Secret wine garden

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

In Southern Ohio, where the flat farmland buckles and rolling hills emerge, tucked beautifully between tobacco patches and the Ohio River, is Kinkead Ridge Winery-home to some of the most praised wines produced in the Buckeye State.

Nancy Bentley and Ron Barrett, both 64, are the husband-and-wife team behind the vineyard dedicated to growing European varietals and producing ultra-premium wines that have garnered international attention. Bentley, the managing partner, handles the business side, while Barrett is the wine grower.

"We are an estate winery," Bentley said. "But you are rarely going to see a winery this small."

Fewer than 10 of the winery's 132 acres are planted with grapes. From those acres, Kinkead Ridge can produce 2,000 cases of wine a year at peak production.

"It's a lot of work. People have no idea. They think it's romantic," said Bentley. As she talked, she climbed aboard a big, bright green John Deer Gator-a birthday gift from her husband. "Coming from New York," she said, "I didn't think I'd ever own one of these."

Bentley hails from Staten Island, Barrett from Upper Arlington. The couple met in Oregon where Barrett grew Pinot Noir, Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc on a 40-acre vineyard. They relocated to Southern Ohio, attracted to the same things that have brought people to the area for generations-family ties and land.

"The [vineyard's] soil is similar to St. milion, France-hundreds of feet of broken limestone covered with well-drained clay," Bentley said. The property also boasts a southeast-facing slope that drains to a small creek-perfect for growing grapes, she noted. "This is a world-class vineyard site."

Bentley and Barrett started the vineyard more than a decade ago. Three years later, they opened a small tasting winery in downtown Ripley, a river town along the Ohio proud of its Federalist architecture and the part it played as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The winery is open on select dates when Kinkead Ridge releases its wines-whites in the spring, reds in the fall.

Kinkead Ridge's success has been at least in part due to the locavore movement. Their wines are Ohio born and bred: All the grapes are grown at their vineyard. All their customers are in state. And they don't ship (although some retail outlets do).

Bentley and Barrett live beside their vineyard in a yellow and white 1880s Gothic Revival farmhouse, complete with a back porch and a sleeping calico cat.

Barrett and a team of as many as eight people care for the vines year round, working up to 80 hours a week during the summer.

The combination of hard work and an excellent growing environment produces wines that have won top honors in wine tasting competitions.

In 2008, the winery's 2003 Viognier/Roussanne and the 2004 Cabernet Franc were listed in the Top 100 Exciting Wine Finds in the World. The 2004 Cabernet Franc won a double gold medal from the American Wine Society's International competition.

Kinkead Ridge wines are "dry and classic," similar to wines from Europe or California, said John Smither, manager of the Wine Vault on Sawmill Road.

Bottles usually go for less than $20.

But at least one fan has paid much more. A couple of years ago, a customer visiting from Napa tasted Kinkead Ridge's 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon at Vino Where You Live in Mount Vernon. She fell

in love.

"I don't think anyone where I'm from would believe me when I told them about this

wine," she told the shop's co-owner Laura Noonen.

Noonen was selling her few remaining bottles by the glass only. But the customer was insistent, and a negotiation ensued.

Eventually, the customer walked out happy-with a $70 bottle of Ohio wine.

The Mount Vernon shop also places Kinkead Ridge alongside another Ohio wines and a prestigious Napa wine in one of its flights. Guests who enjoy the flights-which are unlabeled-don't know where the wine comes from, said shop co-owner Tom Noonen. But the Ohio wines are always more impressive than what comes from Napa, he said.

"If I had to choose wines to put our best foot forward, it would be Kinkead Ridge among them," he said. "They're really showing what you can do with wine in Ohio."

Where to Shop

Kinkead Ridge wines are available at several local stores. Here's a sampling of where you'll find it.

• Giant Eagle, Dublin

• Hausfrau Haven, German Village

• The Hills, Worthington

• Sher-Bliss, Gahanna

• Spagio Cellars, Grandview

• The Twisted Vine, Grandview

• Whole Foods, Upper Arlington & Dublin Sawmill Road