NORTON, Ohio – Andy Troutman rolls terms like cabernet sauvignon and franc, pinot grigio, chardonnay and riesling from his tongue like second nature.
But he knows it’s likely many people in northeast Ohio are clueless as to which of those wines is red, which is sweet, which is white, or which is dry. And most importantly, which one tastes good?
That’s why Troutman and his wife, Deanna, have taken steps to take the ‘snootiness’ out of wine and bring their two brands of Ohio-made wines to the masses.
Along they way, they’ve strengthened an existing vineyard and winery, started another from scratch, and proven grapes are gaining ground in Ohio agriculture.
Stocking up. The bottling room is working at full steam, pumping white wine from vats in their Copley-area winery’s basement into bottles, labeling and corking them and rolling them off the assembly line.
It’s this time of year when the Troutmans fill their retail shelves and stockroom in anticipation of Christmas sales and gift-giving.
There are wines called Redemption and Sweet Revenge and White Lies here at The Winery at Wolf Creek, just outside Akron.
At the couple’s Wooster-area winery, Troutman Vineyards, they’ve got premium ice wines and more familiar names like Farmers Red and Sour Cherry.
Nearly 30,000 gallons of wine, no matter what its name, goes out the door each year.Story Continues Below Photos
Small starts. Andy Troutman, the son of an Extension agent, started growing grapes as a 4-H project at age 10. Through his father’s connections, the young Andy met the OSU state viticulturist, who gave him 8-10 potted table grape vines and started what would become a lifelong passion.
Years later, at Ohio State, Andy explored his growing interest in value-added agriculture and saw the potential his grapes offered the state’s infant vineyard and winery business.
He worked at the Wolf Creek winery for three summers, absorbing knowledge about managing the vineyards as well as fermenting the fruits into wine. His plan was to return to Wayne County and set up his own operation there.
But even the best laid plans are sometimes spoiled. Partway through securing permits to set up his Wooster-area winery, the Wolf Creek operation’s owner died. An offer to buy the property was on the table, and almost overnight Andy and Deanna went from planning one winery to owning two.
Managing it all. Their new lifestyle presented challenges.
Aside from the 45-minute drive between the two locations, the Troutmans had to juggle employees and grapes and production schedules and their own two children, Sophia and Asa.
The previous owner of the Akron vineyard was making roughly 6,000 gallons of wine per year, Troutman said. That was barely keeping pace with demand.
“We knew we had to step it up,” he said.
The Troutmans became more creative with their production schedule, crushing grapes and fermenting them in batches back to back and pumping new wine from vats to bottles as a new slurry was ready to go in.
“That was our way of making more wine without adding on. But you can only cheat that way for so long,” Troutman said.
“The wine end of things has been very successful. It’s grown beyond our imagination.”
Education. Despite the growing demand and their past successes, the Troutmans can’t deny one simple fact: Most people in these parts aren’t avid wine drinkers.
Some even say they don’t like wine until they taste a glass of the Troutmans’ concoctions.
“If we can get them in the door [to the tasting room] and make them feel welcome, they’ll stay. And most every time they’re surprised to find something they like,” Andy said.
The Troutmans take special pride in their winemaking, and in their grape growing, too. Multiple varieties of grapes are grown at both locations, and the Wooster location boasts of making wines only from grapes grown within a 35-mile radius.
“From oaky to fruity to dry to sweet, we can cover all the bases,” Andy said.
And they do it all with only 10 different wines.
“We feel we can make a better product by making fewer, better wines,” Andy said. “And since most people are novices, it’s easier to teach them about 10 different wines than piling it all on.”
More to come. Looking back on their successes and the Outstanding Young Farmer honors given recently by the Ohio Farm Bureau for those achievements, the Troutmans aren’t ready to coast.
In fact, they’ve been eyeing additions for a while and are excited to keep moving forward.
Andy, who also grew up with a herd of dairy goats, is exploring the possibilities of making artisan cheeses to serve with his wines. And someday, years down the road, the couple envisions a restaurant on the property “to bring it all together.”
“We’ve already got the audience, so we might as well play into that,” Deanna said.
Something more. Just as much as a livelihood, the Troutmans’ wineries represents something more to them.
“In college, I thought a lot about my generation and the size of lands available to us,” Andy said.
Any parcel of decent size that a young person could afford was situated in a less-than-desirable location, miles and miles from a market, he said. That type of isolation wouldn’t be ideal for a young person hoping to sell wine, he said.
“Even to buy 100 acres in Wayne County would be impossible for someone my age,” he admitted.
Instead, he settled for a handful of acres near his boyhood home, planted a vineyard, and converted an old chicken coop into a winery and tasting room.
“It’s a really good way to keep agriculture alive, and in a way that people are interested in, and is still growing,” he said.
The same is true for the Norton winery. Just four miles from downtown Akron, The Winery at Wolf Creek has a huge market staring right at it. Along with the market comes all the issues of growing an agricultural product in a major metropolitan area.
“At the end of the day, whether it’s five, 10 or 25 years down the road, our goal is to be a viable ag business 4 miles from a major metro. That’s the ultimate farmland preservation.”
(Reporter Andrea Zippay welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at email@example.com.)