Category Archives: Ohio Vineyards

Getting out and Exploring Northeast Ohio

Scott, his family and I enjoying our Memorial Day weekend (somehow our only group picture – taken Monday at Debonne Winery)

For the three-day Memorial weekend, Scott and I decided to change things up a bit. Instead of traveling out of town like most of our previous weekends, we hosted Scott’s parents and grandmother.

I love having out-of-town guests because it means I can put on my tourist shoes and explore places in Cleveland I may not get to as often as I’d like. Call me a nerd, but I relish having an excuse to scour the Cleveland Scene or Plain Dealer’s Friday! section and think about the different things my visiting family or friends would enjoy doing.

I’M FREE!!!! (Scott may have enjoyed a little too much wine and open air at South River Vineyard)

Although it was Scott’s family visiting this time, I couldn’t help myself and still butted in on the sightseeing research. Because it was Memorial Day weekend, we had plenty of options to choose from (almost too many!).

We started the weekend out slow – with a leisurely drive out to Sandusky.

Besides taking a scenic drive down Route 6, we had a second reason to head out there – picking up our season passes to Cedar Point. Unfortunately, by the time we got out there the line for pass pickup was too long to justify making Scott’s family wait, so we piled in the car and headed back.

However, it wasn’t a wasted trip at all because we stopped in downtown Vermilon on our way home for a stroll and a bite to eat.

The Old Prague Restaurant serves up traditional Czech fare – along with some great Yellow Perch according to other restaurant guests

Scott’s Serbian grandmother loved the Czechoslovakian fare at the Old Prague Restaurant. It was difficult not to love – I will hardly ever turn down Chicken Paprikash, dumplings and spaetzles.

I also enjoyed the Shishki appetizer. The tangy apple mustard was a great complement to the spicy meatloaf rolls; though I found the batter the rolls were fried in ended up a bit hard to bite into at times.

To pair with their schnitzel, Old Prague offers a fairly decent selection of Czech beers – both Scott and I were happy with our Golden Pheasant Pilsner and Zatec Dark Lager.

Scott’s grandmother downed this entire Zatec Dark (kidding!)

Even though the Old Prague Restaurant offers homemade strudel and other desserts, we decided to save room for ice cream at Big Ed’s Main Street Soda Grill.

Big Ed’s is a very quaint, vintage-styled soda hop. When we got there the staff seemed a bit harried because of the Memorial Day crowd; however, we were able to grab a few seats at the counter and enjoy our ice cream sundaes, root beer floats and milkshakes.

I ordered the Red River which was a vanilla milkshake mixed with cherry syrup and 7UP. That brought me back to summers in Philly and our frequent visits to Rita’s Water Ice.

Although small, downtown Vermilion seems to pack a lot of restaurants, shops, and galleries within just a couple of blocks. It also has plenty of sightseeing to offer for boat and train fans, as Lake Erie is located on one side and the railroad (with a very cute depot) runs along the other.

It was our first time visiting Vermilion, but considering it’s a short drive from our house and on the way home from Cedar Point, Scott and I will probably be making pit stops there throughout the summer.

Scott and his grandmother read about the history of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad while we enjoy a ride through the national park

After Saturday’s drive, we decided on a different mode of transportation for Sunday’s sightseeing: the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

Scott and I are HUGE train fanatics (thanks to both of our families) and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is one of our favorite things to do in Cleveland.

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad’s Canal Visitor Center features a museum and a chance to experience the park’s natural beauty up close

Through a partnership with the National Park Service, the CVSR operates excursion trains along this railway that once carried passengers and freight back and forth between Akron and Cleveland.

This was my third ride on the CVSR so I knew from previous experience that Scott’s family would enjoy it. On Saturday, we made the drive to the small town of Peninsula and got some lunch while we waited for the train to depart.

The train comes into the CVSR’s Peninsula Station, as Tow Path cyclists wait to “ride aboard”

The train runs from Rockside in Independence all the way to Akron and back – Peninsula is the stop in the middle and my favorite because it’s an easy walk to a couple of antique and gift shops.

Because of the heat, we decided to save most of our sightseeing for the train. During the trip, there’s plenty of nature and other points of interest to enjoy right through your window – from meadowland, woods, rivers and marsh.

