Caesar Creek Vineyards Review
Address: 962 Long Road Xenia,Ohio 45385.
Phone Number: 937-479-4278
Tasting Hours: Fri-Sat 2:00-7:30 and by appt.
Reviewer: Brian Yost
Review Date: 11/28/2014
Reviewer: Brian Yost
I must confess that I had serious misgivings as I set out to visit my first Ohio winery. Caesar Creek Vineyards is east of Dayton and in the heart of farm country. How could they possibly be making good wine? So as I drove down the long farm drive to the tasting room, my expectations were quite low. For the record, however, I was wrong. Caesar Creek turned out to be an exciting start to a day of great discoveries.
Walter Borda was living in Virginia when he decided that he wanted to open a winery. He looked around at potential vineyard sites in various parts of the state, but property values were prohibitive. At about this same time, fate intervened. His mother-in-law offered a parcel of her land in Southwestern Ohio. The price was right, but this opportunity offered a couple of serious challenges.
This part of Ohio is two USDA Cold Hardiness Zones cooler than Virginia. It is colder than up on the Great Lakes or down on the Ohio River, where those bodies of water have a moderating effect. So the international varieties simply can’t be grown. Beginning in 2004, Walter planted hybrids that might thrive in that terroir. Despite Walter’s diligence, Caesar Creek lost all of its Chardonel to the polar vortex of 2013. Today, the remaining six cold-hearty varietals are represented in nine acres of vines.
The second challenge is a result of the first. Public awareness of these hybrid varietals often restricts demand for the wines. Most wine drinkers are unfamiliar with grapes like Frontenac, Foch and Cayuga. I had sampled wines from many of these hybrids before my visit and, I must admit, I was unimpressed with most of them. Walter brought in Trisha Chalfant as the winemaker and in my opinion this made the difference. Trisha had an undergraduate degree in Chemistry and a Masters in Crop Science with emphasis on viticulture from Ohio State, but no winemaking experience. This was a risk that paid off. Trisha is an amazing winemaker, who could have a career anywhere in the world, but she’s making great wines from hybrids in Southwestern Ohio.
The Caesar Creek fruit was initially sold to other local wineries, but in 2011 Trisha produced the first estate vintage. I was not able to taste examples from that first year, but I did sample a large number of the 2012 and 2013 wines. There were several of note, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll mention only a few. Walter and Trisha were pouring a Traminette that was perfectly balanced and demonstrated all of the typical qualities of that varietal. There was a dry, bright Seyval Blanc. The dry Cayuga/Foch Rosé was everything I look for in that style of wine. I was very excited to try the Frontenac and Noiret. The Frontenac was a medium-bodied red with great fruit. The Noiret was a bigger, earthier, dark-red wine with structured tannins. Both were well-crafted, excellent wines. I was not disappointed with any of the offerings, and I had no idea that wines of this quality were possible with most of these hybrids.
This part of Southwestern Ohio was originally part of Virginia’s “western reserve,” so Thomas Jefferson issued the original deed to the property. The old settler’s house was a wood structure built in the early 1800’s. That home was replaced by a sturdier brick structure in 1850, which still stands on the property. Future plans include converting the old home into a tasting room and museum. Its position on the highest point offers it a commanding view of the vineyard, creek and surrounding farmland. This will provide just one more reason to visit.
The current tasting room is small, but cozy. Efforts are made during better weather to move visitors outside under nearby shade trees. Whether inside our out, however, the winetasting experience is well structured and educational. I also found Walter and Trisha to be extraordinarily gracious hosts who are excited to share their wines with the public.
This was such an exciting and unexpected find for me, that it’s hard to curb my enthusiasm. Despite the fact that Caesar Creek Vineyards is one of the few wineries in this part of the state, the quality of the wine, beauty of the venue and tasting experience make this a must-visit winery. I strongly recommend adding this one to your list.