Oct 30, 2020Arnie Esterer, pioneer of vinifera wines in Ohio dies at age 88
Arnulf “Arnie” Esterer, winemaker and owner of Markko Vineyard in Conneaut, Ohio, died at home on Oct. 28, 2020, at the age of 88.
Born in 1932 in Bochum, Germany, he graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in economics in 1954 and an M.B.A. in business in 1955. While working for Union Carbide in Ashtabula, Ohio as an industrial engineer, he became interested in growing grapes and making wine. In 1967 he read about Dr. Konstantin Frank, who was growing vinifera grapes in New York’s Finger Lakes region. That year Esterer spent a week of his vacation working for Frank in his vineyard in Hammondsport, New York.
Arnie [Arnulf] Esterer is the visionary, who in the 1970’s became a disciple of the iconic Konstantin Frank, the Russian immigrant who first planted vinifera grapes in Finger Lakes. Until Frank’s efforts, no one believed quality vinifera could be grown in the cool climate regions of the eastern United States.
After much searching, Arnie found Markko Vineyards in Conneaut and established the winery with his partner Tim Hubbard of Ashtabula. The two had worked together for years and shared a passion for quality wines which could be grown in northeast Ohio.
When Leon Adams, legendary author and one of the early champions of the California industry tasted Arnie’s 1972 Riesling, he was amazed and shared his story in his first edition  of Wines of America. Adams returned to visit Markko several times and recounted his experiences there again in the book.
Arnie was a huge proponent of Lake Erie as a viticultural district and contributed to the Federal application for the AVA [American Viticultural Area] in 1983. Later in that decade, while serving on the OWPA board, Arnie declared at a meeting on South Bass Island, that the Lake Erie Region could produce world class vinifera if our growers committed themselves to the task. Since at that point, nearly all of the vineyards were dominated by Concord and Niagara [native] varieties, his prediction was regarded as ‘pie in the sky’ by most of the board. But he persisted. In the mid 1980’s when Robert Gottesman planted the first vinifera on North Bass Island [Isle St. George], Arnie served as a consultant for the project. In 2014, shortly after the Polar Vortex hit the region’s crop, Dave McIntyre, wine writer for the Washington Post visited to learn about the damage and then to taste Arnie’s Cabernet Sauvignon. His quote in the story published after the visit:
“Who says Ohio cannot produce great reds?”
Over the years, Arnie mentored dozens of young growers and winemakers. He served on the board of the OWPA [Ohio Wine Producers] for several terms and spoke at many industry conferences. However, as the Ohio wine community looks back on the last 30 years, Arnie’s most significant contribution has been his passion for and firm belief in the Lake Erie district as a major player in the world of wine. His early vision did predict the emergence of the area and led the way to what is now truly national recognition as a place which can and does produce world class cool climate wines.
According to his obituary, areception will be held on Saturday, Oct, 31, at 11:30 AM at 4500 S Ridge Rd W, Conneaut, OH 44030. A celebration of life will be held on Saturday, October 31st 2020 at the same location. With the current COVID-19 Pandemic, all State of Ohio rules will apply, those attending must always wear masks and social distancing will be observed.