As the train crossed one of the streams in Cuyhoga Valley National Park, we caught this glimpse of kayakers enjoying their Sunday

If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of some wildlife too (there’s an eagle’s roost in the marsh right before the Rockside stop). And cyclists can enjoy the train and the Towpath Trail through CVSR’s Bike Aboard! program.

However, the highlight for me of this weekend’s trip was sneaking a peek inside their St. Lucie Sound executive car to snap this photo:

The CVSR’s St. Lucie executive car is used for special events as well as their Ales and Wine excursions

Seats on this luxury car are reserved for special events, as well as their Ales on Rails and Grape Escape trips.

If you haven’t been, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad’s summer season starts this weekend on June 2 – making even more stops and giving you more reasons to go.

Scott – a former sousaphone player in his high school band – was happy we got to Avon Lake’s Memorial Day parade just in time to see the ALHS Marching Band

We decided to celebrate Memorial Day by sharing one of my new favorite daytrips with Scott’s family — Geneva, Ohio.

Before we headed out for a day of sipping wine, we went to Avon Lake’s Memorial Day Parade and paid our respects to everyone whose service allowed us the freedoms to enjoy this beautiful weekend.

We then packed up the car and headed for wine country.

Scott’s mom and I decked out in our reds and whites, while drinking reds and whites at South River Vineyard

Because it was a Monday, our winery options were somewhat limited (many of their kitchens and the wineries themselves are closed). Fortunately, two of our three favorites were open: South River and Debonne.

We enjoyed burgers and hot dogs at Debonne along with a couple of tasting trays and their Cellar Rats beer. Now that Summer is moreorless here, their calendar is filling with events including the 30th annual Hot Air Balloon rally on June 9th and the Model Airplane Club’s demonstration on June 16th.

Ever the ham, Scott stole a sip from my rootbeer float at Rees’ Corner

After a stop at Rees’ Corner in downtown Geneva for more rootbeer floats (because you can never have enough ice cream!), we headed to South River. Because Monday’s sweltering heat finally broke and a breeze picked up in the afternoon, we were able to take our glasses of wine and cheese & fruit plate out to the pavilion and just relax while looking over their vineyard.

Scott’s father, who loves a good glass of wine, enjoyed South River so much that he picked up a case to bring home and Scott and I snagged a few more bottles of their Riesling Reserve, Temptation and Chardonnay to add to our collection.

South River has started offering bourbon and beer flights for those looking for something different. Between this and our last visit, South River has proven to be a consistently great choice and has climbed to the top of our favorites thanks to the winning combination of both their wine and setting.

Oh to end every weekend with a view like this!

After three days enjoying Northeast Ohio’s small towns and scenic views, Scott’s parents and grandmother packed up and headed home yesterday morning with more than a few bottles of wine and memories of a wonderful Cleveland Memorial Day.

How did you spend your holiday? Share your favorite moments down in the Comments section.

Making Our Escape to Geneva-on-the-Lake

On a recent visit to Geneva-on-the-Lake, we found The Lodge offered the perfect getaway amidst a region teeming with things to do.

As a kid, my favorite time of year would be when we’d travel down to the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia during the summer. Mornings would be spent waking up to the sound of the waves outside our windows, followed by days fishing, swimming, and rowing. If I wasn’t in the water, I’d be nearby – biking up and down the beach or digging into a bucket of crab legs.

When Scott and I were considering our move to Cleveland, one of the deciding factors was that it was right off the coast of Lake Erie — because with the lake, comes small lakeside towns and resorts waiting to be explored.

Scott and I packed up the car for just such a getaway when we traveled out to Geneva-on-the-Lake a couple of weekends ago.

One of the most peaceful sunsets I’ve enjoyed in a longtime – looking out on Lake Erie from our hotel balcony.

Called Ohio’s First Summer Resort, Geneva-on-the-Lake is an aptly named, quaint lakeside town in Ashtabula County. Although some establishments are open year-round, Geneva-on-the-Lake is really coming alive right now. As the summer season is about to start, with it comes fishing, boating and swimming during the day, and arcades, amusement rides, restaurants, live music and other various nightlife in the evening.

As Scott and I quickly discovered during our visit, it was the perfect mix of the Chesapeake’s laidback respite with the more high-energy shoretown of Brigantine, New Jersey where Scott spent his summers.

