Known affectionately as the godfather of Ashtabula County winemaking, Arnulf Esterer with Tim Hubbard established Markko Vineyard at a time when the Ohio wine industry was at the verge of redefining itself. In 1968, twenty-seven Ohio wineries were in operation and produced wine from mainly native grape varieties such as Concord, Catawba, and Niagara. Today, Ohio features nearly 250 wineries of all shapes, sizes and wine offerings. The vinifera grapevines touted by Esterer and Frank and the French hybrid varieties promoted by Phillip Wagner, today, are essential components of winemaking operations in Ohio.
Arnulf Esterer’s collection provides a unique insight into the wine history of the Northeast in the 1960s-1990s. It is about the big ideas and the players who made it happen. It is about the early success and failures of operating a small wine business in the East. Finally, it is about the mentors, their technical knowledge, and, most importantly, their passion.
Highlighted are some of the characters included in this collection.
Dr. Konstantin Frank, Dr. Frank Wines
Born in the Ukraine, Dr. Konstantin Frank immigrated to the United States in 1951 and established a vineyard and winery in 1962 in the Finger Lakes region of New York. As noted in the Gadding Vine and Wine List, Fall 1985, Frank was considered by many as the “pioneer of vinifera growers in the East. This independent man, whose spirit and perseverance was legendary among those of us who knew him. He was a man not easily forgotten, a man of great conviction and purpose, whose contribution to the research and development of vinifera led to an explosion of wineries in the eastern United States.”
As a co-op grape grower for Dr. Frank in the early years of the vineyard, Arnulf Esterer successfully cultivated some of the first vinifera grapevines in Northeast Ohio. The letters and papers included in this collection explore an often candid correspondence between two legendary winemakers who shared at the time a revolutionary view of the American wine industry and the day-to-day struggles and success stories of operating a small agricultural business in a cold climate region.
Today, Dr. Frank Wines is managed by the third generation of the Frank family. Under Fred Frank’s direction and in the spirit of Konstantin Frank, the winery has won a number of prestigious awards and continues to promote the quality and excellence of cold hardy varietals such as Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, and Grüner Veltliner.
Philip Wagner, Boordy Vineyards
An amateur wine maker and grape grower during Prohibition, Philip Wagner wrote in 1933 “American Wines and How to Make Them” based on his experiences cultivating French hybrids, a cross between labrusca and vinifera vines intended to withstand cold climates and high humidity and still maintain the taste of the best European grapes. Revised several times, the work was republished in 1976 as “Grapes into Wine: The Art of Wine Making in America.” It was Wagner’s book that inspired Esterer to pursue winemaking in the 1960s and lead him to Dr. Konstantin Frank.
Philip and Jocelyn Wagner later founded Boordy Vineyards , Maryland’s best known winery and grape nursery. The Wagners sold the name and the equipment in 1980 to the Deford family but kept the nursery for many years to provide hybrids to growers nationwide. Selected from Esterer’s personal collection, twenty years of Boordy’s grape nursery catalogs are now available again for public view.
Brother David Petry, Saint Meinrad Archabbey
Brother Petry was a close friend and mentor to the winery in the early years. Described by Arnulf Esterer as a “gentle, most unassuming man…and a knowledgeable winemaker and grape grower,” Brother Petry became one of Dr. Frank’s co-op grape growers in 1973 and spent a year with the winemaker learning how to make dry wine. Prior to this tutelage, the monks for over 70 years had produced wine from 10 acres of Concord grapes on the property. Due to economic reasons, the Archabbey made the hard decision to permanently close the vineyard and the cellar in 1997.
Leon Adams, Wine Writer
Adams is best known for his book “Wines of America”, a survey and history of American wineries. First published in 1973, Adams visited several Ohio wineries, including Markko Vineyard and Debonne Vineyard, and collected a number of stories that were featured in his popular book. Photos in both collections showcase these visits.
Harold Applegate, Dr. Frank Co-op Grape Grower
A 1960s Dr. Frank co-op grape grower from New Jersey, Applegate in this collection shares his personal Dr. Frank stories with Arnulf Esterer.