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Thursday, April 29th, 2010:

Elizabeth Spencer Wine Tasting – The Party Source – 6:30-8:30 PM

Friday, April 30th, 2010:

Spring Wines – Water Tower Fine Wines – 5:30-8:30 PM

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  • April 16th, 2010

    Cincinnati Secrets: Henke Winery (Part 1)

    This post is from Timothy J. Gabelman, the Cincinnati Wine Pairing Examiner with www.examiner.com.  Tim has graciously agreed to be a contributing writer to Uncorked Cincinnati and we are very excited to have him.   Look for a weekly article from Mr. Gabelman on Uncorked Cincinnati discussing food, wine, and local tidbits!

    If you want to find the best wine made in the state of Ohio, there is only one place to look: The Ohio Wine Competition, hosted by the Ohio Agriculture Research and Development Center (OARDC). For the last three years that august body has given its highest accolades to one winery: Henke Winery of Cincinnati. In 2006 and 2007, Henke Winery was the recipient of “Best Red Wine in the State” for its respective vintages of Norton. In 2009, Henke Winery won “Best Overall of Show” for its Riesling.

    Photo credits by Brett Johnson

    Photo credits by Brett Johnson

    Over the years, I have been happy to define myself as an “East Sider,” and to a Cincinnati-native that philosophy of identity entails never using I-74 to go eastward toward Downtown. But in the case of visiting Henke on Thursday, March 18, I will never again make the mistake of dreading a journey to the West Side. Located at the corner of Harrison and Epworth, Henke Winery appears, from the exterior, to be a quaint home-based winery and wine store: just look for the white-trimmed house with the sign out front. Upon parking in the back, one notices grape vines growing in trellises along the property line, an homage that belies the true purpose of the location.

    Entering the establishment, one is overcome by the welcoming aroma of a great kitchen, the sound of live music, and after ascending a few steps to the greeter’s station, a hearty welcome. Do not be surprised when calling Henke Winery to make a reservation, or to get directions, or even upon entering, to be greeted by the proprietor, restaurateur, and winemaker himself, Joe Henke. However, do not let this simple and homey feel delude you into thinking that the menu will be anything less than gourmet or that the wines will be anything less than haute couture. Joe’s pride in running a welcoming environment means that he has selected and trained a staff to implement his recipe for success: a warm smile, a welcoming attitude, and a positive experience.

    The restaurant is a kitschy mix of mauve and burgundy tones on grape-bunch covered tablecloths and decorated with wine bottles wearing the winery’s many awards around their necks.

    Photo credits by Brett Johnson

    Photo credits by Brett Johnson

    Joe is an artist when he seeks to craft a bottle of wine and he is a graceful and attentive host. Observing him at work, one sees him hopping from table to table, ensuring that everyone’s meal is as it should be, and calling out the names of the many regulars that enter. Indeed, his sense of community is so strong that as we sat to speak to him, facing the front windows, he waved to passing pedestrians that smiled in recognition and spoke highly about the community involvement to decrease crime and clean up litter in the surrounding area.

    If such topics as community-involvement lightened the mood, the ones that truly sent his eyes twinkling were the discussions of his wines. When asked which was his favorite, he demurred, remarking that it was like the dilemma of choosing a favorite child. When asked, though, what he drinks at home, he said, “Seyval. Seyval is just a very easy drinking, it’s a dry white, it has complexity, it drinks like a red, it coats the mouth. And, of course, reds are always fun to have. And reds, we have one that called Vendage, which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot and its a wonderful blend.”

    For a winery that produces over 4,000 gallons of wine (just over 20,000 bottles) per year and yet does not grow a single vine for harvesting, one must wonder how it all came about. Joe, a former engineer and computer scientist, developed the idea of home-winemaking after his brother-in-law sent him a bottle of home-made Grenache Rosé in 1973. From that simple origin came the original Henke Winery in Winton Place. Joe describes it as “a hobby that got out of control.”

    Until the winery moved to its present location, Joe and his wife, Joan, worked full-time jobs as well as staffing the winery and making light meals for the simple restaurant that accompanied it. At that time, they sat around 40 patrons. According to Joe, “It was pizza and cheese trays and things like that and then towards the end we decided, ‘Well, sometimes people want a special dinner,’ so started doing that and it just took off. After that, it just snowballed.”

    Now Henke Winery produces 15 different varietals and offers a full menu, with seating for 125. Although they do not grow any of the grapes, they operate a complete winery — crushing, de-stemming, fermenting, and bottling — or as Joe would happily tell, “We do everything Mondavi does except have a vineyard.” The grapes are sourced from Ohio (northern and southern vineyards), New York (Finger Lakes), and California, and shipped to Henke.

    Part 2 of Tim’s Henke Winery profile will be coming next Friday.

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