August 2007 Issue
Extend your vineyard vacation with a stay at a local B&B.
Seven years ago, the Wing Watch & Wine Trail opened a long the northwest shores of Lake Erie.
The trail, modeled on the Russian River Valley wine trail in California, was the first of six paths to connect groups of wineries throughout the state. Donnie Winchell, the executive director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association, says the purpose of Ohio's wine trails is to encourage visitors to seek out not just one, but all of the wineries in a given area. "The trails are a framework for wine exploration," she explains. "But it's the wineries that work together to provide visitors with an experience that are making them fun."
Since then, the trails have grown along with the number of wineries - the northeast's Wines and Vines trail alone has 18 stops. Considering that the distance between wineries can approach 30 minutes, on some trails it's almost impossible to see all of them in one day.
So ask yourself - what's the rush?
We can't think of a more relaxing weekend than strolling through vineyards and tasting the latest vintage, followed by retiring with one of your bottles to an inviting back porch at a nearby B&B. This year, we've included two riverfront B&Bs, one scenic lodge and a pristine campus inn in our coverage, just a few of the countless accommodations located near the state's more than 70 wineries. For additional lodging ideas, news on trail events and even suggestions to help you taste and enjoy wine, contact the Ohio Wine Producers Association, 800/227-6972, www.ohiowines.org
Hermes Vineyards, Sandusky
Part of the Wing Watch & Wine Trail that runs along the westerncoast of Lake Erie
In every industry, you have your leaders, your followers and your heavyweight champs. Hermes Vineyards, just five miles south of Lake Erie in Sandusky, falls into that last group - we're still feeling the pummeling our senses took on our visit.
The tasting room delivers the first blow, stunning you with a thoughtfully restored 200-year-old pioneer barn that was part of the property when owner David Kraus' great-great-great-grandfather (a grape grower) immigrated here from Germany's Mosel region more than 150 years ago. The interior takes the second shot, blindsiding you with ultra-modern seats and benches, custom designed by Manhattan-based designer Kenneth Nilson and upholstered in mustard, lime, tangerine and chocolate colors. The final hit is the wines, made from the same European varietals used in Bordeaux, the Rhone, Rioja and other prestigious wine-making regions, and are a true pleasure to drink.
Millicent Estep, who oversees the winery's tasting room, says the ambiance reflects Kraus' discriminating sensibilities. "When we first opened, I kept suggesting little grapevine decorations and other cutesy things, and Dr. Kraus would always say ‘no, we're not doing that," she s ays.
It doesn't hurt that Kraus, a psychiatrist living in Manhattan, spends most of his time in a city where delivering the new and unexpected is a needed survival skill. His winery, carved into a section of his family's 300-acre farm on Hayes Avenue (St. Rte. 4), does just that for travelers in search of high-quality Ohio wines and a night out without a big party scene. "Saturday nights we try to be low key," explains Estep. This translates as live acoustic guitar music from a rotating list of area artists, complemented by the winery's daily selection of artisanal breads, imported cheeses and tapenades.
By planting only vinifera grapes ––considered by wine critics as the best, if not only, varietals for making wine –– Kraus says he's stating his position on the great potential Ohio has as a wine region. "There was a time when Sandusky was one of the biggest wine-producing regions in the country," he says. "We have favorable growing conditions for vinifera," which can be more difficult to grow than hardier, but less prestigious native and French hybrid grapes. "Why do hybrids if we don't have to?" he says. "I consider myself one of the people pushing things in that direction."
On Aug. 18, Hermes will join nine other Ohio wineries for the third annual Toast of Ohio festival in downtown Sandusky. For more information, call 800/255-3743.
Where to Stay: Farrell House Lodge at Sunnybrook Trout Club
From the base of the exit ramp, the intersection of St. Rte. 2 and U.S. Rte. 6 seems anything but tranquil. Yet tucked away just around the bend you'll find unexpected serenity at the Farrell House Lodge at Sunnybrook Trout Club. A longtime private fishing club, the property's mammoth 1941 plantation-style lodge opened to nonmembers a few years back, giving overnight guests enviable access to the club's 130 secluded acres of green spaces, sun-kissed waters and the wildlife that comes with it.
Unlike some sporting clubs, you don't need to read Field & Stream to enjoy your stay here. Ten huge guest rooms offer amenities such as king, queen or twin beds, and no TVs or telephones keep things quiet - bolstered by a "no pets or kids under 12" policy that, considering the amount of water here, is as much for safety reasons as it is for noise control. Overnight guests can purchase fishing packages along the club's stretch of Cold Creek, which delivers 1-1/2 winding miles of brook-, rainbow- and brown-trout fishing, or fish for bluegill, black bass and tiger muskie in the 10-acre Sunnybrook Lake at no charge.
