Success Uncorked for Ohio’s Wine Industry: Double the Wineries, 4K Jobs, $580M Economic Impact

Jun 28, 2011

 
Success Uncorked for Ohio’s Wine Industry: Double the Wineries, 4K Jobs, $580M Economic Impact

Andy Troutman at his Troutman Vineyards and Winery near Wooster: OSU "has been an integral part of the success of our business. ... It's important to have that collaboration between academia and industry." (K.D. Chamberlain image)

WOOSTER, Ohio -- Andy Troutman sees the good in a bottle of wine from Ohio. It comes in part from his alma mater, Ohio State University. And it has to do with not just taste but jobs and Ohio’s economy.

Troutman co-owns The Winery at Wolf Creek near Akron, is vintner and co-founder (in 2001) of Troutman Vineyards and Winery in Wooster, and as such is part of a significantly growing industry: the number of wineries in Ohio has nearly doubled since 1997.

And he says Ohio State  -- through its Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and through Ohio State University Extension -- has played a big role in the increase. Troutman’s operations alone have added 26 part- and full-time jobs in the past 10 years, a tenfold jump from a humble start.

OARDC’s long-established grape and wine research program, which is credited, among other things, with almost single-handedly saving Ohio’s wine industry in the ’60s, “has not only allowed us to plant varieties and develop products that we think will have long-term viability in Ohio, but having that resource essentially in our backyard has been vitally important to the long-term success of our business,” said Troutman, a 1996 Ohio State horticulture graduate.

wineries thumb

“We can see what’s been grown there, what’s been successful, and we can translate that into a commercial setting and make it very successful for our operation,” he said. “We can utilize that information to make good decisions. It’s a great advantage to our overall operation.”

‘Direct Impact on Growers’ Bottom Line’

OARDC scientists conduct grape and wine research at OARDC’s Wooster campus, at the OSU South Centers in Piketon in southeast Ohio, and especially (since 1985) at OARDC’s 25-acre Ashtabula Agricultural Research Station in northeast Ohio near Lake Erie, a place entirely dedicated to the work. They evaluate grape cultivars, especially high-quality, high-value European types, most of them relatively new to Ohio, such as Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. How do they grow here? Do they live through the winter? Is planting them worth it in the long run?

Likewise they study new, better ways to manage pests, weeds and diseases -- methods that commercial growers often can’t risk testing themselves, or can’t afford to, and probably won’t use if unproven.

In fall the grapes are harvested and trucked to OARDC’s Wooster campus for enology (wine making) testing. How good -- or not -- of a wine will they make? Taste tests come next. For wineries, OARDC holds the annual Ohio Wine Competition as well.

OSU Extension specialists then work with Extension county educators to spread the studies’ results. They meet with growers and winery owners throughout Ohio’s wine-making regions, which stretch from the Ohio River to Lake Erie plus inland areas in between. They created and maintain the Ohio Grape Web website. Publish the Ohio Grape-Wine Electronic Newsletter and keep it timely based on current -- and sometimes fast-changing -- growing conditions. Hold outreach events, such as field days and the two-day Ohio Grape and Wine Conference. Discuss pros, cons and putting new findings to use. They serve, as it were, as a pipeline for getting new research out into the industry.

Leading the program are state viticulture (grape growing) specialist Imed Dami, Todd Steiner, an enology (wine-making) specialist, and Dave Scurlock, a viticulture outreach specialist, plus specialists Mike Ellis (grape diseases), Doug Doohan (weeds) and Roger N. Williams (insects). Most of them have appointments with both OSU Extension and OARDC, meaning they work in both research and outreach.

Higher Quality, Greater Efficiency

The program’s focus on Ohio is key, Troutman said. After all, wines owe their special traits to regional differences. So what studies determine in one state -- recommendations about a grape variety, say, or a pest-control practice -- might not work in Ohio, or at least not as well nor as profitably. Crucial factors, such as soils, pests, diseases, climates and markets, all may vary. “It would be very difficult for us to go to the West Coast, for example, for the same information,” Troutman said. “It’s homegrown information, specific to Ohio, and it’s part of the success of this industry.”

Ohio State’s research and outreach help the industry “be more productive and produce a higher-quality product with greater efficiency,” said Greg Johns, manager of the Ashtabula station, who added, “The nature of my position allows me to help growers make connections with others in the industry as well as with the OSU network of experts. This helps growers become more unified, strengthens the network of problem solvers, and encourages social bonds and friendships.”

(Read more about the Ashtabula station at http://go.osu.edu/Dk9.)

In the end, new knowledge “is applied and has a direct impact on growers’ bottom line,” said Dami, who’s based on OARDC’s Wooster campus but serves throughout the state. “I find that extremely rewarding.”

