Advocating for under-appreciated wine regions in the Eastern United States
The Virginia Grape
There is a story about Meranda-Nixon that approaches the status of legend. During the polar inversion of 2013, when temperatures dropped well below zero, Seth was monitoring the weather while attending a conference in Northern Ohio. When it became apparent that the record lows would be catastrophic for his vinifera, he left immediately and drove home. He and his family worked through the night to bury the vines in the snow. This action saved his vines while vineyards throughout the state were decimated. This is where understanding the science makes a difference.
As a result, there was a happy ending for the 15.5 acres of fruit that the Meranda family started planting in 2003. The Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon vines are still thriving along with the Norton, Catawba and Traminette. Significantly, only estate fruit is necessary for the 2500 cases that are produced annually.
By the time I arrived, the Meranda’s had been pouring wine in their tasting room for about 10 years. I was just one of many visitors who bellied up to their tasting bar and discovered the quality of the Meranda-Nixon product. Both Seth and his wife Maura were behind the tasting bar and I stayed longer than I should have tasting offerings from the menu as well as a few wines from their library. There were more wines poured than I can mention in this review, but let me give you the highlights.
Against long odds, Seth is growing vinifera along with some hybrids and American varietals. By vinifera I am referring to some of the standard French grapes like Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc, which are particularly sensitive to cold. As a standard precaution, Seth buries the graft at the end of each growing season. This is a practice used in colder regions. By covering the place where the vine is grafted to the rootstock, it can give the vines some protection against freezing temperatures, but only to a point.
The real story here was the quality of the red wine. They are growing some Norton, which is extremely resilient and does well throughout the Eastern US. The real surprise was the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The fact that Seth is successfully growing Cabernet Sauvignon is laudable; that it is an extraordinarily complex wine is almost unbelievable. Then there were the Cab Francs. We tasted a reserve that was another double gold winner. Its rich fruit and firm tannins, combined with the hint of spice and lack of green notes in the finish made it my favorite overall. I was just blown away.
There are many things that might draw you out to Meranda-Nixon Winery. One of their wine dinners or the barrel tastings after Thanksgiving might be a draw. You might drop in with the kids, because you heard they are family friendly. You really need to get out there because the wine. All other considerations are secondary. After you do, please let me know what you think.
Outside the Meranda-Nixon tasting room.
Seth Meranda and his wife Maura were behind the tasting bar when I arrived.
There are 15.5 acres of fruit that the Meranda family started planting in 2003.
Meranda-Nixon Winery Profile
Written by Brian Sep 11, 2017
There are a few producers in Southern Ohio that are indisputably wineries of note. Of those there are probably two or three that fall into a more elite category of world-class wineries. Meranda-Nixon Winery certainly falls into the latter grouping.
Owner/winegrower Seth Meranda grew up on a farm and went on to graduate from Ohio State with a degree in agriculture. He took advantage of the tobacco buyout and oversaw the transition of part of the family farm to grapes.
The Meranda’s had been pouring wine in their tasting room for about 10 years.
6517 Laycock Rd, Ripley, OH 45167
Owner(s): Seth and Maura Meranda
Winemaker: Seth Meranda
Open to Public
Apr-Dec Fri 1 to 8:30; Sat 11 to 6
We started with a pair of Chardonnays. The first was a beautifully constructed double-gold winner, lightly oaked and balanced, but it was pedestrian in comparison to the reserve Chardonnay. The reserve was simply off the charts with balance and complexity. Both were excellent and can stand up against similar wines anywhere on the continent.
Seth opened a bottle of his sparkling Catawba. This was easily the most interesting wine I tasted simply because Catawba is often dismissed as a serious wine grape. Two centuries ago, when Southwest Ohio was the largest producer of American wine, this was the primary grape. The Meranda-Nixon example had hints of the grape-jelly notes serious oenophiles dislike, but that element was muted on the palate. It is a very nice, fruity sparkler at an excellent price and it represents a bit of history. I thought it was over the top and I took some home.
On the surface this is not an unusual agricultural shift. I have visited dozens of vineyards that have made the move from tobacco to grapes. What is singular about Meranda-Nixon is the quality of the viticultural product. Seth Meranda devoted himself to the vineyard as a grower who understands the science of viticulture and it is obvious in the quality of the wine.