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Ohio wine, grapes, a $6.6 billion industry
 
By Doug Graves
Ohio Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio – When it comes to fruits, the Buckeye State boasts peaches, nectarines, apricots, cherries, plums and apples. But steadily gaining strength in the state is a fruit no bigger than a nickel.
A new study shows that grape growers in Ohio are thriving with their grapes. The study, conducted by John Dunham & Associates and funded by the Ohio Grape Industries Committee, found that the wine and grape industries in Ohio brought in $6.6 billion in economic activity and created 40,399 jobs. The wine and grape industry in the state generated $1.9 billion in wages and accounted for 2,327,150 winery visits.
Surprisingly, the grape industry in this state is not saturated. There is room for more growers, experts say.
“Ohio’s bustling wine and grape industries provide more than just great products,” said Tracy Intihar, Ohio Department of Agriculture interim director. “They create thousands of jobs and bring in billions of dollars to the state, in addition to providing local tasting rooms, beautiful vineyards and top-notch food options.”
Ten years ago, Ohio was home to 280 wineries. Today, Ohio has 323 wineries that produce upward of 1.2 million gallons of wine per year, and ranks seventh in the country in wine economic output. Ohio also has 21 commercial grape juice, jam and jelly producers.
Common grapes that casual growers in Ohio tend to include the Concord, Neptune, Hope, Mars, Somerset, Everest, Pink Reliance, Thompson, Marquette and Saint Theresa.
The Concord is considered the best to grow in Ohio for beginners while the seedless Neptune is said to be the most disease-resistant grape to grow in the state.  The Hope grape can withstand cold weather and is ideal for jams.
The Mars grape is self-pollinating and perfect for vertical gardens. The Somerset grape can thrive in weather as low as minus-30 degrees and is easy to grow. The Everest grape produces large, easy to pick fruit and will yield a large harvest.
The Pink Reliance is called the “perfect grape.” It is cold hardy, disease hardy, works in any type of soil and is delicious. The Thompson grape is one common in most grocery stores and this grape can tolerate heat more than other types of grapes.
The Marquette grape is an early harvest grape and is one to grow if you’re into making raisins. The Saint Theresa grape is an early-harvest grape that is also cold hardy.
“In Ohio, the key is to grow grapes that are winter-hardy,” said Gary Gao, professor and the small fruit Extension specialist with The Ohio State University. “You need to choose grapes that can survive winters, even when using high tunnels.”
For the past 15 years, Gao and other researchers at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center have worked on determining what wine grape varieties can survive and thrive in Ohio’s climate. The team has studied more than 40 wine grape varieties, especially high-quality, high-value European types.
There are three types of wine grapes in Ohio: American, Hybrids and Vinifera. Suggested American varieties include Catawba, Concord, Delaware, Niagara and Norton. Suggested hybrid varieties include Frontenac, Chardonel and Cayuga White. Vinifera varieties that adapt to Ohio climate include Lemberger, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Gamay.
There are five designated vinicultural areas in Ohio: Grand River Valley, Isle St. George, Lake Erie, Loramie Creek and Ohio River Valley.
“Most of the grape production in this state is around Ashtabula County in eastern Ohio, but people can grow them all over the state, even in northwest Ohio,” Gao said. “There’s actually a shortage of Ohio-grown wine grapes, because there aren’t enough producers to meet the growing demand.”
Interested in growing grapes? Perfect timing, as the 2023 Ohio Grape and Wine Conference will be at Embassy Suites in Dublin on Feb. 20-21.
Five grape experts will address such issues as tactics for new and experienced grape growers, viticulture, history of enology, and marketing at the event.
Dr. Molly Kelly, enology extension educator at Penn State University, will focus on wine microbiology and the cast of characters during harvest and the winemaking process. She will discuss the essential equipment needed and will talk about microbial monitoring in the cellar.
David Marrison, associate professor and ag and natural resources extension educator at OSU, will talk on the importance of succession planning for wineries and growers.
Dr. Mizuho Nita, Extension specialist of grape pathology at Virginia Tech, will provide an overview of late-season bunch rot diseases in the Eastern U.S. and the results of the disease management trials.
Johannes Reinhardt, founder, co-owner and winemaker of Kemmeter Wines in Penn Yan, N.Y., will discuss essential vineyard and cellar production practices that lead to quality in the bottle.
Fritz Westover, founder of Westover Vineyard Advising and Virtual Viticulture Academy, will highlight common vineyard issues and offer ways to better one’s vineyard.
For more information about the event, contact Christy Eckstein at christy.eckstein@agri.ohio.gov.

1/30/2023