OSU researchers seek to increase Ohio wine grape options with variety trials


COLUMBUS — In an effort to boost Ohio’s wine industry, researchers with Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) are determining what new wine grape varieties can survive and thrive in Ohio’s climate.

Since 2008, the team has studied more than 40 wine grape varieties, especially high-quality, high-value European types. Most are relatively new to Ohio, such as Arneis, Carmenere, Gamay noir, Gruner Veltliner, Pinotage, Regent, Sangiovese, and Teroldego, , said Imed Dami, a state viticulture specialist with OSU Extension.

The researchers hope to figure out how the grapes will perform in Ohio vineyards and cellars; whether they can survive Ohio harsh winters; and if planting them is worth it.

Still early

Although it is still too early in the trials to make any definitive recommendations on what varieties perform best and in which location, researchers are seeing some promising indications, said Dami.

“It typically takes eight to 10 years for a variety evaluation trial to come to fruition for conclusive results, considering it takes four years for the grape vines to establish and mature.”

Last year, researchers had the first crop and made wine from some of the varieties.

Researchers conduct the grape and wine trials in the research vineyards at OARDC’s Wooster campus, the OSU South Centers in Piketon, and OARDC’s Ashtabula Agricultural Research Station (AARS) in northeast Ohio near Lake Erie.

“We have several varieties in Ohio that are doing well, but consumers are always looking for something new and different,” Dami said. “And wine producers in Ohio, in response to consumer demand, want to offer more varieties, especially more red wine varieties.”

Need more grapes

There’s actually a shortage of Ohio-grown wine grapes, because there aren’t enough producers to meet the growing demand, said Gary Gao, an Extension specialist at the OSU South Centers in Piketon.

“We’ve since had a tremendous increase in the numbers of wineries, and all those new wineries need grape juice as a starting product for wine.

“But it’s quite challenging to grow wine grapes, especially, vinifera grapes in Ohio, because they aren’t as cold-hardy, but produce high-quality wines. That’s part of what we are trying to research to improve.”

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