Fall in love with rural Ashtabula County on Sat 8/13. Explore the covered bridges that dot the county, including the long, historic Harpersfield Bridge and the red-painted Netcher Road Bridge or found yourself surrounded by vineyards on a dirt road, all from the seat of your bicycle.
After your tour, relax at South River Vineyards, also known as the “church winery,” which has some of the best local wines in Northeast Ohio, handcrafted from local grapes. All rides begin and end at South River Vineyard, 6062 South River Road West, Geneva, OH 44041
You choose how long and how fast you want to ride. You can stop at other wineries, at Brant’s Apple Orchard, or any place you’d like along the Western Reserve Greenway or the Lake Erie shore. You must begin the final 35 miles before 2pm, and the last meal is served by 4:30pm. If you’d like to ride the 103-mile route, the suggested start time is 7:30am. Other rides are 64 miles, 39 miles, 25 miles and 13 miles.
The terrain is mostly flat, but there is a mile-long climb right before the race finish. Randy Jones of United Way of Ashtabula County told me, “The 2015 Bridges & Vines Bicycle Tour attracted 502 cyclists from all over Ohio and Western Pennsylvania.”
The first time I saw a map of the bridges of Ashtabula County, I couldn’t believe one county held seventeen covered bridges. With the addition of the Smolen-Gulf Bridge in 2008, there are now 18 bridges to walk or bike through and hear the echo of your voice. I didn’t know there are names for the different types of bridge architecture — Howe truss, Pratt truss, Town lattice truss, Burr arch, and Inverted Haupt truss. Find out more about the bridges at the web page for the annual Covered Bridge Festival, another event you might want to participate in, at coveredbridgefestival.
At the end of the day, you’ll be able to eat a homemade spaghetti-and-meatball meal (salad and cookies included), prepared by Country Neighbor, while sipping wine and taking in the beautiful vineyards behind South River Winery. The Cleveland-based soul band Karizma will perform.
The first time I had a glass of wine while sitting on a church pew, my Methodist soul had to take some time to adapt. The 1892 building was moved piece by piece from Shalersville, Ohio. Original glass windows give the interior a romantic glow.
A few years ago, owner Gene Siegel added a raised brick patio on the back of the church. From there, you can look out over fifty years of vinifera (European-style) vineyards of Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Semillon. While the single-grape wines are good, my favorites are blends that show off the skill of the winemaker, and you should try the Exodus, Karma and Trinity reds. The Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio may be your best bet on a hot summer day after a long bike ride.
The event is sponsored by FirstEnergy Foundation and Save a Lot Distribution Center and Signature Health. Proceeds benefit United Way of Ashtabula County. You’ll not only get exercise and have fun, but this is an opportunity to give back to the community.
“The Bridges & Vines Bicycle Tour supports early reading programs of the United Way of Ashtabula County,” Randy Jones reports. He says you can find out more and register at Bridges & Vines Bicycle Tour.
The price is right — adults are $35 and youth are $20. Children under twelve ride free. The event will be well-orchestrated, with maps, water and snack shops, and support vehicles. The online registration deadline is Thu 8/11, but you can pay in cash or check on arrival.
Claudia Taller is the author of Ohio’s Lake Erie Wineries and Ohio’s Canal Country Wineries.