Fri 12/1-Sat 12/16
Visit the wineries of Lake and Ashtabula counties this holiday season during the Tannenbaum Wine and Vine Trail festival. The Lake Erie Appellation, one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the country, hugs the shoreline that creates perfect growing conditions for vineyards. Some of the wineries in the area team up each year for a fun self-guided tour that can be accomplished over a three-weekend period.
“Vinland,” Ohio’s nickname in the mid-19th century, boasts about 250 wineries today. Nicholas Longworth, the grandfather of the Ohio wine industry, earned Ohio its name when he planted acres an and acres of Catawba grapes along the Ohio River. Much of the wine production moved to the north shore when the vineyards were overrun by powdery mildew, a condition that the gentle winds off Lake Erie minimizes. Ohio wines reflect the terroir or earth and weather conditions in which they grow, but that doesn’t mean the wine is sweet.
Get the idea that Ohio only produces sweet wines out of your head. When you’re on the Wine and Vine Trail in the northeast part of the state, you can explore dark Cabernet and crisp Pinot Gris crafted from local grapes and age-old wine-making methods. Most wineries offer a variety of wines that appeal to differing palates. You’ll appreciate the efforts of the wine makers and experience the ambience of rustic and comfortable wineries. And hopefully, you’ll be surprised by the varietals offered and the quality of the wines.
The Tannenbaum Trail opens its arms to visitors over the coming weekends. Seventeen wineries showcase their wines by pairing them with small plate food offerings. Buccia Vineyards, Emerine Estates, Ferrante Winery and Ristorante, Grand River Cellars, Laurello Vineyards, Maple Ridge Vineyards, Old Firehouse Winery, South River Vineyard, the Winery at Spring Hill, and Virant Family Vineyard are among those participating in the event.
When I was researching my first book in 2010, it was great fun to drive through the countryside to find wineries like they were lost treasures. Seven years later, the industry has grown. Of the seventeen wineries on the Tannenbaum Trail, six are newer than the book. It’s always an adventure to drive out on Route 90 to wine country and make new discoveries.
Buccia in Conneaut is one of the oldest wineries on the trail, and my first memory of Fred Bucci was the wonderful enthusiasm with which he sat down with us and poured his wine freely. Virant, another old winery, existed as a neighborhood winery before it began selling wine to the public — think about a couple of guys making wine and serving it to friends. The Ferrante family began making wine in Collinwood and long ago bought property in the country on which to grow grapes, out of which grew the beautiful destination winery of today. And Old Firehouse has been the fun place adjacent to the park at Geneva-on-the-Lake where parents could watch their kids play while they sipped the sweeter wines that have defined Ohio wines for generations.
All the wineries have their own personalities. Emerine serves greenhouse-grown grape wines, both sweet and dry, and its popular fruit wines, like caramel apple. Grand River Cellars has a beautiful tasting room amongst the trees and great food. Laurello is committed to blending beautiful well-balanced wines based on a grandfather’s dream Maple Ridge Vineyards was established in 2001 and ages its wine in French Oak barrels from Bourgogne, France. South River is known as the “church” winery because it’s housed in a church moved from Portage County to its current location and customers can sit in pews while sipping wine. And the Winery at Spring Hill crafts great wines, but has also become a regional favorite for relaxing with music on Saturday nights.
The stories intrigue me. And that’s why I write about Ohio’s wineries.
When you check in at the first winery, you receive an 18-inch lighted Christmas tree which becomes adorned with the ornaments you receive at each location. The cost is $50/single or $65/couple (find someone to love!). The trail is open from noon until 6pm each Friday and Saturday. This is your chance to learn more about Ohio wines and take some home to share with family and friends.
Not all of the wineries in the Vines and Wines Trail are participating in the event. I’ll also head out to Markko Vineyard in Conneaut because that’s where it all began. Arnie Esterer’s inspired planting of vinifera grapes in the 1960s changed Ohio wines forever. Vineyards have moved from concord grapes to Pinots and Cabernets because Arnie was able to do it. A beautiful soul, Arnie Esterer hosts a holiday wine tasting every year for his fans. We’ll drink wonderful champagne while helping ourselves to a potluck, a celebration of the bounty of the earth. After all, Markko sells a “Wine is Good Food” poster that epitomizes his philosophy that wine should be drunk with dinner.
But that’s not all — check out OhioWines.org for the many events coming up at individual wineries and in organized tours. Debonne Vineyards’ 12 Days of Christmas begins on Sat 12/2. Grand River Cellars will host Crafts Corks & Christmas Sat 12/2. M Cellars holds its Holiday Wine Dinner on Fri 12/8. Kosicek Vineyards will celebrate with live music from Wicked Vinyl on Sat 12/9 and Face Value Duo on Fri 12/16.
The fruit of the Earth gladdens the heart this holiday season. Explore Ohio wines.
Claudia J. Taller is the author of Ohio’s Lake Erie Wineries and Ohio Canal Country Wineries and has written numerous articles about Ohio’s wineries (for CoolCleveland, Sip and TheWineBuzz). She loves to listen to winery stories about dreams realized and lessons learned. You can purchase her books at http://claudiajtaller.com/.