‘Quality Jobs for the Economy’

Ohio today has 148 commercial wineries, up 97 percent from 75 in 1997. Even as of two years ago, “It’s to the point … where you are within 45 minutes of a winery anywhere in Ohio,” Christy Eckstein, executive director of the Ohio Grape Industries Commission, said in a 2009 C Magazine article.

(Wineries in the state, with details and directions, are listed at websites for the Ohio Grape Industries Commission, http://www.tasteohiowines.com/, and the Ohio Wine Producers Association, http://www.ohiowines.org/maps.shtml.)

Yet “Ohio’s wine industry, specifically, is very unique in that all of the wineries are very different from one another,” Johns noted. There’s “an atmosphere of healthy competition,” he said, “where if a visitor finds one winery a little too ‘upscale’ or ‘rustic,’ there are many others to choose from that will fit their interest.”

wineries graph

Taken together, the industry annually supports 4,000 full-time equivalent jobs, generates more than $60 million in tax dollars, pays more than $124 million in wages and has a total impact on Ohio’s economy of $580 million, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture. It comes from harvesting about 1,600 acres of grapes and making more than 1 million gallons of wine. Tourism plays a part too. More than 2 million people visited Ohio wineries in 2008, an Ohio Wine Producers Association survey said. They spent more than $73 million there.

Along with this growth have come new jobs and revenue. Troutman, for one, has seen the boom.

“We originally conceived this as a 2,000-gallon-a-year operation,” he said of his Wooster operation, located near two popular destinations, Ohio’s Amish country and the Mohican River. “Now it’s at 6,000. It’s grown beyond what we thought it would.

“Ultimately, as the vineyard expands and we sell more bottles of wine, we add more jobs. We’ve gone from two employees to more than 20 employees between the two operations in the past 10 years. We might not be the fastest-growing business, but we’re adding quality jobs to the local economy,” he said.

“The grape and wine industry provides a wealth of jobs and opportunities for hard-working people,” Johns agreed. “Some of them are middle-management to higher-level positions, but many are for less-skilled workers, many of whom have found themselves out of work in the shrinking economies of Ashtabula County and other areas of Ohio.

“Our industry,” Johns said, “keeps local people working.”

Seeds of a Life’s Work

Troutman’s wines are red and white -- blush too -- but his roots are scarlet and gray. He’s not only a Buckeye graduate but is a former OARDC intern -- in grape growing, naturally -- and is an alumnus of Ohio 4-H, OSU Extension’s youth development program.

“When I was about 10 years old, I took a 4-H project for grape growing,” he remembered. “My dad took me out and introduced me to (OARDC’s) Garth Cahoon, who was the state viticulturist” -- one of Dami’s predecessors -- “at the time. He gave me a few kinds of grape vines, patted me on the head, and said, ‘Good luck, kid.’ And the rest, as they say, is history. I’ve been growing grapes for 25, 30 years as a result of that first meeting with Dr. Cahoon at OARDC.”

Time, in fact, is an industry thread and goes beyond aging wine, Troutman said. Grape vines take years to bear fruit. So, so to speak, do wineries. So do research and outreach. It leads, Troutman said, to deep roots -- and an industry Ohio can count on.

“One point I always like to make is that we’re a long-term operation,” he said. “We plant a vine, and we don’t harvest any fruit for four or five years. We usually don’t recoup our investment for six, seven, eight years. So for me to establish a vineyard and hire people, that’s a long-term commitment to being part of the Ohio economy. We can’t pull up our vineyards and move to Georgia.”

‘We’ll Continue to Invest Locally’

“I like to think about the life of wine,” the character Maya said in the wine-themed film “Sideways,” which spoke, however, less than well of Merlot. “I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing; how the sun was shining; if it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes.”

Troutman is one of those people -- one of Ohio’s 4,000. He sees the number growing. Success -- his own and the industry’s, with Ohio State as a contributor, “means we’re here to stay, we’ll continue to grow, we’ll continue to add jobs, and we’ll continue to invest locally, not only in our on-site operations but in the local economy.”

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Note: Ohio Gov. John Kasich has declared June “Ohio Wine Month.” Details are in an Ohio Department of Agriculture press release at http://www.tasteohiowines.com/news-releases.aspx.


Writers

Kurt Knebusch

knebusch.1@osu.edu

330-263-3776

Sources

Andy Troutman

andy@troutmanvineyards.com

330-263-4345

Imed Dami

dami.1@osu.edu

330-263-3882

Greg Johns

johns.1@osu.edu

440-224-0273

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Joyce Hughes

“It think what OSU Extension has brought to my neighbors, and to my neighborhood, is hope - something that people didn't have before.”

Joyce Hughes
President, Weinland Park Community Civic Association

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