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  • June 30th, 2010

    Cincinnati Secrets: Valley Vineyards – Part One

    This post is from Timothy J. Gabelman, the Cincinnati Wine Pairing Examiner with www.examiner.com. Tim is a contributing writer to Uncorked Cincinnati, discussing food, wine, and local tidbits!

    Proceed north up Montgomery Road until it ceases to be called such and you will notice, along with developments that seemingly have sprung from nothing, a sign that points to Valley Vineyards on the left.

    valleyvineyards1

    From a parcel of land in the heart of Morrow there has been a forty-year tradition of agriculture and estate wines spanning three generations. Founded by Ken Schuchter, Valley Vineyards has earned a reputation for award-winning wines, a commitment to emphasizing the Ohio wine brand, and family-based values in all areas of its business. Today, though Ken has retired from the day-to-day operation, his son, Kenny Joe, and daughter-in-law, Dodie continue to strive to produce the highest quality grapes and wines from the Ohio River Valley AVA, the second largest appellation of origin in the United States, at Ohio’s third largest estate winery.

    The founding of the winery in 1969, according to Joe Schuchter, Ken’s grandson, is remarkable, “It started off, there was a dinner between my grandpa, my great-uncle Jim, and their friend named Tony Williams. Grandpa was always kind of known as the business guy with his experience at General Motors, my uncle Jim was the farmer of the family, bringing his agriculture experience to the endeavor, and Tony Williams owned First National Bank of Wilmington, so he was the finance end of the business. And so, they were all having dinner with their wives at the old Charlie’s Crab in Montgomery, and they had some wine, and they were like, you know, we could make this! My grandmother…she really started pushing Grandpa and he started contacting the OSU and figured out what grapes and thought, again, that he ordered enough for two acres and it just kind of went from there.”

    Although Ken thought that he had ordered grape vines for two acres, he had inadvertently ordered enough for twenty! What was supposed to be a hobby to produce wines for the family had suddenly become a commercial enterprise. In the first vintage, the 1970, Ken Schuchter was the winemaker. For the 1971 vintage, Ken hired outside help in the form of John McCan. According to Joe, “He was the winemaker from 1971 to about 1983 or ‘84, right around the time of the fire.”

    In addition to the first commercial vintage in 1971, another tradition was begun that year: the Valley Vineyards Wine Festival. Nearly 10,000 people attended that first year, and it continued for thirty-seven years until the family decided to discontinue it in 2007.

    In 1975, Valley Vineyards was awarded its first major accolade when the American Wine Society Annual Convention voted its DeChaunac the “best red in the nation.”

    1978 saw the start of a tradition that continues to this day: the weekend grill-out. $59.00 (for a couple aged 21 and over), purchases steaks or salmon fillets for two, fresh salads, green beans, baked potato, mixed vegetables, rice pilaf, fresh bread, and a bottle of wine. You grill the steak and salmon on outdoor or indoor grills yourself. The grill-outs are 5-8:30 PM Friday and Saturday, and Sunday 4-6 PM (July-October). Reservations are requested by calling (513) 899-2485.

    Greg Pollman, the current winemaker at Valley Vineyards, joined the team in 1986. He started working at Fountain Wine Cellars in Cincinnati in 1974 and went to Sublette Winery in Cincinnati in the late 70s. Asked to describe Greg’s style of wine-making, Joe says, “Greg is a winemaker who wins gold medals with his Cabernet Sauvignon and he wins gold medals on a Catawba…. for most, that’s incredibly bizarre. Most are focused even more… red or whites… let alone hybrids. But he does everything. Even his Concord wins a gold medal. And that’s why, over the years, I think that they kept him, even though as a winemaker, he’s not an inexpensive cost for the business. But no matter what wine we have, he does it well.”

    Today, a third generation of the Schuchter family works for the winery, Joe and Kyle, sons of Kenny Joe and Dodie, as well as their older sister, Tiffany, play integral roles in the family business.

    Of course a great deal has changed since the founding by Ken Schuchter and some things have remained the same. Although the state of Ohio boasts over 140 wineries and the second largest American Viticultural Area (AVA) in the U.S., the brand that “Ohio wines” represent is far from the reputation of that of California or even Oregon and Washington enjoy. valleyvineyards2

    The tradition of a “family-farm” and a sense of community has lasted to this day, according to Joe. “When I was a kid, us, the Debevcs, the Ferrantes, the Heinemans, we all sat down to dinner, and brought bottles of wine. We all had different family backgrounds but would make a big dinner and everybody would trade little secrets on what they were doing, if somebody had a problem, they would help them out.”

    Valley Vineyards has extended this sense of community, looking at the big picture of the Ohio brand, by fostering goodwill with the new wineries that have sprung up along the way, “If X winery down the street has a big problem with their Chardonnay, you know, Greg will go down there, jokingly try to charge them a fee… and they like that. We want everybody to do just the best that they can. And that’s just how we look at it. I think that… it’s because it’s in our blood and we see the value of it not just being Valley Vineyards has the capability of distributing here and not just getting a big presence, but it can be Ohio as a brand.”

    This sense of uniting under the label of “Ohio Winery” has even rubbed off on other vintners who have come along later. Joe Henke, owner and winemaker at Henke Winery in Westwood, which was founded in 1973, when asked about competing with other Ohio-based wineries said, “I don’t see it as competition. No, we’re all in this together. When people come in, and if you’re heading in that direction, I’ll draw them a map and get them there. And our websites, we try to enter links so that if you hit ours, you can also print out a route to the next one.”

    This community-oriented mentality has certainly served Valley Vineyards well. Already in 2010, the estate winery has won 13 awards from the Ohio Wine Competition, 4 medals from the 2010 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, and they took a bronze at the Cincinnati International Wine Festival for a total of 18 awards in four months.

    In honor of the forty-year anniversary of the founding of Valley Vineyards, the family has brought back some discontinued traditions and introduced what may become some new ones.

    Look for Part Two of “Cincinnati Secrets: Valley Vineyards” next week.

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