Although we visited Geneva-on-the-Lake at the tail-end of the winter season with many businesses yet to open for summer, we were able to find a lot to do – like a stop by the Old Firehouse Winery (which boasts a dinner theatre, ferris wheel and great views of the lake in addition to wine and food) as well as indulging in our mutual love of arcades at Adventure Zone which we left with a handful of winnings – a set of dominoes and 3 plastic dinosaurs.

Nearby Geneva offers antique shops and corner stores like Rees’, an old-fashioned soda fountain and ice cream shop in the town’s old pharmacy.

What sets Geneva-on-the-Lake apart from other shore towns, though, is that the surrounding area offers even more to do.

For those looking to take in Ohio countryside, there’s no shortage of rolling hills and beautiful scenery (including over 15 covered bridges).

In nearby Geneva we enjoyed a morning of eclectic antique shops and a visit to Rees’ Corner, an old-fashioned soda fountain and ice cream shop in the town’s old corner pharmacy. If you visit Geneva, I definitely recommend stopping by for a lime phosphate or a rootbeer float.

With so many wineries, there were a lot of difficult decisions to make when planning our trip.

And then, of course, there are the wineries. With 20 wineries in the area, many make a trip to Geneva, Geneva-on-the-Lake and the rest of the Ashtabula region just to sample the wine.

Because we wanted to pack as much of the area as possible into 2 days, Scott and I paid a visit to just 6 of the wineries – the aforementioned Old Firehouse in Geneva-on-the-Lake, heavy-hitters like Ferrante and Debonne, and more intimate settings like South River, Laurello, and Spring Hill.

I loved that every winery had something unique to offer – whether it was the wine, the food, the setting or all of the above. While it was difficult to choose, our favorites were Laurello, South River and Debonne.

Even though you’re likely there for the wine, dessert lovers should try the Lemoncello Truffle Sorbet at Laurello Winery.

At Laurello, we savored a lemoncello truffle sorbet – an absolutely delightful dessert that was the perfect complement to their wines. They also offered one of the best tasting deals with 6 wines of our choice, cheese and crackers, and a souvenir wine glass for $10.

Sipping wine on Debonne’s patio provided us a rustic last stop for our tour – where we watched an old plane practice landing and taking off at the adjacent airstrip and also sampled some of their Cellar Rats beer. Scott and I are planning our return trip for hot air balloons and remote controlled planes later in the season.

South River was so peaceful and relaxing, I don’t think Scott ever wanted to leave.

Finally, South River not just had our favorite wines of the trip (I may have brought home more than a few bottles of Riesling and Semillon), but the historic church that the tasting room is located in is a unique, quiet setting for sipping wine. It looks out on a beautiful pavilion and 70 acres of vineyard.

Because you can’t explore everything in one day, you’ll most likely need to look for a place to spend the night. And as we learned when we stayed there, The Lodge at Geneva is the perfect place to rest up.

If I could have taken home one thing from The Lodge, it’d be their beautiful stone fireplace in the lobby

Adjacent to the State Park, The Lodge offers everything this visitor needed and then some:

  • on-site dining and a bar that overlooks the sun setting on the lake
  • indoor and outdoor pools
  • access to park trails and walkways that will either lead you for a stroll along the lake or into town
  • a lobby reminiscent of a mountain lodge featuring a beautiful stone fireplace

For many rooms at The Lodge, the scenic views aren’t limited to just the Ohio artwork hanging on the walls. Many rooms look out on beautiful Lake Erie.

The rooms themselves are styled like a country inn – complementary to the Geneva wine-country. Guests can choose between rooms with views of the lobby or the lake, and large suites, family rooms, and whirlpool king rooms are available in addition to standard-sized rooms.

When we stayed at The Lodge, our room featured a balcony which looked out on the lake. Waking up in the middle of the night to hear the lake and see the lights of the buoys was a nice reminder of growing up in Virginia. Plus, having the sun wake me up instead of an alarm was a much needed break from my normal morning routine.

Although it was a little chilly, The Lodge’s beautiful walking paths were worth bundling up for.

The rooms come with standard amenities as well as free wi-fi.  Additional amenities such as mini-fridges and microwaves are available upon request.

