It’s still winter in northeast Ohio: the vines are barren, the roots are buried in dirt, the winery tasting rooms remain quiet, and the roads that lead to the vineyards weave through dreary fields. If you find yourself in Amish country, you may be able to cozy into a seat behind wide-hipped horses that will take you on a starlit ride in a sleigh, and if you want a weekend getaway in a Tuscan villa, there’s a winery that offers that comfort as well.
We checked out new restaurants during Downtown Cleveland Restaurant Week and we’ve observed Valentine’s Day. You could actually be getting tired of all the local beer. The great thing about Ohio’s wineries is you have to get away from Cleveland to enjoy them. Many of them were closed in January and February but they’ve reopened now that it’s March. Here are my top five ways to experience Ohio wineries now:
Gervasi’s vineyards are coming into maturity, and the owners haven’t messed around with the touchy viniferas, preferring to bring their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot juices from prime vineyards in California. Don’t fret — I used to be an Ohio wine snob too, thinking they weren’t local if the wines weren’t estate wines. The wines are beautifully blended and delicious under the direction of head winemaker Andy Codispoti, who grew up in a mountainside village in Calabria.
Dining in the Bistro, housed in a renovated barn, is to experience excellence in service and Italian food. Or choose the more casual dining at the Crush House. Either way, make it a true getaway by reserving a room at the the farmhouse or in one of the Tuscan-style villas. The walk around the lake calms the soul. At the end of March, Gervasi Vineyards is hosting its 5th annual Celebrate Chocolate weekend. Always something to do at Gervasi. gervasivineyard.com
Jingle bells and good cheese, a frozen lake and the muffled silence created by good snow cover, make Doughty Glen Winery, with its Amish wines, cheese factory connection, stables and the Guggisberg Swiss Inn a peaceful place to run away to. Who doesn’t like apple pie, farmland as far as you can see, horseback riding and freshly-made cheese? Time stands still in Amish country where quilts are being crafted, candles are being made, and furniture is being carved. A handful of wineries in the area add a different texture. And if you decide to spend the night at the Inn, you can enjoy a hot breakfast of potato casserole, ham and egg blossoms, and fresh cinnamon rolls. The winery will have entertainment on March 3 and March 17. Check out guggisbergswissinn.com.
Jilbert’s dining room on the second floor of the old dairy barn in Valley City is a short drive away for most Clevelanders. The winery specializes in honey wines, which are extraordinary and worth setting aside your idea of what a great wine tastes like. But the winery, established in 1999, also produces grape wines, which are shown off in the tasting room on the first floor of the 1905 barn. The second-floor dining room is warm and intimate with its golden wood, soft lighting, double fireplace and farm-style chandeliers. Savor handcrafted pretzels filled with spinach and feta or ham and cheese. Find out more about Jilbert Winery at ohiohoneywine.homestead.com.
From the hilltop on which Quarry Hill Winery sits, you can see a strip of Lake Erie a couple miles north, sample cheese and sausage, get warmed by the fireplace, and be in the middle of nowhere. Visit this winery during an Erie County tour that includes nearby Vermilion Valley and Paper Moon wineries before settling in at Quarry Hill, which is surrounded by its own vineyards and serves only estate-bottled wines. During happy hour, from 4-7 on Fridays, the winery takes $4 off a bottle of wine. There’s entertainment every Friday and Saturday night from 6:30-9:30 — check out the schedule at quarryhillwinery.org. Make it a weekend away (downtown Vermilion is nearby) by reserving a room at Sawmill Creek, on the lake in Huron.
Harpersfield Winery’s big open hearth and warm lighting, the music and cheer, the flatbread pizzas and small plates, combine to make a stop at this winery a beautiful way to end a day of touring the wineries of Lake County. While Harpersfield is a destination winery, it’s hard to resist the temptation to spend an entire weekend in the Geneva area, which has become not-quite-saturated with wineries. Especially if you enjoy blues music, because that’s what they have for weekend entertainment. You’ll enjoy views of the vineyard plantings of Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. Since you’ll be staying the weekend, you may want to explore lodging at one of the many bed and breakfasts in the area — I can recommend Warner-Concord Farms and Bella Teresina Inn. Find Harpersfield Winery at harpersfield.com.
Some Ohio wines can be compared to those in California and compete well against California wines. But when the grapes are grown in Ohio, expect the climate and terroir to influence the taste and complexity of the wines, and keep an open mind. Ohio’s wineries are crafting dry European-style wines as well as sweeter native-grape wines. The best way to experience the variety of wines is to visit the wineries.
Cool Cleveland contributor Claudia Taller is author of Ohio’s Lake Erie Wineries and Ohio’s Canal Country Wineries and is available for private tours. Contact her at claudiajtaller.com.