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Wine Industry Grows Like A Vine In Ohio; Economic Impact Now Estimated At $1.3 Billion!


By Rick Armon

Posted December 7th 2017


Standing in the small vineyard at Maize Valley Winery, Bill Bakan pulls aside some leaves and reveals a cluster of grapes.

In the next few days, those Frontenac grapes would be harvested by hand and smashed into juice, eventually turning into wine — and money.

“The neat thing about the wine industry, we actually make something,” said Bakan, whose family runs the winery, along with a brewery, farm and market along Edison Street Northwest. “We take sunshine, nutrients from the soil and water, and vertically integrate that into a finished product. When you do that, that’s economic impact.”

The Ohio Grape Industries Committee estimates in a new report that the state’s wine and grape industry had a $1.3 billion economic impact on the Ohio economy last year — up from $786 million in a study completed five years ago.

The industry has seen explosive growth in the state over the last several years, with the number of wineries climbing from 175 in 2012 to 265 last year.

Over that time, Ohio has become the sixth largest winemaker in the country, now producing 5.9 million gallons a year. Despite the high ranking, the Buckeye State made up a tiny portion, or just 0.74 percent, of the overall amount.

Not surprisingly, California led the nation with 680 million gallons or 84 percent of the total.

The Ohio wine industry now provides 8,067 full-time jobs in the state, an increase of more than 2,700 from the previous report.

All that growth has helped generate $75 million in federal taxes and $72 million in state and local taxes, the study says.

“We are part of a national trend and it’s reflective of the position wine has taken in American culinary society,” said Donniella Winchell, executive director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association in Geneva. “Wine has become an integral part of dining.”

A Gallup poll released this summer showed that 30 percent of people who consume alcohol consider wine their drink of choice — second to beer.

The authors of the new Ohio study, Frank, Rimerman + Co. from St. Helena, Calif., noted that the economic impact was much higher than the previous study because prior reports underestimated the average amount of money spent by tourists.

Wine-related tourism expenses were estimated at $321 million last year.

Ohio has become a tourism destination for wine drinkers, with an estimated 1.38 million people visiting wineries in the state last year.

Winchell noted that there are numerous motor coach companies providing wine tours in Northeast Ohio and bed and breakfasts have popped up to serve the industry.

Those visitors are much sought-after because of their pocketbooks. They have an annual household income of more than $75,000 and with that, plenty of disposable income, Winchell said.

“The economic development guys used to look at wineries and tourism as fluff but increasingly they regard it as a serious economic tool,” she said.

She also emphasized that the winery growth generally has been in rural areas.

“We are a job creator in areas that otherwise have been dependent on less than ideal income opportunities,” she said.

The Akron-Canton region boasts more than 20 wineries today, including Gervasi Vineyard in Canton, The Winery at Wolf Creek in Copley Township, Red Horse Winery in Barberton and Hi & Low Winery in Sharon Township.

Bakan, who is part of the Ohio Grape Industries Committee, is not a suit-wearing chief executive.

His hands are dirty and his jeans have a hole in them at the knee from kneeling on the ground so much. He talks about wearing out the toes of his boots from welding.

“I grew up busting my knuckles and burning my eyebrows off,” he said.

Bakan can attest to the economic benefit of wine.

Maize Valley had always struggled as a family farm. The winery was added in 2005, while the brewery opened in 2014.

Today, thanks to the winery, brewery and other events, the 750-acre farm attracts more than 100,000 people a year.

“When we started entertaining people, we started paying the bills,” Bakan said. “When we got into the wine and beer business, we started actually making money versus the farm.

“We joke we used to have an offseason. We don’t anymore. We’re blessed for that.”

The winery is small, with only 3.5 acres of grapes. It produces about 20,000 gallons or nearly 8,500 cases a year.

Tonya Fields is the assistant winemaker and vineyard manager.

“It’s a cool way to make a living,” she said while standing in the vineyard. “I get to work outside and do what I really enjoy.”

Maize Valley hasn’t abandoned traditional crop farming. It still produces about 40 different crops.

“But the most important harvest is smiles,” Bakan said.

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