Ohio

The Island Vineyards of Firelands

18 April 2012

Last June, I wrote about Ohio’s Lake Erie Islands, which wine critic Frank Schoonmaker highlighted as an important viticultural region in a 1941 issue of Gourmet. But even then, Schoonmaker lamented the lost potential of these islands, which feature unusually favorable terroir for certain grape varieties. Prohibition killed off a number of wineries, and most of those that remained in the mid-20th century were apparently lazy or incompetent. According to Schoonmaker, “Too many – far too many – wines are falsified, are heavily dosed with sugar, or are blended with cheap California wines.”

With significantly declining acreage devoted to vineyards, I had basically written off these romantic-sounding islands. What a pleasant surprise then, to come across a bottle of 2010 Firelands Gewürztraminer from Isle St. George. Also known more prosaically as North Bass Island, Isle St. George achieved AVA (American Viticultural Area) status in 1982, and vineyards currently cover more than half the island.

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North Bass, Middle Bass, South Bass

19 June 2011

“Bass,” whether North, South or Middle, is not a name commonly associated with wine. Nor is Lake Erie, for that matter, but it wasn’t always so.

I’ve recently been reading History in a Glass: Sixty Years of Wine Writing from Gourmet, a fascinating compendium of wine articles written between 1941 and 2004 for the now unfortunately defunct magazine. The early pieces, mostly written by Frank Schoonmaker, provide an eye-opening glimpse into the state of post-Prohibition wine in the United States.

The Napa and Sonoma Valleys ranked as the top wine-producing districts, along with some other familiar California names, but there was no mention of Washington or Oregon. Instead, I was surprised to see Mr. Schoonmaker list the Lake Erie Islands as a top wine region:

The important wine-producing districts of the East, the South, and the Middle West can all be numbered on the fingers of two hands. Outstanding in point of quality is, perhaps, the Finger Lakes region of Western New York State, closely followed by the Lake Erie Islands district, north of Sandusky, Ohio. –Gourmet, June 1941

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