We didn’t spend a lot of time in the room, of course! During our downtime from traveling around the region, we spent the rest of our weekend exploring what the hotel offered. From bike rentals to swimming and massage services, there are a lot of activities to help you escape without leaving the comfort of the hotel.  And if you don’t have a designated driver for the wineries, you can reserve a spot on The Lodge’s wine shuttle (be sure to call ahead for this because we learned the hard way that the shuttle fills up fast).

If forest trails are more your thing instead of the lake, The Lodge is also adjacent to Geneva’s State Park.

Depending on the season, there’s fishing, birdwatching, an outdoor playground for children, volleyball nets and horse-shoe courts; winter fun includes snowshoeing and cross country skiing.  Many of these activities are family-friendly as well — during my visit, I was impressed by how child and pet-friendly The Lodge is, while still accommodating conference groups and adults on vacation.

While we were at The Lodge, we enjoyed a dinner at Horizons restaurant, a swim in the indoor pool and walks along the shore – it was hard to choose, but I think the pool was my favorite highlight.  I haven’t been swimming since last summer and their huge indoor pool features gigantic windows that look out on the lake.

I would have gladly spent my entire day in this pool if I had had the time.

Regardless of the amenities, though, a hotel stay can often be easily ruined by subpar service. Fortunately, that wasn’t a problem with The Lodge. No matter whom we spoke with – whether it was our server at dinner, housekeeping or the team at the check-in desk – everyone was proactive in ensuring their guests’ stays were comfortable.  In particular, I was impressed by Jason who helped us when we arrived a bit early for check-in – he was very friendly and made a number of great suggestions on how to spend our time before check-in.

Although Scott and I have been big into long roadtrips this year, we recently started to discover there is a world of daytrips right outside of Cleveland just begging to be explored. And if they’re anything like our trip to Geneva-on-the-Lake, I have the feeling Scott and I will be trading in the 8-hour car rides for much closer locales this summer.

A weekend sipping wine and lounging by the lake makes for a very relaxed Amanda.

Disclosure: After being unavailable to attend a Blogger Weekend last Fall at The Lodge at Geneva, I was invited to stay at The Lodge this Spring. One night’s accommodations and one dinner and breakfast were included; however, I paid for the rest of the trip.

Guest Post – Queen of the Ice Wine: South River Vineyards and the Ice Wine Festival

I came to the sad conclusion a while ago that I’m incapable of exploring everything in Northeast Ohio. Case in point, I was really disappointed to have to miss the Geneva Ice Wine Festival this past weekend (and the coming weekend since I’m going to be in Chicago for this).

Fortunately, Clue Into Cleveland guest contributor Kate Galo was happy enough to enjoy a day of wine tasting for me. Enjoy her writeup of the experience and be sure to check out the Ice Wine Festival this Saturday, March 19th (your last chance this year!).

— Amanda

***

I find that there are certain proposals that could be made to me that I will always say yes to.  Would I like to bring some food to a dinner party?  Would I mind asking that embarrassing question so my friend doesn’t have to?  Would I like to go drink some wine?

A bottle of South River's Karma wine in their cellar

The answer will always be an emphatic YES.  So when Clue Into Cleveland was asked if we’d like to go to South River Vineyard and maybe try some ice wine, I said YES.  (And maybe threatened to knock Amanda and Elizabeth out of the way so I could go.)  I was already planning on making my way to Geneva and had no problem with visiting South River Vineyard first!

I learned from Gene Sigel, owner of South River Vineyard, that this is the 8th year of the Ice Wine Festival for the various wineries around Geneva and Ashtabula, and that the three weekends in March are some of the busiest times of their year.  He chalks it up to cabin fever, and I agree with him, but I’d also say it has something to do with the fact that ice wine is delicious and sweet and gives you a feeling of doing something special in the end of winter when last weekend you were wearing 5 layers of clothing in your house and debating whether or not you could stand to get out from under the blanket to feed your stupid pets.

Gene Sigel of South River using a wine thief to draw wine from a barrel.

