Tucked in Ohio’s most northeast corner is a place where the land is so bountiful that locals can tell you where “the ducks walk on the fish,” Ashtabula County has long been known as an affordable lakeside destination with its 27 miles of Lake Erie shoreline.
In the early 20th century it was a favorite annual retreat for three friends: John D. Rockefeller, Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford. The gentlemen camped and fished at what is now known as Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio’s First Summer Resort.
The area teems with natural resources, including three scenic rivers and two state parks. However, it is the rich and fertile soil paired with the area’s climate that creates conditions ideal for growing grapes. These conditions bore life to a vibrant and expanding vineyard region known as the Grand River Valley, which is currently home to 24 wineries.
On the ridge of the Grand River, visitors will find rolling acres of manicured vineyards. During sunny days in the fall the sweet smell of ripening grapes hangs heavy in the air and everyone drives with their windows down to breathe in the delicious scent. Fresh-pressed grape juice should be on your bucket list if you’ve never tried it.
Ashtabula County wineries are very hands-on. Guests are often served by owners or their family and friends. Cellar tours are common and visitors can participate in a calendar of events year round.
In the winter, curl up by a crackling fire with a plate of crusty bread and local cheese while you listen to live music. Two families are credited with establishing the winery industry in the Grand River Valley in the 1970’s and establishing a high standard for excellence in wine. These large estates boast something for everyone–sweet, dry, sparkling, and specialty. Think you’re not a wine drinker? Let them change your mind.
Ferrante Winery and Ristorante was established by the Ferrante family who had been selling wine since 1937. Still a family affair, this third-generation winery is known for their outstanding pairings of mouthwatering food and award-winning vino. They are the largest wine producer in the region. Ferrante serves a full menu with special family recipes.
The tasting room will tempt even the most sophisticated pallet and their gift shop always has something new. The calendar of special events and live music is full twelve months of the year. Visit their website www.ferrantewinery.com to see what’s coming up.
What began as a simple fruit farm in 1916 has become a third-generation winemaking facility and the largest grape-growing operation in the state. Debonne Vineyards is owned and operated by the Debevc family who produce exceptional products from their 175+ acres of vineyards.
Debonne was the first winery in Ohio to open a microbrewery and begin serving beer. They are home to the annual hot air balloon rally each June and have become known for their cellar tours, woof Wednesdays and special events. Learn more about them at the website www.debonne.com.
Ashtabula County grows 70% of all grapes grown in the state of Ohio. And the wines produced here have won national and international awards, often paired against some of the finest vintages. It is fast becoming one of Ohio’s premier viticulture destinations. Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, and Chambourcin grow especially well, but the region has begun to see boutique wineries open who specialize in outstanding dry reds.
Harpersfield Vineyards is a farm winery where guests can enjoy intimate fireside sipping in front of their medieval fireplace. The atmosphere is friendly and conducive to meeting someone new. They feature hearty nibbles and small plates that pair perfectly with the estate wines. The products from M Cellars are featured in some of the finest restaurants in Northeast Ohio. This boutique winery serves artisan, handcrafted, cool-climate wines. They pride themselves on their high quality and attention to detail in both the vineyards and the cellars.
Across the street is an unexpected gem that you don’t want to miss. Red Eagle Distillery serves vodka, bourbon, whiskey and rye made from grapes; just the way to warm up on a chilly winter afternoon. Known for their winemaker dinners in the vineyard and Sip & Paint classes, Kosicek Vineyards is the perfect place to gather with family and friends. The setting is small and has quickly become a gathering spot for locals. Warm up by the fire and enjoy the view out over the rolling vineyard.
Ice Wine is available in very few places around the country. Typically made from Vidal Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Riesling or Cabernet Franc grapes, these are harvested while frozen. The longer a grape stays on the vine, the greater the residual sugar content. It is not uncommon to see grapes being picked at midnight with headlamps and flashlights. The result is a very sweet dessert wine. Each March an ice wine festival is held. The popular Grand River Cellars features ice carving demonstrations, wine marshmallows and a cozy fireplace. Guests visit the different wineries to sample ice wine with an accompanying food sample for a small charge.
Laurentia is the newest winery to open in the Grand River Valley. This breathtaking winery rivals any you’d see in other parts of the country. Its rustic charm and unique features are designed to make customers feel right at home and make the most of their wine tasting experience.
Drink in the views of their estate vines while sipping Pinot Noir by the immaculate four-sided stone fireplace. Or, experience the true expression of the winery in the grand cellar surrounded by stone pillars, oak barrels, and concrete tanks.
Looking for something lakeside? The Lakehouse Inn and Winery is the destination for you. Enjoy sweeping views of Lake Erie while enjoying exquisite wines made in small batches at this family-run local favorite. Their restaurant is a true farm-to-table experience where the chef can tell you the local origin of each ingredient. A luxurious amenity, they also have an onsite spa.
Most impressive about these wineries is their lack of pretense. Come as you are: dressed up or dressed down. Drink what you like: sweet or dry. There is a comradery and sense of pride amongst these neighbors who want their guests to sip their passion. If you’re not comfortable at one location, hop in the car and travel a mile down the street to the next treasure in the valley. You can be sure a warm fire and a friendly face will be there to greet you at the door. Start planning now – winter and spring are the best times to visit the Grand River Valley. It’s affordable. It’s accessible. And it’s time for a taste!
Photos courtesy of Ashtabula County CVB.