Ohio owes the rich heritage of its wine industry to Nicholas Longworth, whose passion for growing native grapes and producing fine wines led to the development of the Ohio wine industry in the 19th century.
The 5' 1" "crazy Jerseyman" came to Cincinnati from Newark in 1803 at the age of 21 with little more than the clothes on his back. He studied law for six months, established a lucrative law practice, invested in land and became the wealthiest man in Ohio. Wine growing was just beginning along the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati. It became Longworth's hobby.
In 1823 he planted a vineyard overlooking the Ohio River using European vines. But, they soon died. He made his first wine from native varieties Alexander and Isabella.
The in 1825, he discovered a "wonder grape" called the Catawba. It met two critical requirements. The grape was easily cultivated along the Ohio River and it produced an acceptable wine. Three years later when Longworth tasted the first Catawba wine pressed from his grapes, he quit his law practice and gave his full attention to winemaking.
In 1842, Longworth created America's first champagne, which he called "Sparkling Catawba". With praise from across the country and as far away as Europe, he could hardly keep up with the demand for his champagne and Catawba wine. A lasting tribute "Ode to Catawba Wine" was written by the famous poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
By 1860, thanks to Longworth's passionate efforts, Ohio supplied one-third of the nation's wine and out-produced California by two to one.
The most respected and successful winemaker of his time, Longworth is now known as the Father of American Winemaking -- and certainly, the Father of Ohio Wine.
It is only fitting that Nicholas Longworth be the first member of the Ohio Wine Hall of Fame.