After Donniella Winchell comes home from a day at the office, she kicks off her shoes, puts up her feet, and mellows with a glass of Pinot Gris.
It's good to be the state wine industry's head cheerleader. As the executive director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association, Winchell created Vintage Ohio 10 years ago to quash a longtime myth: Ohio wines suck sour grapes. "You have the misconception that it's all very sweet, and it's a festive, fun party beverage," Winchell says. "But we can produce wines that, given style and price, will compete with wines from anywhere in the world."
Take Germany and New Zealand. As with Northeast Ohio and the Lake Erie islands, they're "cold-climate" wine regions, where 220-day growing seasons are ideal for nurturing grapevines into award-winning whites. But they can't compare to California's 270-day season, which is perfect for producing reds. "We just don't have the [weather] conditions to grow great big, huge red grapes," Winchell laments.
Despite the setback, the festival is "sort of modeled after HGTV or the Food Network," Winchell says, with cooking demonstrations, gardening workshops, and a gourmet menu of lobster bisque, mushroom caps, and shrimp stuffed with gorgonzola. And, of course, there are samplings from more than 20 vintners. "If you like something sweet or dry, you will find it there, and you will find a winemaker who will share his story," she says. "We can produce world-class wine that is not an intimidating beverage."
It's not a boring one, either. There's a wine for every occasion. "It's something that can be served as a complement at a picnic," Winchell says. "It's something you can use to toast as a young couple gets married. And it's something you can have at the dinner table when you're tired and can just throw something in the microwave."