In the 1800s, prominent lawyer and banker Nicholas Longworth helped develop the Cincinnati hillsides into vineyards, which were known for growing Catawba grapes. By the 1850s, before California was a state, the Ohio River Valley was the largest grape growing region in the country.
The Civil War and the temperance movement hurt Cincinnati’s grape growing industry, and it hasn’t seen a rebirth until now.
The Skeleton Root
is the second new winery — along with Revel OTR
— that has been announced for Over-the-Rhine. The Skeleton Root will be located just east of Rhinegeist Brewery at 38 W. McMicken Ave.
Before the space on McMicken, The Skeleton Root had a small cellar space on Court Street downtown. Kate MacDonald converted a garage into a winery/cellar space, where she made the winery’s Vintage 2014, which will be released once The Skeleton Root opens. The 2015 harvest was done in the new space.
“Over-the-Rhine chose me in a way,” MacDonald says. “This area of the neighborhood is prime for development, with so many large warehouses that could be converted to produce interesting things.”
Engineer by trade, MacDonald has lived and worked in wineries in Napa Valley as well as locally at Valley Vineyards
in Morrow. After moving back to Cincinnati, she knew she wanted to open a winery.
“I love the history of the city, and I’m intrigued by the wine history and how deep and prominent of a region this was pre-Prohibition,” she says. “My goal is to retell the story of the heritage we had, and demonstrate the ability to make it a great grape region again.”
The Skeleton Root will produce all of its wines on-site from grapes straight from local vineyards. Grapes will be harvested and crushed on-site too.
All of the wine-making areas will be accessible to the public in order to give people a connection with the process. A 1,500-square-foot barn located just beyond the tasting room will hold all of The Skeleton Root’s barrels for aging and will lead into the actual winery.
The tasting room won’t be like a typical winery where customers belly up to the bar to taste and buy bottles of wine to take home. The main room, which will be about 2,000 square feet, will be like a comfortable living room with communal seating, couches, laptop bars and Internet. An upstairs loft area will serve as overflow for the tasting room.
“We want people to come in and stay a while,” MacDonald says.
The Skeleton Root will also hold events in the barrel barn, winemaking space and separate conference room for off-site corporate meetings.
All wines served in the tasting room will be The Skeleton Root’s own wines, but MacDonald also plans to support local craft beer. There won’t be a food menu, but she wants to work with local chefs and food trucks to offer demos that focus on pairing food and wine.
The Skeleton Root will have heritage wines from the American Grapes, including a Heritage Catawba and Norton. MacDonald focuses on classic wine production with minimal intervention, which preserves a higher acidity level and has more pronounced fruit. There will be other wine programs too, with a focus on French and European style wines.