Sandusky Surprise

Ohio vintner revives state's winemaking tradition.


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If anyone should be able to recognize a crazy idea, David Kraus should. After all, he's a psychiatrist.

So why would a psychiatrist with a private practice in New York City's Greenwich Village plant vineyards and launch a winery, Hermes Vineyards, 500 miles away—in Ohio? Not just any vineyard, mind you, but a vineyard filled with vinifera grape varieties far more associated with northern Italy, southern France and Portugal than with the shores of Lake Erie.

Insane, right? Try telling Dr. Dave.

An Ohio native, Kraus got what he calls "the itch" to own a vineyard—"It's always been a fantasy of  mine, a dream"—and looked first to Long Island. But after one deal fell through, he began exploring the history of his boyhood home back in Ohio.

What he found, he says, astonished him.

Thanks to the moderating influence of Lake Erie five miles to the north, the region has a 200-day growing season. It also boasts limestone-rich soil and accumulated heat-degree days of about 2,900—similar, he says, to Tuscany or the Rhône Valley.

"In fact, Turin, Italy and Sandusky are almost identical" in their climates, says Kraus.

In the middle of the 19th century, the Sandusky area served as the most prolific wine-producing region not only in Ohio, but in the country. In 1859, Ohio had a third of all the vines in the United States, and made twice as much wine as California, according to Hugh Johnson's Story of Wine. And the vineyards in and around Sandusky contributed mightily to Ohio's short-lived preeminence.

Kraus planted two vineyards outside of Sandusky in 2002 and 2003, but rather than planting the varieties his neighbors planted—usually a mixture of native American, hybrid and vinifera vines—Kraus opted for vinifera exclusively. Nearly two dozen varieties were planted, including Chardonnay, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Mourvèdre and Petit Verdot, and the vines, Kraus says, "are all doing well."

In 2006, when winemakers elsewhere across Ohio struggled with a cold, wet autumn, Hermes Vineyards produced some surprisingly flavorful, deeply-colored wines, including a fragrant Viognier and an appealing Syrah. The winery offers 20 different bottlings, in a price range from $10 to $25.

Kraus acknowledges that some of his Big Apple friends—and probably some of his patients—think he's a little nuts for his winemaking venture, often asking him, "How can you stand going back to Ohio all the time?"

He assures them he's not crazy. Just fulfilling a dream.

For more information on Hermes Vineyards, go to www.hermesvineyards.com.

Mark Fisher writes about food, dining and wine for the Dayton Daily News.

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