Monday, November 14, 2011

Vermillion Valley Vineyards: Ohio Winery Visit

Lorain County’s Vermillion Valley Vineyards is situated on a 23-acre site featuring 5,000 classic variety grapevines and its award-winning environmentally friendly building. The winery focuses on small batch production and a philosophy of sustainability that fits in solidly with its rural community.

This was our second stop on a meandering trip from Toledo to Cleveland. It was also a highlight, because tucked away on Gore Orphanage Road in Wakeman, Ohio, is a real gem of a winery with well-crafted vinifera wines and a showcase of a tasting room.

As we rumbled up the dirt driveway, we noticed only one other vehicle. Green Dragon proclaimed that the winery was closed and we should turn around. But I noticed a gentleman carrying a bucket and I asked him. Unfortunately, he confirmed that the hours listed on the website were wrong and the winery didn’t open until 3. Bummer!

Fortune favors the bold, so I told him I had heard a lot about the winery and would love to get a peak inside.

As luck would have it, the friendly soul was winemaker David Benzing. He was happy to take us into the winery and pour some samples. We walk in though a side entrance and saw his current project, a batch of pungent Cabernet Franc grapes in a large container.

He poured us the 2010 Lake Erie Cabernet Franc and it was a bit startling. While Ohio has the terroir to produce great grapes, some of the state wineries lack winemakers with sufficient “chops” to make the best use of them and the end result is flat and listless.

The Cab Franc has a nice structure with a mouthful of cherries and blackberries. As we were enjoying a glass, we had a chance to take in the beauty of the tasting room. What caught my attention was the locally harvested white oak and black walnut floors and trim. It gives it a warm yet contemporary look. It is also chock-full of environmentally sound features such as a monitor roof, which promotes passive ventilation and heating during appropriate seasons.

Our next taste was the 2010 Traminette. This estate grown beauty is the best Traminette I’ve ever tasted. I’ve had at least a dozen different versions in New York, Ohio and national wine tasting events. They have always come off as a weak sister to Gewürztraminer. This one, however, blazed its own trail with good body, spiciness and a hint of smoke. At $14, this is a real steal.

Vermillion Valley’s pursuit of the best wines leads down a difficult path. The classic vinifera varieties aren’t as hearty as the French hybrids or the native labrusca grapes and that requires special precautions during the rugged Ohio winters. The results have clearly been worthwhile.

We were able to also sample the inky Dornfelder medium bodied and blackberry driven. Another winner was the 2010 Pinot Gris. This had pronounced minerality and a pop of tartness. This is also a wine that is superior to the majority of Ohio wines.

A special tip of the cap to winemaker David for opening up to a couple of thirsty travelers. Vermillion Valley should be high on the list for those seeking fine wines in the Buckeye State.
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