce award-winning wines: pinot gris, riesling, pinot noir, chardonnay and cabernet franc, Winchell says.

Geographically, though, Ohio wineries are becoming more diverse.

In 2012, a study done by the Ohio Grape Industries Committee reported there were 175 wineries in Ohio. Today there are 285 wineries with 25 to 30 in the pipeline. Ohio is the sixth-largest wine producing state in the country.

“Southwestern Ohio is growing with wineries,” Winchell says. “We’re filling in the gaps geographically. So it’s exciting to watch that happen.”

The wineries in southwestern Ohio can grow grapes able to produce some warmer red varietals, she says, such as cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc.

Two goals of the Ohio Wine Producers Association are helping Ohio wineries find a presence for their bottles on the shelves of restaurant and grocery stores and to raise the awareness of wine connoisseurs across the nation on the “exceptional quality we’re producing.”

The association helps to promote the wines by drawing wine trails and holding events and festivals that feature the wines.

The increasing number of wineries is creating more jobs and causing new businesses to open in the state.

“The wineries are driving hotels being built, restaurants, boutiques being opened, gas stations and a lot of other things come out of the wine business. And it doesn’t have to have a city center,” Winchell says. “We are watching good things happen in areas that were once struggling with unemployment issues.”

The most recent study done by the Ohio Grape Industries Committee, 2016, found that wine, grapes and related industries accounted for more than 8,000 jobs. That year, more than 1.37 million wine-related tourists visited Ohio and spent $321 million in wine-related tourism.

The industry annual economic value in Ohio is more than $1.31 billion, says Christy Eckstein, executive director of Ohio Grapes Industry Committee. And these numbers have increased since 2016, she adds.

The Ohio Grapes Industry Committee, housed at the Ohio Department of Agriculture, began in 1981 to work with all the vineyards and wineries in the state to promote production and marketing opportunities.

“It’s a very diverse industry and it’s an industry where we are fortunate to have a lot of passionate individuals,” Eckstein says. “There’s something for everyone. We have urban to rural wineries, both sweet wines and dry wines, red and white.”

Eckstein recently visited a winery in southwestern Ohio where she observed clusters of grapes beginning to form on the vines. “It looks like it will be a fairly good harvest,” she says. “We had a pretty mild winter and it allowed grapes to acclimate.”

Every region in Ohio has more wineries opening each month, Eckstein says. But the largest growth she believes is taking place in the Akron-Canton area known as the Canal Country Region.

One of the wineries here, Gervasi Vineyard in Canton, has been open eight years and is expanding its operations by constructing a boutique hotel and distillery.

“Business has been very successful and we continue to grow,” says Nichole Cardinale, director of sales and marketing for Gervasi.

The winery has two vineyards spread across five acres and annually produces 100,000 bottles and about 20,000 to 30,000 gallons. “We make everything from dry cabernet to sweet dessert wine,” Cardinale says.

The winery offers 28 varietals, eight of which are privately labeled and from Italy. Gervasi makes the rest. Three are estate wines and the others are made from grapes shipped from California, Washington, New York and other parts of Ohio. And it has a partnership with Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. in Akron to offer four craft beers exclusively sold at Gervasi.

Gervasi offers overnight accommodations at The Villas on its property and has three restaurants for those staying at or visiting the vineyard.

The new boutique hotel, The Casa at Gervasi Vineyard, is under construction and expected to be completed by the beginning of 2019.

Cardinale says adding the extra space will help accommodate the large number of overnight guests the winery sees through business meetings and weddings held at its property.

“It’s appealing for people to come and stay here,” she says. “We’ve had people come from all over the country and as far as Australia for a wedding. We do a lot of destination weddings here for families from different parts of the country.”

The vineyard is also adding a distillery, The Still House, for wines and distilled liquors. It is expected to be completed by 2019.

Gervasi keeps business coming to the vineyard all year by hosting at least one event a week, Cardinale says, whether it be a cooking class, a yoga class, a car show or live music.

“It is our overall mission and vision for people to celebrate life and experience new things,” she says. “Events keep customers all year round and give those who have never been here before new opportunities and experiences.”

Regional tourism bureaus are promoting the new opportunities Ohio wineries can offer visitors and residents by creating wine trail events.

“Our wineries are all unique and offer their own special ambiance,” says Linda Macala, executive director of the Mahoning County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We want to draw attention, both locally and regionally, to all of the great options Mahoning County offers the wine enthusiast.”

Since the first winery opened in Mahoning County, L’uva Bella Winery in Lowellville in 2001, six others have opened: Mastropietro Winery and Myrddin Winery in Berlin Center, The Vineyards at Pine Lake in Columbiana, Halliday’s Winery and Lil Paws Winery in Lake Milton, and Diletto Winery in Canfield.

On June 1, the Mahoning County Convention & Visitors Bureau launched its Wines of the Valley Wine Trail promotion to give people a reason to come here for a weekend getaway.

“It’s not uncommon for wine trails to be established to help promote areas where wineries are in abundance,” Macala says.

Passports for the trail are available at each of the six participating wineries: Mastropietro, Myrddin, Diletto, Halliday’s, Lil Paws Winery and The Vineyards at Pine Lake.

With passport in hand, participants can buy a glass of wine, get their passports stamped and receive a custom wine charm exclusive to each winery. When five or more stamps are collected, visitors can redeem their passports at Mastropietro or The Vineyards at Pine Lake for a keepsake charm box plus a bonus charm.

The wineries will have the wine charms available through the end of the year.

“We hope participants will take their time and enjoy the uniqueness of each winery and discover some new favorite varietals,” Macala says. “Our local residents may not realize just how many wineries exist in their backyard.”

In Ashtabula County, the Ashtabula County Convention & Visitors Bureau is hosting a new event this month, The Great Pinot Quest.

“Several wineries are coming together to promote their pinots on this pinot wine trail,” says Stephanie Siegel, executive director of the Ashtabula County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Consumers can join the Great Pinot Quest by buying a trail card for $30 at participating wineries through the end of June. Cardholders will receive two tastes of pinot wine at each winery and if a consumer visits them all, he will receive a gift at his final stop.

The Grand River Valley region, which covers Ashtabula County, has 24 wineries, Siegel says. “The wineries are one of our anchor attractions and one of the main reasons people visit Ashtabula County.”

Travel and tourism to the county for the wineries has grown 10% each year with the average tourist spending $111 for a day trip and $365 for an overnight trip.

Tourism to Ashtabula County is year-round for the wineries with different festivals and events held each season.

This March, the Ice Wine Festival brought in thousands of people every weekend from across Ohio and nearby states to sample the ice wines area wineries offer.

In the fall, people enjoy coming to the wineries for the harvest and to see the fall colors, Siegel says. And the holiday season brings guests in for festivities held at each winery.

“They’re extending that tourism time here because of things happening in wineries,” she says.

Watch Our Ohio Wineries Video Series!
Blazing a Wine Trail Through the Grand River Valley
Wine Grows into Big Business with Camaraderie
Cold Winters, Flavorful Wines
‘3 Minutes With’ Arnulf Esterer, Markko Vineyard in Conneaut
‘3 Minutes With’ Danielle Didonato, Laurello Vineyard in Geneva
‘3 Minutes With’ Cindy Lindberg, Grand River Cellars

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