Wednesday, September 23, 2009

September 2009

By Matt Reese

September 2009

“Hello, nice to meet you. Where are you from?”
Like most people, when I first meet someone, one of the first things I ask about is where they live. This is probably because that provides a little insight into their background. No matter where they are, it seems that people carry at least some of their home with them and it shows up in their tastes, personality and lifestyles.
Wine is much the same way. The effects of soil, climate and terrain on the grapes used to produce it shape much of the rich personality of an individual wine. This is known to folks in the wine industry as “terroir.” Each unique place produces its own unique terroir. Growing regions with similar growing conditions, resulting in wines with a similar terroir, are called appellations. Ohio is home to five recognized viticultural appellations. The two most noteworthy appellations in Ohio are along the border of Lake Erie and the Ohio River Valley that stretches through southern Ohio.
The best way to taste the terroir of Ohio wines is to make sure the wines you are drinking are made entirely from grapes grown in the state. Such wines are making a name for themselves in national and international wine competitions as they continue to pile up awards.
Bill Skvarla understands how to win awards with the wines he makes from grapes grown in his Harmony Hill Vineyards just outside of Cincinnati in Clermont County. In 2001, Bill and Patti Skvarla started growing grapes for selling to the rapidly expanding wine industry in the area.
“We were just going to grow the grapes to sell to other wineries around us. We had a good market for them around here,” Skvarla said. “We had been making basement wine for years. I made all my mistakes early in my wine making career. Then, just for fun, we entered some competitions for amateur wine and we started winning. So, we decided we would use our grapes to start making wine.”
The couple won medals at the Indiana International Wine Competition, the largest wine competition in the United States, in 2002, 2003 and 2004. This has been followed up with a pile of recognitions for Harmony Hill including a double gold for Harmony Hill 2007 Rubato and a Gold for Harmony Hill 2006 Rhapsody at the 2008 Appellation America Competition.
Though among the smallest commercial wineries in the state, Harmony Hills still makes 1,200 cases of wine a year using all of their own grapes unless they have a short crop. From harvest through bottling and labeling, the entire process is done by hand with as many as 25 seasonal workers, including volunteers, 12 part-time employees and the Skvarlas.
The harvested Ohio grapes go into a destemmer/crusher that “replaces Lucille Ball stomping on the grapes,” Skvarla said. Yeast is added, and the duration of the contact between the juice and the grape skins through the fermentation process in the fermenters (ranging from a couple of days to three weeks) determines the color and flavor of the wine. From there the wine is separated from the dregs in settling tanks and transferred for storage in an appropriate container — stainless steel for white and oak barrels for red. The stainless steel tanks keep air away from the white wine, which turns brown with oxygen, while the oak barrels allow air to mix with the red. To avoid pumping the wine, which diminishes its quality, the red wine is gravity fed to barrels in an underground wine cave, one of only four manufactured wine caves in the country.
The Skvarlas cater to customers who can bring their own food to the vineyard and enjoy live music and high quality wine in an open rural setting. People can even bring their pets to Harmony Hills.
“We work hard to make a very sound product here, but it is not even about the wine,” Skvarla said. “It’s about the ambiance. We’re 30 miles from Cincinnati, and this place makes people feel like they’re in the country.”
The pleasant autumn weather prior to the cold winter months offers an ideal opportunity for people to visit the state’s many wineries and sample the tastes of Ohio unique terroir. Wine connoisseurs will find that like the wines, wineries and wine makers each have a terroir all their own. So this fall, before you take a sip of high quality Ohio wine, be sure to ask where it’s from and let your taste buds tell you.
For more information about Ohio wines visit For more information about Harmony Hills, visit

Matt Reese writes for Ohio’s Country Journal and lives in Baltimore, Ohio. For questions or comments, please contact him at For more columns visit This column was brought to you by Ohio’s agricultural organizations.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

September Fresh Country Air

My wife and I just celebrated seven years of blissful marriage. Every once in awhile, she will pull out the old wedding album and reminisce about our fancy wedding day. With plenty of help from our extended family, we did almost everything from the food to the d├ęcor for the big event and my attentive wife missed no detail -- except for one. We did not have doves.

According to Craig Miller, owner of Craig’s Releasable Doves in Allen County, the elegant birds add a special touch to a wedding or most any event. Miller, now 22, grew up raising just about every kind of poultry he could through 4-H. Back in 2005, he came across an advertisement that intrigued him. 

"I saw in a magazine that there was a dove business in Columbus and I thought that might be something good to have up here," Miller said. "Then, at one of the swap meets I went to, I got some white homing pigeons to start my dove business. We use the larger, white birds because they are easier to handle."

Miller was immediately excited about the idea. After all, what could go wrong with a business plan including animals that come back after being sold? Miller said the birds are pretty easy to care for and stay very clean.

He started out with four birds that reproduced prolifically. Now he has about 80 on his northwest Ohio farm.

"You need to have plenty of birds because you are going to lose some. Only about 75% of them fly back," Miller said.

Thus far, weddings and funerals account for nearly all of Miller's dove release events. Releases are either done by hand or simply opening the top of the cage.

"We typically release two for a wedding, one for the bride and one for the groom," he said. "The bride and the groom each hold one and release them at the same time. The birds usually fly up and do a circle then fly off. Everybody loves it."

Funeral dove releases tend to evoke even stronger emotions.

"In a funeral we can help with the healing process a little bit," Miller said. "This symbol means so much to some people that it is really amazing. At funerals, releasing the dove is almost like they're letting that person go."

At a funeral for a friend, the four children of the deceased each released a dove at the funeral. One of the doves, instead of returning to their home, went to the home of the deceased several miles from the gravesite and the opposite direction of Miller's home.

"The wife thought that was really special," he said.

Miller does not have a set fee, but bases his cost on the specifics of the situation and the amount of travel required.

"We have gone to events in Putnam, Van Wert and Paulding counties, and if someone hears about us and wants us to go somewhere else, we're willing to do some traveling," Miller said. "We really try to be flexible so we can meet everyone's needs. The brides and their moms tend to love the idea of releasing doves. The grooms usually aren't too excited about it. Getting the initial sale is the tough part. After that, it is fun coming up with ideas about how they want it done."

The business is fairly small at this point, with about one dove release a month, which is fine for Miller who is a senior in agricultural engineering at Ohio State University. His dad, Kenny, helps with the birds and the business while Miller is in Columbus. Miller does not release the birds in the cold winter months or in the rain to protect the birds.

For events, Miller shows up at the appropriate time dressed in a suit with wet wipes, hand sanitizer and the proper number of doves in an elegant looking cage under a cloth cover.

"I get them out of the cage and hand the birds to the bride and groom or whoever is releasing them," Miller said. "Typically they're really docile birds and they don't mind being handled."

Though my wife may lament the lack of doves at our wedding, all hope is not lost. Our young daughter will probably have a fancy wedding someday, and my wife may kill me for complaining about paying for it. Wedding or funeral -- either way, we’ll probably need some doves.

For more about Miller's Dove Business, please contact Craig at 419-233-8200 or e-mail


Matt Reese writes for Ohio’s Country Journal and lives in Baltimore, Ohio. For questions or comments, please contact him at