WAYNE TOWNSHIP — John and Gayle Dowalter started making wine in their basement 10 years ago.
“As I tell people, it was a hobby that got out of control,” John Dowalter said.
Out of control might be an understatement.
Year after year, the batches kept getting better and better, Gayle Dowalter said.
The couple felt the momentum around their product and wanted to see where it could lead.
What began as 36 vines eventually turned into 800 in 2016, John said.
Now, 10 years later, the Dowalters’ fourth-generation property has turned into just under five acres of wine vineyards, filled with an assortment of flavorful grapes and wines to choose from.
This is how Dowalter Vineyards/KnoxView Farm Winery was born.
The winery, opened May 18 to the public at 7524 Phillips Road, runs Thursday to Saturday. Hours of operation can be found here.
As far as one’s eyes will take them lies the woods where an automatic bird whaler chirps to warn off potential thieves.
The winery has had two “big plantings” during its two-decade run — in 2016 and 2018. The vines are cut back every year so the Dowalters don’t have to replant yearly.
The vines “hit their stride” for growing around three to four years, Gayle said.
“Last year we had about 34 tons of grapes,” she said. “We’re expecting around 30 tons this year.”
How the wine is made
Since producing wine en masse, it has tied up the Dowalters’ weekends. Gayle left her accounting job to work at the vineyard full-time.
After picking the grapes into yellow harvest lugs, they’re placed onto a trailer and weighed. Then, they store the grapes in a cooler until they process or sell the wine.
“As the wine sits, the particles settle out,” John said. “There’s a term called racking, you’ll have the solids at the bottom.”
Hocking Hills Winery in Logan, Ohio, sells the vast majority of Dowalter’s wine.
The Dowalters have a strong connection to the southeast Ohio region, meeting each other at Ohio University.
Grape flavors ranged from sweet to tart, leaving it up to the wine taster to see what they want to drink for the day.
Walking through the vineyard, the Dowalters pick up a couple of the grapes growing on the vines.
“Here’s are marquette grapes,” John says. “These are starting to get sugar to them.”
“Every variety has a very unique character,” Gayle said. “We have been focused at least initially on doing pure varietal wines.”
Farther into the vines, John points to his favorite grape — the frontenac.
The cluster filled grapes are John’s favorites due to the fast growth process.
“We try to keep the canopies open so it keeps the fruit area dried out and helps keep the disease pressure down.
“And these are fun to pick.”
Winery education has been a mix of online learning and attending conferences, such as the Ohio Grape and Wine Conference, with fellow winemakers, John said.
The Ohio Grape and Wine Conference is part of the Ohio Dept. of Agriculture, which funds the state’s grape-growing industry.
The Dowalters hope to expand in the future but it’s a purposeful, slow process.
Thinking toward the future, the Dowalters plan on expanding their operation further in their property.
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