Wine Country, Ohio

To gain insight into why Ohio’s winery scene is flourishing, we got up close and personal with some of the state’s recent entries (and re-entries) into that scene.

The stories behind Ohio’s newest wineries are as distinct and varied as the people who founded them – those whose dreams became reality through the founders’ passion, energy and hard work.  Let us introduce you to a few of them.

Sandy Ridge Vineyards & Mercantile, Norwalk

Chef Jamie McFadden grew up in Norwalk and went off to pursue a celebrity chef career, but he was always drawn to historic Sandy Ridge Farm. “I worked at the farm when it was an apple orchard as a kid and so did the rest of the family,” McFadden says.

His uncles planted the idea of growing grapes on the property, and in 2015, his passion for wine inspired him to launch Snowbirds Vintners, which coincided with his viticultural project in Norwalk. When his uncles suggested he do something with the barn., McFadden took them up on it, saying, “Sometimes, we just have to put things out in the universe and keep that positive energy.”

McFadden said he and his family envision “a community gathering with a sense of family and camaraderie in a beautiful setting.” The winery opened in September 2018.

Enjoy the pinot blanc, concord or rosé with seasonal food designed to share on the terrace or near the fire pit.  “I try to keep it creative, fresh, and interesting,” McFadden says.

Lincoln Way Vineyards, Wooster

Jim and Sherri Borton opened their tasting room in October 2018 after years of growing grapes for other people and making wine for private use.

Jim says the idea of a winery came about slowly and steadily. An old warehouse not far from the vineyards has been converted into a production facility and an intimate, warm tasting room. Eventually the top floor will become a covered patio and picnic area. The timing is perfect because the Bortons’ teenage children can help run the winery: son Alex loves being outside in the vineyards, helping with the crushing operation and racking wine, while daughter Ari does the quality-control lab work and enjoys the winemaking.

During the Lincoln Way national highway garage sale in August, Lincoln Way Vineyards is the perfect place to top and enjoy “Six Sixteen Rosé,” which Jim describes as “a Catawba blended with Pinot Noir with a bright color and sweet but finishes dry, not cloying.”

Bent Ladder Cider and Wine, Doylestown

Bent Ladder, a 125-acre fruit farm with 90 varieties of apples and 11 varieties of grapes, is “one of ten official wine farms in Ohio,” according to winemaker Matt Vodraska.

Having grown up around vineyards and wineries, Matt planted his first vines nine years ago, and the winery opened less than three years ago. Matt initially saw grapes as a simply a value-added product on the farm, but now, he’s having a good time. “It’s always fun and engaging,” he says.

The tasting room and production area are industrial chic, made from reclaimed wood, steel and concrete. Live music focuses on local musicians. There are board-game nights, special events featuring scientists and artists, and trivia.

The winery serves eight hard ciders and French-American hybrid wines. The grapes may be hybrids, but “It’s much more old-world than people think an Ohio wine is,” Vodraska says. “We’re on the drier side, with French and Germanic style wines” produced via cool-climate viticulture.

Buccia Vineyard Winery and Bed & Breakfast, Conneaut

When asked why he decided to purchase Buccia Vineyard and Winery, Bill Holden says, “Ohio’s a great place. My family’s here, and it’s a good place to grow grapes.”

Holden is a true wine lover, and he first experienced the potential of Ohio wine while visiting Markko Vineyard about 15 years ago. A renovated Buccia reopened in 2018, and as a tribute to original founder Fred and Joanna Bucci, the Buccia name remains intact under its new ownership.

The winery has come alive with live music and has a new line of premium wines called North Coast Cellars. The Agawam grapes, a hybrid variety bred in Massachusetts in 1856, remain in the vineyards that are so close to the tasting room, visitors are drawn to stroll through them. And if those visitors want to spend the night, there are four guest rooms at the winery’s bed & breakfast, all with private hot tubs and patios with vineyard views.

Laurentia Vineyard & Winery, Madison

About a decade ago, during a hunting trip to Idaho (and after sampling a California wine or two), brothers Leonard and Gary Blackie both reached a conclusion: Northeast Ohio has great wine potential.

Upon their return, Leonard began searching for the perfect place to locate a winery, and he found it in 2010, subsequently purchasing additional acreage for vineyards and wine production. Laurentia’s first vines, Chardonnay and Riesling, were planted in 2011, and the winery opened its doors in July 2015.

The winery building is modeled after Gary’s Frying Pan Fish Camp in Colorado with log-cabin siding from Colorado, a four-sided fireplace reclaimed-wood ceilings and floors. The space is cozy and comfortable, and visitors can sip the 2016 Estate Lees Chardonnay, the 2017 Estate Rose, or the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon with delicious flatbread while looking out on vineyards and woods.

The Vineyards at Pine Lake, Columbiana

The tasting room at Pine Lake boasts elevated views of Pine Lake and is attached to the production facility. Intimate conversations can take place in the dining room and enclosed outdoor patio, paired with food created by Executive Chef Angus O’Hara. But if it looks like a regular restaurant, with its beer and mixed drinks, think again. The heart of this winery is its wine.

Like many wineries, Pine Lake is family-run and the family came together to create a space where people could enjoy the wine made from grapes grown on its 42-acre property. The winery opened in 2016, and today serves over a dozen varieties of wine. Perhaps the website says it best:  “It all began with a vision…and has grown into something we hope everyone can enjoy!”

Vineyards now appear in farm country all through the state–Ohio’s truly become a wine destination.  Wineries are born, and reborn, when dreams become visions that become real.  Just imagine how it feels to have a dream come true, and you will have a sense of the passion and energy of Ohio’s winemakers and the places they open up to you.  It’s a beautiful thing, to discover Ohio’s wineries.

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