If you’ve studied your wine terminology, you know that the “appellation” on a wine label denotes the geographic origin of the grapes used to produce it. In order for a winery to feature an appellation on its label, 85 percent of the wine must be produced from grapes grown within the confines of the viticultural area.
Similarly, terroir refers to the effect of soil, climate, and terrain, on the taste of wine produced in an area. Unique terroirs produce unique wines, and certain terroirs are better for growing certain types of grapes.
Ohio’s soil and drainage are ideally suited for growing a variety of grapes, and its latitude is similar to that of the great wine-producing countries of Europe. Additionally, the fertile limestone soil and moderate temperatures along the Ohio River and Lake Erie result in an intensely-flavored, excellent quality grape. In the United States, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), regulates appellations.
Because of Ohio’s unique growing areas, the Buckeye State is home to five recognized viticultural appellations:
Lake Erie Appellation
The Lake Erie AVA is an American Viticultural Area that includes 2,236,800 acres (905,200 ha) of land on the south shore of Lake Erie in the U.S. states of Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania. Over 42,000 acres (17,000 ha) of the region are planted in grapevines. Grapes were first cultivated in the area in the early 19th century, and many wineries survived Prohibition in the 20th century by legally selling grapes to home winemakers or illegally selling wine to consumers in Canada. The wine industry in the Lake Erie region did not thrive after the repeal of Prohibition, however, and by 1967 there were fewer than 20 commercial wineries in the area. Lake Erie wineries have begun planting and vinifying Vitis vinifera varieties in an attempt to improve wine quality.
Isle St. George
The Isle St. George AVA is an American Viticultural Area located on North Bass Island, an island in Lake Erie. The only town on the Ottawa County island is also called Isle Saint George, although the “Saint” in the AVA name must be abbreviated as “St.” to be used on wine labels. Over half of the island is planted to grapevines. Lake Erie is warmer than the other Great Lakes, providing a moderating and warming effect on the local climate. Temperatures on the island during the growing season can be warmer than on the mainland.
Grand River Valley
The Grand River Valley AVA is an American Viticultural Area located in portions of the Lake, Geauga, and Ashtabula counties of northeastern Ohio. The wine appellation includes all the land that is contained within the larger, multi-state Lake Erie AVA that is also within 2 miles (3.2 km) of the Grand River or 14 miles (22.5 km) of the shoreline of Lake Erie. Like the Mosel, Bordeaux and the Sonoma/Russian River Valley, the gently rolling landscape of the Grand River Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) benefits from a climate moderated by the thermal effects of a large body of water, in this case, Lake Erie to the north.
Ohio River Valley Appellation
The Ohio River Valley AVA is the birthplace of American viticulture. Wine has been produced in Ohio since 1823 when Nicholas Longworth planted the first Alexander and Isabella grapes in the Ohio River Valley. The Ohio River Valley AVA is an American Viticultural Area centered around the Ohio River and surrounding areas. It is the second largest wine appellation of origin in the United States (only the Upper Mississippi Valley is larger) with 16,640,000 acres (67,300 km2) in portions of the states of Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia.
Loramie Creek Appellation
The Loramie Creek AVA is bordered by Loramie and Tuttle Creeks as well as State Route 47 in Shelby County. The Loramie Creek appellation currently has no operating winery in its jurisdiction.