Coming in 2015: Hocking Hills winery

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Investors and family members of Hocking Hills Winery broke ground with several heaping shovelfuls of sod Sunday afternoon at the property of the late Max and Loris Davidson along Freeman Road.

The mostly-family and locally-owned winery will be situated close to Logan, state Route 664 and U.S. 33, but nestled in the woods and slightly tucked away from the city.

The 6,600-square-foot building is being constructed by Braeloch Construction and will feature a wine-making facility as well as tasting and patio room once in full production in spring 2015.

"The Hocking Hills is a great tourist destination and I'm hoping it compliments the array of tourist-related businesses down there, and we can promote one another to draw more business," noted Hocking Hills Winery CEO and family member Blaine Davidson.

His grandparents, Max and Loris Davidson, originally purchased the property in 1957 and raised cattle and farmed until their deaths several decades later. Max died in 2004 after living on the farm for 47 years, and his wife Loris followed four years later in 2008. After Max's passing, his started children reflecting on what could be done with the property, and the idea of a vineyard came to mind.

"It all started in the breezeway over Thanksgiving dinner," explained Jeff Dickerson, who became Max and Loris' son-in-law when he married their daughter Lianne. "We said we need to do something with this property other than cut hay twice a year."

Blaine Davidson was in pursuit of his master's degree and suggested starting a vineyard after his final project to obtain his degree involved creating a business model for a winery.

After consulting with the agricultural department at Ohio State University, which determined soil on the property is ideal for grape production, the future company of Hocking Hills Winery started a vineyard along U.S. 33 near the Millstone BBQ in 2007.

In the early days, the vines yielded 900 pounds of grapes, Dickerson noted.

"This year we just produced eight tons of grapes," Davidson said of the increase in production over the years. "That's not even three acres of vineyards and we sold all those to Shade Winery and we've been doing that the past few years."

There's more profit in selling wine than just selling grapes at $1,000 a ton, Davidson noted, so the family decided to maximize its profits and construct a winery.

"It's a lot of work, so at first we wanted to make sure we could grow grapes, and when we discovered it wasn't a problem to do that, the next logical step would be to do a winery," Davidson said. "We can make $1,000 a ton selling grapes, but we can make 550 bottles of wine with that same ton. That's really from a business perspective, so that's where the idea came from."

"The credit goes to Blaine for seeing there's more money in bottles of wine than tons of grapes," Dickerson said at Sunday's ceremony. "Decades from now, hopefully people see this as a catalyst for transforming the region into a wine region. There's tremendous opportunity."

Instead of taking on debt to open the business, 17 investors and family members pooled their resources and bought equity in the winery. All the owners will see returns on their investments and receive a portion of the profits once the winery is up and running.

Although the facility will be built and in full operation in 2014, wine takes a full year to produce, so the winery won't open until spring 2015.

The property will remain agriculturally based, Davidson explained, and crops and products will still be produced on the farm. The only difference is there will be a wine-making facility where there's currently a hay field.

Dickerson noted how important it is to be good stewards of the land, and introduced the Rev. G. William Pursley of St. Johns' Episcopal Church in Lancaster, who blessed the property.

Following the blessing, Logan-Hocking Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bill Rinehart gave a brief statement. "I think every chamber in the U.S. is trying to help jobs be located here," he said. "Thank you for going out on a limb. That's what it takes to create jobs."

Hocking Hills Tourism Association Executive Director Karen Raymore also said a few words, and added she's excited about the prospect of giving tourists something new to do when they visit the Hocking Hills. "This I hope to be a catalyst for rivaling the Finger Lakes because we know folks are coming and we're always wanting to give them something new to do everyday," she said.

Rick Webb, president of the Hocking Hills Tourism Association, said that he and his wife spent a week in Sonoma, Calif. earlier this year, and noted that the region has been completely transformed by the wine industry. The same is possible for the Hocking Hills region, he said.