Tag Archives: Ohio wine

Winebits 606: Bunny Becker, Ohio wine, alcohol preference

Bunny beckerThis week’s wine news: Bunny Becker, one of  the grand dames of Texas wine, has died. Plus an Ohio winemaker sees a return to the glory days and wine continues its fall from favor

Bunny Becker: Mary Clementine Ellison “Bunny” Becker, co-founder of her family’s Becker Vineyards in the Texas Hill Country, died last week at age 79. To quote Texas Monthly’s Jessica Dupuy, “Becker had a heart for making not only quality wine, but also quality connections with the people in her life.” She was always sweet whenever we met, and treated all she knew with kindness and respect.  Becker played a key role with husband Richard, an MD, as their winery grew from a vacation home along Hwy. 290 outside of Fredericksburg to one of the two or three most important producers in the state.

Glory days: The center of the U.S. wine business in the couple of decades before the Civil War was the Ohio River valley near Cincinnati, where Nicolas Longworth made world-acclaimed riesling-style and sparkling wines with the much maligned catawba grape. Winemaker Kate MacDonald, a Cincinnati wants to bring that back. She was a Napa winemaker who had a change of heart, starting the Skeleton Root winery in southern Ohio. “I think most winemakers and growers thought I was nuts,” she says. “But once I became aware of the legacy and read about the classical style of wines Longworth produced from American grapes, I was hooked. It became a calling of sorts to try to resurrect them.”

Almost third: Not too long ago, I was getting news releases proclaiming the U.S. as the biggest wine drinking country in the world. These days, though, wine has fallen to almost third in popularity in the U.S., barely holding off spirits. Gallup reports that 30 percent of us say wine is our favorite alcoholic beverage, compared to the 29 percent who choose spirits. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus three points, which means wine may well have dropped from first in 2006 to last in this survey. The Wine Curmudgeon would be remiss if he didn’t mention this decline coincides with premiumization, but what do I know?

Civil War wine: What we drank 150 years ago

Civil War wineThe Wine Curmudgeon will be in East Texas over the weekend doing a freelance piece about Civil War re-enactments. This means two things: First, very little wine for three days, because East Texas is both rural and still dry in many places (which offers the prospect of going cold turkey). Second, though the U.S. was not a wine drinking country 150 years ago — we drank twice as much beer and 20 times as much spirits as wine — there was a thriving wine industry.

The heart of Civil War wine country was the Ohio River near Cincinnati, and its Robert Mondavi was a lawyer named Nicholas Longworth. As with all American wine pioneers, from Thomas Jefferson to Mondavi, everyone thought he was crazy, but for some 40 years Longworth produced quality wine despite the difficulties of grape and terroir. His best wines, including a semi-sweet sparkling, were made with catawba, a native hybrid grape that needs to be sugared to overcome its flavor flaws, and the Ohio River Valley is too humid and too hospitable to grape pests and diseases for long-term success.

But by 1860, Ohio made one-third of the country’s wine, Longworth farmed 2,000 acres of grapes (by comparison, we have just 8,000 in Texas today), and produced almost 10,000 cases in a country where the total production was probably less than 100,000 cases.

In the end, the difficulties caught up with Longworth. Diseases, including powdery mildew, destroyed the vines, and the Civil War took care of the rest. The area saw some fighting, which is never conducive to grape growing, but more importantly, there was no one left to pick grapes after the work force went off to fight the war.

Longworth, though, turned out to be more than footnote in U.S. history. His law practice, as well as his real estate speculations, made him one of the richest men in the 19th century U.S. His great-grandson, Nicholas III, became speaker of the House of Representatives and married Alice Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt’s oldest child and of whom T.R. said: “I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both.”

Winebits 172: DLW 2011: Missouri edition

Regional wine notes this week, in honor of DrinkLocalWine.com’s third annual conference this weekend — DLW 2011: Missouri, April 2-3 in St. Louis. A few tickets are still available, through the DLW website.

? Ohio college wine degrees: Kent State will offer a two-year degree in enology and viticulture, becoming the first college in Ohio to offer a wine-related degree program. Don’t be surprised — the Buckeye state has 151 wineries, putting it among the top 10 regional states in the country.

? Montana wine country? Yes, someone wants to help the state, with just 13 wineries, become a wine destination. Wines & Vines reports that Montana State extension agent Pat McGlynn, who grew up in New York ?s Finger Lakes, wants to see if cold climate hybrids like marquette and frontenac can form the basis of a Montana wine industry. She says response has been good: “People are already calling to say ?Test at my farm. ? The wine industry is sexy. Lots of people are already doing it as a hobby, and it would be a nice fit for our tourism.”

? Yes, rkatsiteli: Jacob Harkins, on the Sipping Colorado blog, offers his thoughts about grapes that might do well in Colorado, including rkatsiteli, native to the republic of Georgia on the Black Sea: “But since trying a few versions of Rkatsitli … I ?ve been sold on this grape as being one that can produce some of the best wines in Colorado, bar none.” Dr. Frank in upstate New York does a nice rkatsiteli — a dry white similar to a gewurtztraminer that likes cold weather.