Learning more about ice wine just highlighted how little I know about wine making, and chemistry in general.  Ice wine is a specialty in places like Northeast Ohio since it needs to b 18 degrees Fahrenheit for the grapes to freeze, the grapes have to picked (sometimes by hand!) when they’re frozen, and pressed when they’re frozen in a giant bucket press.  If the grapes get warm, they get squishy (technical term), and then the chemistry changes and the kind of wine changes.  South River picked their grapes last December and made a Concord Ice and a Blush Ice wine.  The Blush Ice wine is fantastic!  Not too syrupy or overly sweet, it was clear and sweet and had very clear cherry and berry and lilac aromas.  The Concord Ice was very “jammy” as Gene put it, and he’s right – it was as if I had taken a bite of homemade grape jam.

First Runner-up Amanda Wight, Ice Wine Queen Stephy Gorgeny, Second Runner-up Sara Galbreath

And this was the first year for the Ice Wine Queen!  Gene and his wife and co-owner Heather put together this event for the first time this year.  Contestants learned about the Ice Wine Queen from their website, www.southrivervineyard.com, and from the winery’s Facebook page (facebook.com/southrivervineyard), and were asked to answer a few questions, including one very challenging one: “What is your favorite wine?”

Ice Wine Queen Stephy Gorgeny described her answer as very detailed (from vine to wine!), and chose Gewurztraminer.  First Runner-up Amanda Wight took this as an opportunity to do a lot of reading on the grapes, and went with a Riesling.  Second Runner-up Sara Galbreath, who journeys from Erie, Pa. once a quarter to the area, just picked her favorite, a Pinot Noir, pointing out its versatility and ability to be paired with so many things.  All three winners were very excited to be a part of the first Ice Wine Queen contest.  Queen Stephy (I don’t know if she’s made people refer to her as “Queen Stephy” from now on, but you shouldn’t miss the opportunity, girl!), said that she has always been a fan of South River and finds it so beautiful, and was happy to be able to help promote our Northeast Ohio wineries.  Second Runner-up Sara agreed, saying that South River’s history and grounds and wines make it a place she really loves.

I did spy all three winners later in the day at some of the other wineries with their crowns and sashes, and I have to say, it really inspired myself and my drinking buddies to plan for next year’s Ice Wine Queen.  My favorite wine?  Um… will be… delicious?  I will prepare more over the year!  And I would also recommend a talent portion – hand the contestants a wine and tell them to pair it with a meal!  Blind taste test to see if they can pick up the notes in the wine!

A selection of South River's white wines

I did not stick with just ice wine, because who could?  I got the chance to taste South River’s Dry Riesling, Semillon, Creation, Temptation, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc wines as well (I also ate a small loaf of bread, and spread those out over two visits, so I was fine to drive!).  Let me break it down:

  • The Dry Riesling tasted to me like a very classic dry riesling – not too sweet, crisp and light.  The boyfriend was very pleased with this, as he actually does not much care for overly sweet wine.
  • The Semillion is a buttery, smoother wine, and one of the most planted grapes in Bordeaux, France.  Because I don’t know what figs taste like exactly, I could not say for sure that I tasted the fig honey, but I did note that it was really creamy and smooth.
  • The Creation and Temptation wines were my new best friends!  The Creation is South River’s blend of Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, and Temptation is a blush wine made from Cabernet Franc and Riesling.  They were both excellent.  I really loved Temptation, but I have a tendency to go towards slightly sweeter, edging into dessert wine territory wines that don’t necessarily have to be parried with things.
  • South River’s 2010 Pinot Noir was made from Dijon clones from France, and their Cabernet Franc was actually a pleasant surprise for Gene, who typically uses their cabernet francs to blend with their other wines.  The 2010 year however turned out really well and was bottled on its own, and as a person who doesn’t know all that much about Cabernet Franc, I would say that yes, it is a really fresh, almost peppery wine and I could see how it would mix really well with other blends.

Whew.  And people, this was only my first stop of the day.  I went on to Debonne, Grand River Cellars, Ferrante, Laurello, and back to South River.  Judging by seeing the Ice Wine winners and a number of familiar faces at all the stops, making a day of the Ice Wine Festival is very much the thing to do in March.  Saturday March 19, 2011 is the last Saturday for this year’s Festival, so strap on your drinking snow boots, and enjoy!

South River Vineyard

About the Guest Author: Kate Galo
Long long ago, Kate Galo was a professional blogger at the now-defunct BloggingOhio.com.  Her writing style has vastly improved over the years, and she’s excited to sharing her thoughts about this city with the loyal readers at Clue Into Cleveland!