COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Wine aficionados looking for the best Ohio's winemakers have to offer can turn to a new wine industry program for excellence in quality.
The Ohio Grape Industries Committee and Ohio State University's viticulture and enology program at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center have established the Ohio Quality Wine program. The program, which began last year, is designed to promote awareness of Ohio wine quality among consumers. It identifies Ohio's finest wines with a quality seal. To date, 20 Ohio wineries have been inducted into the Ohio Quality Wine program and 89 wines have been awarded the OQW designation.
"The intent of the Ohio Quality Wine program is to establish a high quality standard designation of Ohio wines made from Ohio grapes, and to promote awareness of the quality of Ohio wines among wine consumers," said Imed Dami, OARDC viticulture specialist. "We see this program as an economic benefit for Ohio as it promotes the expansion of grape growing in Ohio with emphasis on locally grown products. The industry has been pushing for a program like this for 9 years and we are proud it's finally come to fruition."
OARDC's viticulture program focuses on evaluating varieties new to Ohio and improving fruit quality and the characteristics that make certain grapes ideal varieties for wine production. Dami and his colleagues also recommend cultural practices to growers to help ensure high-quality grapes. In addition, the viticulture group coordinates their efforts with OARDC's enology program, which focuses wine-making evaluations from the vineyard to the cellar and their effect on wine quality.
"The enology program is the Extension arm of our efforts," said Todd Steiner, OARDC program manager and outreach specialist. "We place a lot of effort in Extension through evaluating commercial wine samples free of charge with the help of a grant through the Ohio Grape Industries Committee. We look at various parameters through sensory and chemical evaluations that could affect wine quality -- things like balance, flavor, alcohol, sulfur dioxide and volatile acidity."
Selecting winners for the Ohio Quality Wine program starts at OARDC, where Ohio wines are entered into a competition and evaluated. This year, 243 wines were tested and 63 chosen for Ohio Quality Wine program seal eligibility. From there, a panel of judges is selected, which then evaluates the entries on a 20-point scale.
"If the wine receives 15 out of 20 points, it means that it meets the standard that a consumer would expect from a high-quality wine," said Steiner. "Only wines produced from at least 90 percent Ohio-grown grapes are eligible to receive the seal."
This year, 36 wines were selected to receive the Ohio Quality Wine program seal, and the wineries that produced the winners were recognized during a recent event at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio Governor Ted Strickland was on-hand to congratulate the winners.
"Before I became governor, I had no idea that Ohio was home to 106 wineries found in 39 counties," said Strickland. "Ohio wines are better than ever. Ohio vineyards and winemakers produce a wide array of fine wines to please every consumer's palate."
Ohio's wine industry adds more than $110 million to the economy each year. Just last year alone, Ohio's wineries produced nearly 800,000 gallons of wine to meet consumer demand. Wines produced include vinifera and hybrid table wines, sparkling wines and ice wines.
"Ohio's wine industry is now the fourth largest in the eastern United States and receives high marks nationally and internationally for excellence, but many Ohioans don't know about the availability and quality of wines made right in their own backyards," said Robert Boggs, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture and chair of the Ohio Grape Industries Committee. "The Ohio Quality Wine program will help make these products more available to consumers and will educate them about the high quality of Ohio wines. Ohioans will be able to quickly identify an Ohio Quality Wine by simply looking for the quality seal on the bottle."
For more information about the Ohio Quality Wine program, visit http://www.tasteohiowines.com.