However you fill your day, you'll want to unwind with a stroll through the tranquil grounds and enjoy the weeping willows, clear streams and croaking, buzzing, whistling and singing that a place like this attracts. But even in this remarkable setting, there's a highlight: a 300-year-old oak tree in the back of the property. "It takes five big guys with their arms outstretched to get around the trunk," says Farrell House general manager Greg Wallrabenstein. 1104 Fremont Ave., Sandusky, 419/625-8353. www.farrellhouselodge.com
. Rates: $89-$159. Continental breakfast daily and lunch and dinner are available with advance notice. The club and lodge are open by appointment only.
Part of the Canal Country Wine Trail and The I-76 Corridor Wine Trail
As industry executive Donnie Winchell noted, collaborative events at the wineries are what make the wine trails fun - for the guests, at least. We came across Dan Mastropietro of Mastro-pietro Winery in Berlin Center two days after the first "Uncork Summer Wine and Art Festival," an all-day event his winery hosted in June with four other wineries in the area. "It was a huge success," he told us, "but I grilled so much food, I ended up in the hospital from the fumes."
Apparently, an emergency room stint isn't enough to hamper Mastropietro's energy for his second career. An electrician by trade and a winemaker by tradition (his grandfather, dad and uncle all made wine in the cellar), Dan, his wife Marianne and his sister Cathy opened the winery two years ago. Clearly, they had hospitality in mind.
"This was covered in cornfields when we bought it," he says, sweeping his arm across the 52-acre site. Since then, the family has added picnic tables, pavilions, bocce courts, patios and everything else an indoor/outdoor facility needs to create a fun spot. They also left trees and added a lake to make sure that the scenery was as much of a draw as the rest of the amenities.
The winery is open Thursday through Sunday; not surprisingly, weekend nights draw the biggest crowds. "We have live entertainment every Friday and Saturday night," says Dan. "We advertise it as bring your own lawn chair, because the seats go fast."
It's likely the tasting room menu has something to do with the crowds: On Fridays and Saturdays, it's like going to your friend's house for a cookout. Portabella mushroom sandwiches with provolone and roasted red peppers, juicy burgers, marinated shrimp skewers and one-half chicken dinners are served until they run out. The winery also offers a menu of snacks, including hot peppers in oil served with ciabatta bread, cheese plates and shrimp cocktail, which are available anytime.
Of course, the wines are the biggest draw. Visitors can try a dozen different types, ranging from bigger styles like the peppery red zinfandel to softer wines like Sunset, a sweet white made from native grapes. The wine name isn't by chance. "We tell people to come wind down with us," he says. "We have the best sunsets you'll see."
Where to Stay: The Hiram Inn
In Berlin Center, the accommodations are pretty scarce ("we're still hoping that someone will open a B&B down the road," says Dan Mastropietro). Luckily, there are more choices for those who want to position themselves in the middle of the I-76 corridor trail, a smaller section of the Canal Country Trail that includes Mastropietro Winery and five others.
The Hiram Inn is a pristinely maintained B&B with enormous rooms, modern amenities (including cable and wireless Internet) and a spacious side patio that seems like the perfect place to end the day. A deluxe continental breakfast is included with your stay. Follow that with a stroll through the leafy campus of Hiram College, and you'll head home relaxed and refreshed. 6867 Wakefield Rd. Hiram, 888/447-2646. www.hiraminn.com
Meranda-Nixon Winery, Ripley
Part of the Nicholas Longworth Heritage Trail along the Ohio River Valley
There is a winery less than an hour away from every resident in this state. Naturally, when a new one opens, our first question is, what will they offer that the others don't, can't or won't? At Meranda-Nixon Winery, set on about 50 acres of a family farm in Ripley, the answer is a surprising sense of old in the context of new.
Seth Meranda, who opened the winery in April with his wife Tina, is what you call a thoroughbred: a blue-jeans-wearing guy of fewer words than most of the winemakers we've met. "I grew up five miles from here, two miles the way the bird flies," he says. He graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in food sciences, and has logged countless hours studying the science of viticulture and wine making. But those aren't the cards he shows first. "This was originally my great-grandfather's 90-acre farm. After college, my brother and I bought it, and paid it off in six years with good, old, back-breaking tobacco farming," he says.
In the late 1990s, tobacco quotas were down, and like owners of most family farms, Meranda knew he needed to diversify. "The writing was on the wall," he says. So, the Merandas took their cut of Ohio's $10.1 billion tobacco settlement and planted grapes. Years working in the fields facilitated the transition. "Tobacco is just as sophisticated as viticulture," he insists. "You have to use common sense to get a good price."
