Arnie Esterer: Father of Ohio’s Vinifera Adventure
‘We tasted a lot of wines and I wanted [to grow] something I could drink with my dinner,” Arnie Esterer, owner of Markko Vineyard in Conneaut, Ohio replied when asked why he started Markko in 1968. Esterer is a modest man considered by many to be the father of vinifera-vine growing in Ohio. In the past the state was known primarily for growing hybrids such as Catawba.
An economist by training, Esterer always had the horticulture bug. ‘My father loved trees and we always had victory gardens,” he noted. His decision to plant Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon in Northeast Ohio was heavily influenced by his friendship with famed New York winemaker, Dr. Konstantin Frank. Frank came to the states from Russia in 1950 and believed vinifera varieties could thrive near the Finger Lakes because he had cultivated them near the Black Sea. Esterer describes Frank as a super-dynamic person who not only started the American Wine Society but convinced Eastern growers they could be successful with vinifera varieties.
Another Markko mentor was Philip Wagner, former owner of Boordy Vineyards in Maryland. Wagner was the editor of The Baltimore Sun and wrote several books on wine including the classic, A Wine-Grower’s Guide, first published in 1945. Esterer bought some of his original equipment from Wagner and readily acknowledges that he and his founding business partner, the late Tim Hubbard, stood on the proverbial ‘shoulders of giants” in creating outstanding Markko wines. ‘We adapted Frank’s cultural practices to the south shore of Lake Erie.” One of these practices is deep-plowing for better rooting zone and successful replanting.
Arnie has a succession plan in son Paul. ‘Paul has been here for about a year and we’re partners now.” Arnie is pleased his vineyards will survive and feels strongly the Lake Erie appellation (American Viticulture Area) needs a better reputation. ‘This reputation can increase the value of the grapes and the wines they produce. California makes better reds right now, but we [Lake Erie growers] can beat them hands down in Riesling and Chardonnay.”
Arnie believes the Lake Erie AVA’s ‘heavy soils, better sugars and bigger styles” yield beautiful wines, like Ohio Riesling, to go with your meals.
Visit markko.com for more information.