Ohio winemakers have had their share of obstacles

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WOOSTER, Ohio — A staple in the Wayne County countryside, Troutman Vineyards and Winery started off as a 4-H project for 10-year-old Andy Troutman.

“I was looking for the most obscure thing I could do,” he said. When the county Extension agent brought around the project books, viticulture intrigued him.

He visited with researchers from the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) in Wooster to learn more about the industry, and by junior high school, he had his first grape vines.

While attending 4-H camp, which was then held on Kelleys Island, he had an opportunity strike up conversations with some of the area’s winemakers and grape growers. He would also meet his wife, Deanna, at this camp.

Andy and Deanna Troutman
Deanna, 41, and Andy Troutman, 44, were just a couple of 20somethings when they decided to become owners of two wineries. They opened Troutman Vineyards and Winery, in Wooster, in 2001 and purchased The Winery at Wolf Creek, in Norton, in 2002. (Catie Noyes photos)

Career in winemaking

After graduating from Ohio State, Troutman had planned to continue his studies in enology and viticulture in grad school, but the owner of the Winery at Wolf Creek, in Norton, had different plans for him. Andrew Wineberg offered Troutman a job at the winery in 1996.

“Teach me everything you know about winemaking,” Troutman had asked Wineberg, and by 2002, Andy and Deanna made the decision to purchase the winery themselves. When he started his venture into the winery business, there were only 30 wineries in the state — now there is over 200.

“I think we were just in the right place at the right time,” said Andy. Back in Wooster, Troutman had planted an acre of grapes in 1998 on a property his parents owned. That plot became Troutman Vineyards and Winery in 2001.

“We were young and didn’t know what we were getting into,” said Troutman, of their decision to own two wineries.

“I think it is neat to see, we started out with nothing,” said Deanna. “We are true entrepreneurs.”

Production

Troutman Vineyards
Andy Troutman has been experimenting with different hybrid grape varieties at both Troutman Vineyards (pictured) and The Winery at Wolf Creek to determine which are best suited for the area.

Currently, the Troutmans manage around 6 acres of grapes at Troutman Vineyards and around 12 acres at the Winery at Wolf Creek. When Troutman Vineyards first opened its doors, they sold around 400 gallons of wine. Now, during normal production years, they sell between 5,000 and 6,000 gallons of wine.

However, the extremely cold polar vortex that swept through most of Ohio in the winter of 2014 and 2015 set them back.

“We didn’t harvest a single grape from Troutmans (that year) and 80 percent of the crop was lost at Wolf Creek,” said Troutman. Luckily, there were a number of years where the Troutmans had overproduced grapes.

“We were fortunate to have that stocked up,” he said. The Troutmans also brought in grapes from California and experimented with honey- and cranberry-flavored wines to expand their product line.

Andy Troutman checking grapes
Andy Troutman checks on his grapes at Troutman Vineyards and Winery in Wooster, Ohio. Troutman Vineyards started as a 4-H project for Andy when he was just 10 years old.

Recovering

Troutman said, while his vineyards suffered a blow during the polar vortex, he also learned which grape varieties were the hardiest. Vidal Blanc, Concords and many of his hybrid varieties survived the cold blast. Varieties like Riesling and Cabernet did not.

“We evaluated those that did survive the polar vortex and replanted more of those varieties,” he said. The new plantings included vidal, traminette and foch varieties. Troutman is hopeful this will be the year to get some of his replanted grapevines and production back on track.

“I don’t want my kids to have to replant the vineyards the way we did,” he said. Andy and Deanna have two children, Sophia, 14, and Asa, 12.

Although it’s too soon to tell if they will take on the family business, Deanna said, “I think they are proud to say they have the business (in the family).”

Distillery devastation

winery at wolf creek
In late May 2017, an explosion destroyed the distillery at The Winery at Wolf Creek. No one was injured and the wine cellar and tasting room were spared. At the time of this report, Troutman had not received word from his insurance provider as to what had caused the fire nor an estimate of damages.

Andy said, after all his years of experimenting with grape growing and winemaking, he still enjoys creating something new, including trying his hand at making brandy. In 2012, Troutman got his distiller’s license and started experimenting with some of the overproduced wine to make brandy as another value-added product.

“The original owner at Wolf Creek talked about making brandy, but we never thought about it until we had extra wine,” said Troutman. He sold his first bottles of brandy from the Winery at Wolf Creek in the summer of 2016 — he had no idea it would be his last.

In late May 2017, Troutman had gotten up early to get a head start on distilling. After turning on the distiller in the basement of the winery, he left the building and went back to a house that sits just to the south of the winery.

He had just poured a cup of coffee when he heard a thud and whoosh come from the building he just left.

“I’ll never forget that sound, and running around the trees to see nothing,” he said. The portion of the building that houses the distillery had been leveled in an explosion. A firewall between the distillery and the wine cellar prevented the fire from spreading to the rest of the building, leaving the winery and tasting room intact.

At the time of this report, Troutman had not received word from his insurance provider as to what had caused the fire nor an estimate of damages.

“I’m just grateful no one was hurt,” he said. Troutman said at this point, he does not know if he will reopen the distillery. “I can’t thank people enough,” he said of the cards, emails and well wishes he has received from friends and loyal customers.

“People are always asking what they can do to help, and all I ask if that they come see us. They don’t have to buy anything,” he said, just to hear their favorite stories of the winery is enough.

The Winery at Wolf Creek reopened in early June, about a week after the accident.

Two wineries

Winery at Wolf Creek wine barrel
Wine barrel from The Winery at Wolf Creek, Norton, Ohio.

Troutman Vineyards and Winery is located at 4243 Columbus Road, Wooster, Ohio. For more information call 330-263-4345 or click here.

The Winery at Wolf Creek is located at 2637 S. Cleveland Massillon Road, Norton, Ohio. For more information call 330-666-9285 or click here.

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Catie Noyes lives in Ashland County and earned a bachelor's degree in agriculture communications from The Ohio State University. She enjoys photography, softball and sharing stories about agriculture.

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