Plain City winery boasts local flavors, unique names
By Jane Beathard
PLAIN CITY — Local focus has always been part of the philosophy behind Eldchrist Winery, located just north of Plain City near the Madison-Union county line.
Opened in the summer of 2009 with only one wine on the list, the winery now boasts 15 different blends and varietals priced $11 to $18. All are produced on the property, according to vintner and owner Christopher Eldridge.
They bear names like Steam Thresher Red, Two-Cow Blend and Madison County White to reflect the rural character of their origin. Farmhouse Rose is the best-seller.
Eldridge was a hobby winemaker living in nearby Dublin when he and wife, Jennifer, bought the land and run-down farmhouse that eventually became Eldchrist.
“We saw wild grapes growing there,” he said. “It was a sign.”
Renovating the dilapidated house and obtaining the necessary state permits to ferment and serve wine took 18 months.
Early on, Eldridge imported grapes from California because he lacked connections with local growers. All that changed over the years.
“With the exception of some cabernets, most of our wines now come from central Ohio grapes,” he said.
Through the Madison County Chamber of Commerce, Eldridge met Dave Spegal, owner of Madison Tree & Landscape.
Spegal wanted to establish a vineyard and market wine through his West Jefferson garden center and equipment store.
“He had a good retail location,” Eldridge said.
Eldridge helped Spegal navigate the state’s permitting process. A grant in 2011 from the Ohio Grape Industries Commission enabled Spegal to plant his first vines.
The partnership resulted in release of Passionvine — a dry white wine made from vignoles grapes — last year.
Eldridge expects to release two more cabernets fermented from Spegal’s grapes next fall. Those cabernets will differ from the California variety.
“They will have an earthy flavor and less alcohol because Ohio’s growing season is shorter,” he said.
On a bitterly cold February evening — the kind of night that keeps most western Ohio residents hovering around a fireplace — the atmosphere inside Eldchrist Winery is cozy and warm.
Winter weather appears to be no deterrent to a dozen or so attendees at the winery’s popular Ladies’ Night — held from 6 to 9 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month.
The women chat, sip libations and browse the wares of local vendors selling everything from natural skin treatments to handmade jewelry and novelty lamps.
Sommelier Gina Eldridge surveys the small crowd as she stirs a “winetini,” a mix of wine, ginger ale and fruit juice that is a house specialty.
Gina is the sister-in-law of Eldridge. She handles reservations and oversees the tasting room on Ladies’ Night.
“Weather makes a huge difference,” she said. “In summer months, when we open up the porch, we have 20 to 30 at Ladies’ Night.”
The women come for wine, snacks and a gift bag of season-themed candy and novelties assembled for those who made reservations in advance.
Ladies’ Night grew out of a 2011 conversation between Eldridge and the owners of Main Street Treasures in Plain City. Those owners, Kerri Ferguson and Linda Peters, wanted to sponsor an evening wine-tasting in order to attract customers to their gift shop.
But a village law (dating from the repeal of Prohibition) prevented businesses in that part of town from serving wine. So, the event ended up at the winery itself.
“It was a hit,” Eldridge said.
As good word-of-mouth spread, other local craftsmen and entrepreneurs — mostly those with home-based businesses — asked to market their goods at Ladies’ Night.
“We now include up to four vendors per evening — all in different categories,” Eldridge said.
That diversity appeals to Dublin resident Roxana Miller, a Ladies’ Night “regular.”
“I get exposed to new things,” Miller said. “And it’s easy to buy here. I learn about people who are trying to start their own niche.”
Eldchrist Winery remains a family operation. Eldridge’s only workers are his wife, father-in-law and sister-in-law. With their support, he hopes to increase customer traffic to the winery’s tasting room and make the Eldchrist label a familiar one to wine lovers throughout Ohio.
Jane recently retired as a staff writer for The Madison Press in London, and is the retired media relations manager of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.