CLEVELAND, Ohio – Donniella Winchell, Executive Director of Ohio Wine Producers Association, is one of 10 people across the country honored for their commitment to the wine industry.
Wine industry advisor – an online publication covering the wine industry – included Winchell on its list of “most inspiring people”. The compilation includes winery owners, journalist, winemaker, educators and others.
When Winchell found out, she felt honored especially when she saw the other recipients, industry veterans.
“I saw the list and thought, ‘!
The other winners, she said, are “people whose resumes are – wow – impressive,” said Winchell, who doesn’t know who named her.
Winchell – based in Northeast Ohio – has been a tireless and passionate supporter of Ohio wine and wineries for more than 40 years, lobbying for an industry that has grown dramatically. When Winchell became executive director of the association in 1978, the state had 13 wineries. Today, nearly 400 exist.
The flagship event is the annual Vintage Ohio, the large-scale tasting in Kirtland. Winchell has coordinated Vintage Ohio since its inception in 1978. She thanks the support staff over the years who have helped.
Associated coverage: Vintage Ohio turns 25: how the wine festival grew
“It’s really a huge team effort,” she said.
“We started Vintage as a way to introduce wines to people,” she said. “There were over 90 wine festivals in Ohio last year. When we started Vintage, we were alone. We created Vintage to be a tool to build the industry – not an event to sell wine – but a tool to build the industry. To expose people to wine, take people to cellars, work with the media and take the money we need and put it back into other things. So we are certainly, in part, guided by events. But Vintage is a fairly well-oiled machine.
A second Vintage Ohio downstate was added three years ago, and Winchell recently signed a deal for an indoor event at Bowling Green this summer.
Winchell has served on several tourism boards and economic development boards and is an assistant professor at Kent State-Ashtabula, teaching courses related to marketing and the wine industry. In addition to raising the industry flag and hosting events, Winchell has fought diligently to change the ingrained perception that Ohioans have of local wines.
“Over time, Ohio wines have come to be regarded as sweet wines in jelly jars,” she said. “It’s very hard to break that mold when focusing on festivals and events when (most) of the population is drinking sweet wine. “
This means that over the past few years Winchell has focused marketing on “realizing that we can make truly exceptional cool climate whites”.
This translates into adding upscale dining and reaching out to “affinity partners” like coffee shops and craft breweries, where some consumer overlap could be exploited.
Winchell’s goal for the near future is to “make people realize that the sophistication of certain Ohio wines is quite exceptional.”
“If we can get a serious Starbucks consumer into an Ohio wine experience, because they’re looking for that minimum of sophistication, we’re going to try and do that stuff,” she said.
So expect smaller, focused groups where Winchell sees an opportunity to open the minds of aspiring wine lovers to tastes like Ohio Gewurztraminer, Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Noir, unoaked Chardonnay and ‘other grape varieties.
For the first time in 2021, Wine Industry Advisor opened the submission process to the entire industry. The winners were selected from over 100 nominees, the common denominator being their impact on American wine culture.
• Marty club, co-owner of L’Ecole N˚41 in Walla Walla, Washington.
• Julia coney, a leading wine educator and black voice, initiating conversations about breed in the industry.
• Journalist Cathy Huyghe, CEO of Enolytics, a wine business intelligence company, and columnist Forbes.
• Christa-lee and Darrien McWatters from the Time family of wines, the multigenerational winery of British Columbia, Canada.
• Dennis murphy of Caprio Cellars, committed to 100% estate-grown wines in Walla Walla, Washington.
• Spring Mountain Vineyard’s Ron Rosenbrand, who helped firefighters save historic buildings during the California wildfires.
• Alex ryan, CEO of Duckhorn Portfolio.
• Ali Smith story, owner of Smith Story Wine Cellars in California and Instagram influencer.
• Tony wolf, winegrower, popularizer and educator in Virginia.
I am on cleveland.comlife and culture team and cover topics related to food, beer, wine and sport. If you want to see my stories, here is a directory on cleveland.com. Bill Wills from WTAM-1100 and I talk about food and drink usually at 8:20 am on Thursday mornings. Twitter: @ mbona30.
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