From a young age, Tom Shank learned the subtleties and nuances of producing good wine. As of Friday, he’ll share the fruits of his labor with the public.
Following two successful soft openings in February, the 58-year-old vintner’s American Winery will celebrate an 11 a.m. ribbon-cutting March 1, with the grand opening at noon. The renovated farm site at 15119 U.S. 20A, just outside of Wauseon, will offer 14 original wines, appetizers, and live music of different genres in a rustic setting decorated in Americana. A 60-foot flagpole on the property displays the Stars and Stripes.
“I’m kind of with Trump. Let’s make America great again,” Shank said.
The Williams County native has teamed up with fiancee and viticulturalist Connie (Nagel) Simon in an operation that harvests estate-grown grapes for processing, bottling, and labeling small batches of wine in a nearby converted pole barn. Sandy loam soil on the property makes for perfect conditions to grow over 2,000 grapevines, as well as vines for white grapes in Williams County.
Shank said the setting is ideal. “It’s just the perfect location, being two miles off the turnpike and having numerous state and interstate roads in the proximity.”
Soft openings the past two weekends left standing room only. “Everyone loves the quality of the wines and the rustic atmosphere,” Shank said. The March grand opening, with specials and prizes, will extend through the entire month.
Shank’s interest in wine began at a young age, at the side of a friend who was a commercial winemaker. “He gave me insights into the business,” he said. Shank also learned from his father, a World War II veteran and chemical engineer who made small batches for family and friends. He died one year ago this month.
Those experiences led Shank to produce his own vino while in college.
His original plan in Fulton County was to merely grow grapes and sell them. He planted his first grapevines in the spring of 2014, unaware the following winter would bring a damaging polar vortex to northwest Ohio. Despite the bitter conditions, less than 10 percent of the crop was lost.
“We thought we were going to lose 90 percent of our grapevines, if not entirely,” Shank said. “Other vineyards lost all of theirs.”
The decision to instead open a winery resulted in a laborious four-year project completed mainly by Shank, his fiancee, and local contractors. They kept the property quaint and rustic, and planned to open in 2018. Unfortunately, the recent government shutdown got in the way by delaying federal and state approval of the products’ wine labels.
Now, with kitchen manager Carmelita Smith, music manager Brandy Noll, and an additional staff of six, Shank is ready to share his wine varieties with the public. American Winery will also feature meat and cheese noshes and breads with dipping oils. All ingredients are bought locally.
His wines range from reds, whites, and fruits, dry to sweet. Examples include a popular dry red; The Senate, a semi-dry white; The Constitution, a semi-dry red; Smurgh Juice, a blueberry wine; and Sunshine Dew, a lemon wine often preferred by beer drinkers.
“There’s a lot of chemistry and a lot of math used to make consistently good wine,” Shank said.
With an on-site capacity to hold 9,000 gallons, new wines will be introduced and he’ll venture into competitions. And American Winery will be added to the Vineyards in Northwest Ohio Region – an area trail of wineries.
Shank said his mentors were invaluable to his training. “They allowed me to carry on and make some pretty darn good wines,” he said.
The American Winery will be open Wednesday through Saturday, noon-9 p.m. daily.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.