Visitors are free to roam the seven acres of grapes surrounding the tasting room and visit with the farm animals, including Australian cattle dogs Tanner and Tex, and Quarter Horses Jill and Rudy. The property sits on an elevated site about two miles from the Ohio River, which helps to protect the grapes from the spring frosts that are likely, and delivers a valley view on a clear day.
Images of Tuscany inspired the tasting room, although Tina says they also wanted the space to reflect their tie to the Ohio River Valley's wine-making history. For this, they sought the talents of Cincinnati artist Andrea Frangiosa, who captured the connection in a picture-window-size antique scroll mural of a historical scene along the Ohio River, showing vineyards in the foreground and a steamboat in the back. It's an inviting place to unwind with a glass of wine and a bite to eat. Right now, the winery pours three different wines - traminette, dechaunac and Catawba, with plans to release more varieties as their vineyards mature –– and offers a small menu of pizza, burgers, cheese plates and other snacks. But for us, the sense of place, the palpable connection to the family's agricultural roots and the emotional alliance with this hard-working tobacco town, was the best part of the visit. Not to mention the modesty that came with it.
"Wine is made in the vineyard. All we have to do is preserve what Mother Nature made," says Meranda.
Where to Stay: The Signal House Bed and Breakfast, Ripley
The Ohio River House Bed and Breakfast, Higginsport
This far south, a view of the river comes standard at the best accommodations. Luckily, two B&Bs in this part of the Ohio River Valley appellation deliver both scenery and high levels of service.
Some of the best waterway viewing comes with the price of a room at the Signal House in Ripley, a charming B&B in an 1830s home that's just a few miles from the wineries. Open May through December, the Signal House has a newly decorated suite, the River Breeze, that overlooks the river and also features a bath with clawfoot tub and shower and a dressing room/sitting area. Two other rooms have shared baths. Accommodations include a full breakfast.
About seven miles down the road, in Higginsport, you'll find another B&B on prime river real estate. Owners Andy and Judy Lloyd stumbled across their enviable piece of property in 1995 "while on a mission to investigate a collection of opaque glass," says Judy. Their collection of rarities includes opaque glass, authentic World War I posters and an assortment of furniture the couple has restored. The kitchen shelves support Judy's 238 glass hens. "I'm sort of a chicken snob," laughs Judy. "Most of my chickens are from 1880 to 1930 - I have very few younger than that."
In addition to two apartments and four suites in the Riverboat House, a second lodging, the Dugan Residence, offers four suites. "During the week, we encourage people to use the facilities with kitchens," explains Judy, adding that the weekends are when Andy ties up his apron strings and puts on full breakfasts - if you're lucky, you'll catch him on baked peach pancake day.
Good Things, Small Packages
These wineries and B&Bs invite you to be their guest with prefab packages.
Ask for the Winery Package at Barrister's End Bed & Breakfast
in Wooster and receive a delicious picnic basket of cheese, crackers and fruit, plus a gift certificate for a bottle of wine, two glasses and a winery tour and tasting at nearby Troutman Vineyards
(tour and tasting not available on Sundays). $130 plus tax, or two nights for $210. Call 330/262-4085 or visit www.barristerend.com
for rates and availability.
Grab a group of friends and book the Winery Tour and Dinner package at Colonel Taylor Inn Bed & Breakfast
in Cambridge. Enjoy the hilltop views and a tasting at Georgetown and Terra Cotta Vineyards
, then head to Ravens Glenn Winery
for more tasting and an Italian-inspired feast. Wine tastings, dinner and limo service are priced separately. Call 740/432-7802 or visit www.coltaylorinnbb.com
During the Tuscarawas Valley Bed & Breakfast Winery Tour
on Aug. 8 you can book your stay at one of six participating B&Bs and hop aboard a chartered bus for a day behind the scenes at five local wineries, plus a tour of a nearly 75-year-old cheese house. A two-night stay at a participating B&B is required, and rates include lodging, wine tour, a full breakfast and lunch for two adults. Additional dates available September to December. For more information, call The Olde World Bed & Breakfast
in Dover, 330/343-1333, or visit www.tuscpackages.com
Stay at the Marshall Inn
in Port Clinton and ask for the winery special, which includes tours and tastings at nearby Firelands Winery
and Mon Ami Restaurant & Historic Winery
, plus lodging and a few extras. The Inn makes wine from the 100-year-old Niagra vines on site, and in season, guests can continue their wine education by helping with the harvest and wine-making process. Call 877/376-5531 or visit www.marshallinn.com
for rates and details.