August 2011 Issue
Taste of the Vine
Take a relaxing late summer or fall trip to one of these new Ohio wineries.
Brad Hively knows that many people fantasize about owning a vineyard. He did, too.
Unlike most of us, Hively made his fantasy come true.
Hively is the proud owner of La Vigna Estate Winery, tucked into the rolling hills of Brown County in southern Ohio.
La Vigna is one of several new wineries that have opened to the public recently, and these new kids on the block — in virtually every corner of the Buckeye State — are offering Ohioans plenty of new travel destinations this summer and fall.
Careful, though: The enthusiasm of Hively and his fellow winery owners is downright infectious. A trip to one of the five new wineries profiled here might leave you scheming on how to chuck it all and open your own chateau.
Who needs Napa, or Tuscany or Provence when you can have it all in Ohio?
“I feel like I’m living a dream,” Hively says. He pauses a moment, then adds, “Although I do admit that I highly underestimated the amount of work that was involved to get to where I am now.”
There are, of course, daunting obstacles to pursuing this dream — frigid Ohio winters can wreak havoc on grapevines, and newly planted vines don’t produce a usable crop for three years or so — but those facts haven’t deterred a determined group of winery owners. In fact, the surge in the number of Ohio wineries in recent years “has been
exponential,” says Donniella Winchell, executive director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association.
Consider this: In 1978, there were 13 wineries in Ohio. By 1990, that number had grown to 37. Today, there are 153, with about 18 in the works, according to Winchell. “And those are just the ones we know about,” she says.
The wineries that opened in the last few years had been under way for several years before that, before the economy went sour, Winchell says, but the recession didn’t seem to discourage prospective winery and vineyard owners, nor has it harmed tourism.
“People are visiting our wineries and they’re seeing how successful they are. They’re walking around and saying, ‘I want to do that too.’ It’s a matter of success breeding success, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Winchell says.
It doesn’t hurt that Ohio wineries are producing better wines that cater to a broad spectrum of tastes, from bone dry to semi-sweet to unctuous. “Across the state, we’re learning how to grow better grapes,” Winchell says.
No need to take her word for it. Ohio wineries are within an easy drive of every Ohioan. Find lists of wineries at the websites of Ohio Proud, ohioproud.com
; the Ohio Grape Industries Committee, tasteohiowines.com
; or the Ohio Wine Producers Association, ohiowines.org
. You’ll find wineries that offer wine tastings, educational day trips, and tours that educate about the art and science of winemaking and the quality of Ohio wines.
And you may develop a fantasy or two.
Vermilion Valley Vineyards
Vermilion Valley Vineyards has planted 5,500 grapevines on approx-imately seven acres, and its owners are showing that vinifera grapes such as Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Noir can grow not only in the Grand River Valley, but also in northern Lorain County.
The tasting room offers estate-bottled versions of those traditional European grapes, and also serves up sweeter wines made from native labrusca grapes such as Niagara, Concord and Pink Catawba that the winery sources from other Ohio vineyards. Plus, it offers fruit wines such as blueberry, cherry, peach, pear, red plum and strawberry.
Vermilion Valley co-owner Larry Gibson says he has always been interested in wine and wineries and decided to explore wine-related opportunities after obtaining an M.B.A. He and his wife, Mary, collaborated with David Benzing, a retired Oberlin College professor who specializes in botany, and partners Jack and Fran Baumann, on the project that started coming together in the fall of 2006, with the first vineyard plantings in 2007.
The winery has some special dinners scheduled for Saturday nights this summer, including a Steak or Seafood BBQ on Aug. 27 and a Farm to Table Vineyard Dinner on Sept. 10. 11005 Gore Orphanage Rd., Wakeman 44889, 440/965-5202. vermilionvalleyvineyards.com
. Hours: Wed.–Thur. 3–9 p.m., Fri. 3–11 p.m., Sat. 12–11 p.m.
Yellow Butterfly Winery
Yellow Butterfly Winery’s web site proclaims it’s “A very unique Ohio Winery.” Hard to argue that point: No other Ohio winery is co-owned by a three-term former mayor of Cleveland — in this case, Michael White, who held the office from 1990 to 2002.
Located in the hills above the Blue Ridge Valley in Tuscarawas County near Ohio’s Amish country, Yellow Butterfly sits on a 30-acre site, adjacent to an alpaca farm that White also co-owns. The winery’s gift shop sells wine and clothing and yarn made from alpaca.
The winery offers nine wines, made solely from grapes and apples grown in Ohio, including Apple Delight, a sweet apple wine; a Grande Red dry wine; and a Blueridge Rouge semi-sweet wine. A one-acre vineyard was planted in 2010, half to Traminette, half to Vidal Blanc, and there are plans to expand the vineyard plantings over the next five years, White says.
