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Local wine grapes in peak harvest season: Doug Trattner's inside look

The harvesting process lasts about a month and a half, with peak days bringing in upwards of 15 to 20 tons of ripe fruit per day. Doug Trattner takes us inside.

GENEVA, Ohio — Ohio is one of the top wine-producing states in the nation, but our reputation as a sweet wine-heavy region persists. While many modern wineries across the state are doing their part to upend those stubborn stereotypes, few are doing more than M Cellars, a 12-year-old winery in Geneva. Owners Matt and Tara Meineke continue to push the limits in terms of the level of quality and consistency that a so-called “Ohio wine” can achieve.

Meineke chose to locate his winery in the Grand River Valley, a small region widely regarded as one of the state’s best wine-growing microclimates.

“Out here, we have the Grand River literally a half-mile right behind us, and we also have Lake Erie about seven or eight miles away, so all of that really moderates our climate and protects us from spring frost and moderates winter temperatures as well,” Matt explains.

The warmth that Lake Erie accumulates and retains during summer helps to extend the critical fall growing season, when both white and red wine grapes are reaching their peak ripeness and development. When they do, the fruit is harvested and transformed into award-winning European-style sparkling, white, rose and red wines.

“What you’re seeing right now is a whole year’s worth of work,” says Meineke. “We started the whole process pretty much right here; we pruned these vines right to the top of these posts, the fruit has been hand-thinned, all of the leaves have been pulled around the fruit clusters, and at this point now we’re just waiting on Mother Nature for the harvest to come in.”

The harvesting process lasts about a month and a half, with peak days bringing in upwards of 15 to 20 tons of ripe fruit per day. Unlike many small producers who pick their fruit by hand, Meineke has invested in state-of-the-art machinery the does the job quicker and better.

“We don’t do it by hand but with a machine harvester and cleaning system, so it really only brings in the best fruit,” he says.

If they are white wine grapes, they move from the picking bins, to the crusher, to the presses and into the fermentation tanks, while red white grapes get moved straight into the tanks where they will ferment with the skins, seeds and everything.

Depending on the wine, style and barrel-aging process, most wines will be bottled between six and 12 months.

In terms of size, M Cellars is considered small, says sommelier Scott Stutz. Really small.

“We’re really a very boutique, small, nano winery doing about 6,000 cases of high-quality, small-lot wines [per year],” he reports.

While the winery produces a number of incredible varieties, when asked to select two of his favorite bottles for tasting, Stutz wastes no time grabbing bottles of the Brut Rose and Meritage. The Brut Rose is a sparkling wine made with estate-grown pinot noir and chardonnay grapes and produced in the traditional Champagne method. Tiny bubbles produce an elegant, creamy mouthfeel that gives way to notes of berry, cherry and slight breadiness.

“M Cellars is really dedicated to the European winemaking style and also European varietals only,” Stutz adds. “We’re known for our Meritage blend, which follows the blending and classic grape varietals of classic Bordeaux France.”

Those varietals – estate-grown cabernet sauvignon, cab franc, merlot and petite verdot – are married into a classic Bordeaux-style blend that, depending on the vintage, offers complexity in the nose with aromas of berry, spice and smokiness, followed by gorgeous structure and balance.

Apart from a few select restaurants and retail shops, most of these wines are sold direct to consumer at the wonderful tasting room at the winery and through its wine club.

So how is the 2020 vintage shaping up?

“Terrific,” says Meineke. “Everything is kind of coming together. We’ve had minimal rain for the most part throughout the year and really good heat, so we have no complaints.”

Find M Cellars at 6193 South River Road W. in Geneva.