By IAN HILL
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
CANFIELD -- Alan and Lara Eggleston have been told that they make very good wine. So they decided to see how their wine compares to others produced in Northeast Ohio.
To their surprise, it came out as one of the best.
A sweet honey wine produced by the Egglestons, of Liberty, recently was named best in show at the Canfield Fair's second annual wine-tasting contest. It was the first wine-tasting contest the Egglestons have entered.
Alan said he was "very pleased" that he and his wife received the award.
"We couldn't have hoped for a better result," he said.
More than 100 wines were entered in the contest. Each wine was placed in one of 12 categories, based on ingredients and taste.
Alan said he and his wife began producing wine two years ago using black raspberries grown in their back yard. The Egglestons also received a second-place ribbon at the fair for their black raspberry wine, as well as a first-place ribbon for their blueberry wine.
Local history: Susan Phillips, a fair volunteer from Canfield who helped organize the contest, said she feels that wine-making is "something that's always happened in the area." In the 1960s and 1970s, a train carrying grapes made frequent stops in downtown Youngstown, Phillips said.
Local residents would buy grapes directly from the train to make wine, she said.
Dana Nelson, co-owner of Viking Vineyards and Winery in southern Portage County, said she feels that wines produced in Ohio are often overlooked by average consumers.
Nelson and Gary Glaus, the co-owner of Portage Hills Vineyards, also in southern Portage County, served as judges for the contest.
However, Nelson stressed that there "are a lot of excellent Ohio wines." Both Nelson and Glaus said the dry, sandy soil in Ohio is excellent for grape production. Grapes are typically grown in a dry climate, Glaus said, adding that the lack of rain this year has benefited area winemakers.
"This year has been a very good year," he said.
Most of the wines entered in the fair contest were made during the last 10 years. As judges for the contest, Nelson and Glaus spent about two hours Wednesday morning testing each of the wines. They said a winning wine had to have a pleasant smell and a balanced taste.
How judging went: The judges began the testing by pouring wine into a small plastic cup, which they then passed under their noses.
"If it doesn't smell good, it's not going to cross my lips," Glaus said.
The judges then tasted a small sample of each wine. After swishing the sample in their mouths, Nelson and Glaus spit the wine into a plastic bucket.
They then rinsed their mouths out with a gulp of water.
Nelson said that swallowing the wine would "muddle the senses" and make it difficult to judge the contest.
The judges tested their favorite wines several times, until they decided which wine was the best in each category. The winning winemakers received a blue ribbon. No ribbons were awarded if the judges felt that no wine in a category deserved a ribbon.
Alan said he was surprised to receive the best in show ribbon for the sweet honey wine, as it was produced within the last 12 months. Wine guides recommend aging sweet honey wine for at least five years, he said.
Alan added that as a result of their win at the Canfield Fair, he and his wife have decided to age the sweet honey wine and later enter it in the Ohio State Fair in Columbus.
"I'm sure the competition will be extremely tough down there," he said.
Who won: First-place winners in the Canfield Fair contest included: Honey wines: Sweet honey wine, Eggleston. Fruit Wines: Dry white, Bill Shasteen, Salem; dry red and sweet red, Jeff Brown, Salem; dry rose blush, John Miglivzzi, Girard; sweet rose blush, Eric Gibbs, Austintown; fruit wine, Eggleston.