RIPLEY, Ohio — At the turn of the 19th century, the Ohio River Valley was the largest wine producing region in north America.

But a decrease in available manpower during the Civil War, the introduction of the "black rot" fungus into vineyards and the impact of Prohibition, grape growing fell out of favor in the region.

Seth Meranda said his family's mission is to "revitalize the Ohio River Valley one vine at a time," by bringing the crop and science back to the area.

The Merandas came one step closer to realizing their dream by celebrating the grand opening of the Meranda-Nixon Winery on Friday.

The weather was lovely as family, friends and local dignitaries gathered on the Meranda's picturesque farm to sample the winery's three debut wines, Red Oak Creek Red Wine, Lake Erie Catawba and Ohio River Valley Estate Traminette.

Next year, the winery will release its estate Cabernet Sauvignon, which is currently aging in oak barrels until its release.

For the Merandas, lifelong farmers, grape-growing almost came naturally.

"His heart was always on the farm," said Tina.

Seth Meranda has farmed his whole life. He's raised hogs, soy beans, tobacco and even giant melons. Seth even appeared on the "David Letterman Show" when he was 14 and 15 years old to discuss melon growing on national television.

Seth graduated from Ohio State University in 1994 with a agricultural science degree.

As the tobacco industry was burdened by government restrictions, Seth looked to diversify. He realized that his tobacco base was also good ground for grapes. With a love for science and chemistry, Seth was also interested in the wine making process.

So in 2003, the family planted its first round of grapes. The Merandas currently grow six varieties: Traminette, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Norton and Catawaba.

"He loves everything about wine making," said Tina of her husband's new agricultural venture.

The family is solely responsible for all steps of the process. Meranda-Nixon grapes are "carefully tended to" and "everything is hand picked," said Tina. Even sons Preston, age 7, and Austin, 5, help with the process. The family's home is within walking distance of the vineyard.

The farm is a family farm, passed down through five generations. Seth Meranda, along with his brother, bought the farm from their grandfather, then split it among themselves.

The family's vineyards currently encompass 5.5 acres of the farm, but the family will be adding another 1.5 acres this year. The Merandas eventually hope to extend their vineyards to 7-10 acres .

"We breathe, eat and sleep grapes," said Seth, who agrees that grape growing is better than breathing, eating and sleeping with tobacco. Seth says the wine making business is "prettier" and requires a greater amount of science than tobacco farming.

Currently, Meranda-Nixon wines can only be purchased from the estate. However, Tina Meranda is licensed for direct wine sales in Ohio. Tina said she soon hopes to market the wines to area restaurants, shops and eventually hopes to enter the Kentucky market.

For more information about the winery and vineyards, visit www.meranda-nixonwinery.com or call 937-392-4654. The tasting room is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. Wines will be available for purchase at that time. Beginning Memorial Day weekend, the tasting room will be serving "grill-your-own" salmon or steak and will be serving side dishes and wines to complete the meal. The vineyards and winery are located at 6517 Laycock Road in Ripley, Ohio.

Contact Carrie Carlson at 606-564-9091, ext. 272.

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