Catchers and pitchers are playing ball across the country. Red-winged blackbirds are again perched on phone wires along roadsides. (Many robins now stay here year ‘round, so sightings of them do not count.) Sunsets on Lake Erie are moving to the east. Temperatures are moderating. Spring is (or soon will be) here.
The majority of local wine traffic occurs between June and October: the traditional summer travel months followed by "harvest time in the vineyards." But since each season offers its own unique experiences, it’s time to think about planning a springtime trip to a nearby winery.
To make the trip more fun, you might choose to do the Wine 'N Bloom trail and visit 18 wineries, sip a little, enjoy some snacks and collect beautiful annuals supplied by Middle Ridge Nurseries. Information is on the Ohiowines.org website. Or you might want to launch a new journey and participate in the soon-to-be announced "Corkboard" project — visit 26 wineries across the state during the coming summer and fall, collect corks from each, slide them into an Ohio shaped holder and win free tickets to one of OWPA's four major festivals (details will be shared in late April).
If you do choose to enjoy wines on the trail this time of year, what might you see along the way?
The vineyards: As you drive along rural roads in March and early April, you will see barren black sticks, in straight lines, like soldiers from another era, quietly standing in perfect, parallel rows. But soon, these vines will weep sap that will bring the plant to life. By mid-April, tiny green shoots will appear that will, over the summer, grow canes many yards in length. In June, delicate white flowers will emerge to become fully mature clusters of fruit. A walk through the vineyards during this time of year is fascinating.
In the cellar: While the pace of activity has slowed considerably after the frenetic fall, much is still happening in area wine cellars. Juices-becoming-wine from the prior harvest have been rough filtered. Cellar rats are racking (transferring) from tank-to-tank for additional clarification. Some reds from the 2017 vintage are bottled and then laid on their sides for more aging, while others are ready for sale now.
Many of the 2019 Rieslings are being fine filtered, bottled, corked and put onto palates to settle-in for a few weeks. (During the bottling process, many wines go through a phenomenon called "bottle shock" and need several weeks to quietly settle down after all the agitation, which results from the movement through tanks, hoses and filling spouts).
The tasting rooms: Early spring marks the release of our luscious ice wines. The first few Saturdays in March, thousands of wine lovers flocked to appreciate this very special dessert wine, to taste, tour, spend the night and eat in our local restaurants. Late in April, the first of the whites from the prior harvest season are offered for sampling. Because we are a cool climate growing district, Rieslings are usually among the initial releases. Fresh, bright aromas and flavors and aromas with a hint of minerality and soft acid backbones are to be enjoyed: soft yet rich mouthfeel and intense aromas and flavors from this Germanic style read
Fondly remember your trip upon returning home: Pop the cork on one of those bottles you most enjoyed. Drag out the grill, look for a new chicken breast recipe to match a white or a juicy steak for your newly discovered red. Find some baby bib lettuce at a farmers market or the local grocery store and maybe pick some first-of-the season asparagus. Then, for the perfect finale, serve a sliver of New York cheesecake with a raspberry drizzle and just "two fingers" of amazing, delightful, local bottle of ice wine.
And a final note: Thanks to all who participated in the trivia contest. Your lapel pins are in the mail.
Donniella Winchell is executive director of the Ohio Wine Association. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.