When the Directors Guild of America recently presented a Lifetime Achievement Award to Ridley Scott, the Hollywood banquet featured wines from Ohio’s Ravenhurst Champagne Cellars.
Shipping Ohio wines to California may seem counterintuitive, but for Ravenhurst vintner Chuck Harris, the Guild’s order acknowledged that he and his wife, Nina Busch, produce premium estate wines amid Union and Hardin counties’ farm fields near Mt. Victory. “It shows that great wine is great wine regardless of where it comes from,” he says.
Harris and Busch are members of Union Rural Electric Cooperative, based in Marysville. They grew up in Van Wert, and in the 1970s, both worked at a French restaurant — he as a chef, she as a baker — in New York City. They learned to appreciate fine wine by drinking Dom Pérignon with friends and colleagues, but they realized the Big Apple was not for them.
“New York was exciting,” allows Busch, “but we couldn’t live there because we had no place to garden.” In 1980, they transplanted themselves to Union County to grow organic gardens and grapes. Busch’s fondness for champagne prompted Harris to start making his own. “I married a woman who wanted to drink more champagne than I could afford to buy,” he says with smile.
The perfect spot
Ravenhurst is situated east of Campbell Hill in Hardin County, and because that peak is Ohio’s highest elevation, it affects weather patterns, effectively creating a microclimate with scant rainfall in July and August. “We’re in an 11-mile-wide strip that farmers around here jokingly call ‘Death Valley,’” says Harris. Though adverse for field crops, those environmental conditions benefit vineyards. “Less rain yields smaller grapes with a high skin-to-juice ratio,” says Harris. “That means good wine because the skin has all the color and flavor.”
Busch and Harris cultivate four viniferas — Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay — to make still and sparkling wines. Their specialty is méthode champenoise sparkling wine, which requires fermenting first in the barrel and again in the bottle. “We’re making classic, French-style champagne with American fruit,” says Harris. While a biscuit or toast taste typifies French champagne, Harris aims for fruitier versions. “I want some fruit flavor there,” he says, “like jam on a biscuit.”
Ravenhurst wines are sold primarily to a “Patron’s List” of connoisseurs, but its tasting room on Yoakum Road is periodically open to the public between March and December. Unlike most wineries, Ravenhurst has no food, entertainment, or gift shop. It’s simply about enjoying excellent wines. Says Harris, “The program here is visit the winery, taste the wine, like the wine, buy the wine, and go home.”
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