Ohio’s Lake Erie wineries are growing in number every year, harkening back to the 19th century when Ohio was a leading producer of wines in the United States. Grape growing on the Lake Erie Islands – Kelley’s Island, South Bass, Middle Bass and North Bass – was well-established by German immigrants by the mid-1800s. The moderate climate of the Lake Erie islands and along the Lake Erie shoreline in Sandusky creates a long growing season and winds that discourage mildew.
Although Prohibition destroyed the wine industry in Ohio, the farms along Lake Erie’s southern shore continued to grow grapes for juice and jellies. In the 1960s grape growers began to explore the idea of growing vinifera grapes in Ohio. Today, while some wineries only grow European varieties of grapes, others grow native grapes for those who like sweet Catawbas, and many serve both. Some vineyards just still produce juice and jelly.
Most of the Lake Erie Appellation wineries in Ohio are new. Because they are clustered, it’s easy to visit a few wineries and learn about how the grapes are selected and grafted and how wine is made. The owners of the wineries appreciate the opportunity to talk about what they do and how they live out their dreams. The wineries west of Cleveland along the lakeshore all have their own focus, making each winery visit a unique experience.
Paper Moon Vineyards
2008 State Road in Vermilion
For an adventure in Lake Erie wines, drive out to Erie County west of Cleveland and stop at Paper Moon on Route 60 in Vermilion for the first of five wineries to explore. Paper Moon Vineyards began in 2006 when Richard and Sheryl Cawrse decided to buy 50 acres of land, which they cleared and planted with vineyards on land formerly covered with concord vines. Five varieties of grapes are grown on the property and the winery also sources grapes to make well-crafted wines like their Old Vine Zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon. The kitchen does a good job with their food, especially the paninis, and the wine can be tasted in a warm tasting room or on the large outdoor patio overlooking the vineyards. The winery has entertainment on Saturday afternoons and is fast becoming a favorite destination.
15674 Gore Orphanage Road in Wakeman
The land on which Matus Winery on Gore Orphanage Road, south of Paper Moon, is located has been farmland for 75 years. The unpretentious outside of the building belies the historically renovated interior where visitors can tour the wine-making rooms and tarry outside into the vineyards. Bob Matus makes the wine at this family-run business, which hosts Friday night dinners throughout the summer, including rigatoni and paprikash. Matus features native Niagara and Concord wines as well as European-style wines like chardonnay and cabernet. The pear fruit wine is in competition with the next winery on the tour, Quarry Hill, which specializes in fruit wines.
Quarry Hill Winery
8403 Mason Road in Berlin Heights
The vineyards of Quarry Hill are high on a hill with a view of Lake Erie. Quarry Hill grows apples, peaches, and cherries, but partners Mac McLelland and Bill Gammie envisioned vineyards. Winemaker McLelland, formerly of John Christ Winery in Avon Lake, initially sold his handcrafted wines in the farm market amidst the orchards, but the winery recently opened a beautiful wine tasting building reminiscent of East Coast homes on stilts with a wraparound porch and crow’s nest. Quarry Hill is known for its fruit wines, but makes excellent cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. Mac says he loves the vintner lifestyle and the countryside in which he works; he recommends driving the country roads of Route 113 to the next winery – Hermes – rather than getting back on Route 2.
6413 State Route 4 in Sandusky
Wildflowers surround Hermes Winery which pours its wine in an old threshing barn with a picturesque silo. Hostess Millicent has been working at the winery since it opened for business in 2002. The winery planted its first grapes that year and started bottling its own wines a couple years later. The all estate-grown and bottled winery grows 25 varieties of vinifera wines (including viognier, malbec, sangiovese and syrah) on over 25 acres of land on the former Hermes family farm. Owner David Kraus bought vines from nurseries and personally chose the best clones. Although the tasting room is rustic, the high ceilings and hay loft lend a charm to the experience of tasting wine and listening to music on Friday and Saturday evenings.
917 Bardshar Road in Sandusky
Unlike the last three wineries, Firelands has a history. The Firelands region was allotted to citizens of Connecticut whose homes were burned by the British during the Revolutionary War. The wine cellar was built in 1880 by the Edward Mantey family. Today, the winery is owned by winemaker Claudio Salvador, and Firelands grows most of its grapes on land leased on North Bass Island, also known as Isle St. George, a separate appellation from Lake Erie. In addition to the Firelands brands of wines, which include the mellow cabernet and pink Rose de St. George, it also produces and bottles native Niagara, Delaware and other wines packaged under the Mantey Wines label. Self-guided tours are offered, and the large tasting room includes a retail area where wine making equipment can be purchased.
Mon Ami Restaurant & Historic Winery
3845 E. Wine Cellar Road in Port Clinton
The reason to save Mon Ami until the end is the food. Mon Ami Restaurant serves a seafood buffet on the weekend with delicious crab legs and shrimp, a salad bar with bountiful selections, side dishes, and pastries and desserts – so many choices it is difficult to choose. The regular menu selections include lobster bisque or crab cakes, bacon-wrapped scallops or pasta with marinara. Mon Ami Winery bottles a smooth pinot noir and authentic gewurztraminers and Rieslings alongside native Ohio Niagara and Concord wines.
A visit to the vineyards and wineries of the Lake Erie Islands and Shores is a wonderful way to unwind from the hurry-up ways of the city. Take the country roads and slow time down to an enjoyable level. You’ll be going back to the farm, Ohio-style, at wineries. You may find even newer wineries in old Ohio barns, because wineries are all the rave along Ohio’s Lake Erie shoreline.