Visitors can enjoy barbecue ribs and chicken dinners on Friday and Saturday nights through Labor Day. 11661 Blue Ridge Rd., Newcomerstown 43832, 740/492-1216. yellowbutterflywinery.com
. Hours: Mon.–Thur. 11:30 a.m.–6 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–8:30 p.m. (Fall hours: Tues.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–6 p.m.)
Gervasi Vineyard and Italian Bistro is clearly one of the most ambitious projects among Ohio’s newest wineries. The 55-acre property already includes a bistro-style restaurant, tasting bar and sales area called The Marketplace that offers pastas, sauces and Italian pottery in addition to Gervasi Vineyard wines. But the enterprise is already expanding: A 24-room inn and banquet facility is under construction and scheduled for completion in October or November.
The venture is the brainchild of Ted Swaldo, who retired from his career as CEO of an auto-parts manufacturing company in North Canton in early 2009. Gervasi — Swaldo’s mother’s maiden name — is a family effort: Swaldo’s son Scott is general manager, and son-in-law Jeff Hicks oversees sales and marketing. Ted’s wife Linda and daughter Christi Blackerby coordinate the Marketplace gift shop, retail wine sales and cafe. Gervasi is serving a dozen wines made from juice and fruit sourced primarily from other vineyards within Ohio, with other wines made from California, Oregon and Washington juices, according to Hicks. The six acres of vineyards on the Gervasi estate are planted with varietals such as Marquette and Frontenac Gris, and estate-bottled wines are on the way. “We want to become a destination winery,” Hicks says. 1700 55th St. N.E., Canton 44721, 330/497-1000. gervasivineyard.com
. Hours: Tues.–Thur. 5–9 p.m., Fri. 5–10 p.m. (wine bar open until 11 p.m.), Sat. 12–10 p.m. (wine bar until 11 p.m.), Sun. 12–8 p.m., closed Mon.
Free winery tours are offered on the first and third Saturdays of the month, 12–2 p.m., through October. Private tours can be scheduled for corporate and community organizations by appointment at other times.
La Vigna Estate Winery
Brad Hively, a native of Gallipolis, worked as a horticultural assistant, dabbled in brewing his own beer and home winemaking and watched a growing Virginia wine scene around the Charlottesville, Virginia, area before
deciding to launch his own winery.
He started scouting southwest Ohio for just the right location — land that had well-drained glaciated soils near the Ohio River. He found what he wanted just north of Higginsport, purchased the property in 2002 and planted vines in 2004. He produces La Vigna wines from Cabernet Franc and the more obscure Petit Manseng, a varietal that hails from southwest France. Hively describes Petit Manseng as his winery’s “signature wine,” made in a late-harvest (sweeter) style some years, and in a drier style in other years. All of the wines La Vigna sells are estate-grown — “from ground to glass,” Hively says.
He describes his winery venture as “a hobby that got completely out of control.” 6035 St. Rte. 505, Georgetown 45121, 937/375-1104. lavignaestatewinery.com
. Hours: Saturdays only, 12–6 p.m., through
Silver Run Vineyard & Winery
(formerly Silvercreek Ridge Vineyard & Winery)
Husband-and-wife team Ed Sunkin and Christine Sabo always knew they had a joint passion for wine, and “now we’re pursuing our passion,” Sabo says. They’ve got a lot on their plate: Both are 20-year veterans of the publishing industry who are still working full-time “day jobs,” and they have three sons ages 4, 2 and 11 months. At the winery, Ed is the winemaker and Christine is the business manager. Silver Run had its first commercial crush from its one-acre vineyard last fall, and this summer launched its first estate-bottled wine, Buckeye Blend, a semi-sweet blush wine made from Chambourcin, Foch and Catawba grapes. Two more new wines — a Canal Ways Catawba and a Heartland Harvest apple wine — are poised for release.
The winery was founded as Silvercreek Ridge Winery, but the name was changed after a California winery sent a cease-and-desist letter, Sabo says. Silver Run Winery is planning a one-year anniversary celebration Aug. 5–6 that corresponds with other special events that same weekend in Doylestown. 376 Eastern Rd., Doylestown 44230, 330/671-1115. silverrunwinery.com
. Hours: Fri. 6–10 p.m., Sat. 1–10 p.m.
The best opportunity to taste a wide variety of Ohio wines is Vintage Ohio, an outdoor wine and food festival held Aug. 5–6, 1–10 p.m., at Lake Metroparks Farmpark, 8800 Euclid Chardon Rd. in Kirtland, off I-90 east of Cleveland. Two dozen Ohio wineries will be pouring their wines at the event, and several restaurants will serve specialties as well. Four gourmet food trucks also will be on hand, offering dishes that will be paired with specific Ohio wines. Advance tickets are $25; tickets at the gate are $27. For more information, go to visitvintageohio.com
or call 800/227-6972.