Arnie Esterer of Markko Vineyard will admit when pressed that he is a "farmer with a vision". That vision is of the Lake Erie region as one of the great wine-making areas of the world, rivaling California and, yes, even France.

Arnie Esterer is a winemaker. A winemaker with big ideas. Big world-class ideas.

Those who doubt him had better not underestimate this quiet man from Conneaut. With his beard, wire-rimmed glasses, and little blue cap, Esterer may have a detached, professorial air; with his calm manner of speaking, he may sound as if he's politely leading a seminar instead of thinking about a viticultural revolution.

But make no mistake about it: Arnie Esterer is tough-minded and serious about wine. Serious enough to be the first to grow the delicate vinifera grapevines of Europe in the northeastern Ohio snowbelt. Serious enough to grow grapes the hard way, using natural soil additives instead of commercial chemicals. Serious enough to have built a reputation with connoisseurs for his Reisling, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay. Wine and food writers have described them as "a delight to drink," "extraordinary," and "some of the best wines in the country."

In 1967, Esterer was able to arrange a kind of internship with Dr. Konstantin Frank, an expert on growing grapevines in upstate New York. In effect, Esterer traded his labor for a crash course in growing grapes for wine. Frank taught Esterer such cultural practices as the spacing of vines and how to protect them against winter winds and snow. Frank also checked varieties of vinifera most apt to survive Lake Erie's bluster and explained how the process of natural selection and adaptation will, over time, sort out the right vines for the climate.

Arnie Esterer with Tim Hubbard opened Markko Vineyard in 1968. By 1972, Esterer had left his engineering position at Union Carbide to become a full-time winemaker.

Source: James Hope's Bountiful Ohio: good food and stories from where the heartland begins. Click here to learn more about the people and places featured in this collection.

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