A local guide to sipping in Lake Erie wineries in the Ohio wine country
Robin Shreeves, Contributing Writer
If you’re exploring Ohio wineries for the first time, a fantastic place to start is the south shore of Lake Erie. The region has more wineries per square mile than any other wine region in the state, and half of the grapes grown in Ohio come from the vineyards there.
The region is also home to the Lake Erie AVA that spans portions of Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York and its sub AVA, the Grand River Valley. The Grand River Valley AVA exists entirely within Ohio.
The lake itself is essential to the success of wine growing in this northeastern part of Ohio. Breezes from the lake provide a cooling effect during hot summers that protects grapes and a warming effect in the fall that allows grapes to hang on the vines a little longer. The waters also offer plenty of recreational fun for those visiting wine country, giving tourists in the region plenty of incentive to stay a while.
If you have a weekend to explore Ohio’s Lake Erie wine region, we have an itinerary for you to follow.
Day One, Harpersfield & Geneva Wineries
Check in to your hotel, inn or BnB – there are many of them in the region – and hit a winery or two. Consider visiting these wineries that are in close proximity to each other.
M Cellars in Geneva has live music and food trucks on Friday evenings in the warmer weather. In the chillier months, visitors enjoy wine in front of the cozy tasting room fireplace. Toast to your weekend adventure with one of their fine wines like the estate Rosé Brut or estate Pinot Noir Reserve.
South River Vineyard in Harpersfield is located in an old church building. Bring a picnic to this picturesque winery to enjoy in the vineyards or on the rooftop pavilion while sipping on their fine, dry wines made from local grapes.
Kosicek Vineyards in Hapersfield is a fourth generation family winery that dates back to 1929. Kosicek produces a large variety of wines from estate grown grapes. Their food menu offers plenty of local fare. Live music on Friday nights on the outside covered patio makes this winery a fun first night stop.
Ohio Wine Country
Did you know Ohio once produced more wine than any other state in the United States, and Cincinnati was the most important city in the national wine trade? Today Ohio is one of the top 10 wine producing states in the U.S., producing more than 1.1 million gallons of wine annually. The state has five recognized American Viticultural Areas and 270+ wineries.
Day Two, Head West to Avon Lake
The first two wineries on the Saturday itinerary offer some regional history. Stop by these small wineries for quick tastings before hitting some of the larger wineries in the vicinity.
Start the day at John Christ Winery in Avon Lake, an establishment that dates back to 1946. It’s a winery that sweeter wine lovers particularly appreciate with award winning Pink Catawba, an Ice Wine and several fruit wines. But, John Christ keeps everyone happy with a few selections for dry wine drinkers, too.
From there, go to nearby Klingshirn Winery in Avon Lake, started in 1935. Led by a third generation family winemaker, Klingshirn showcases what can be done when a winery embraces all the varieties of grapes that can be grown in the region. Stop by for a tasting of native, hybrid and vinifera wines – plus some that blend hybrid and vinifera like the Homerun Red that balances Cabernet Franc and Chambourcin.
Next up is Vermilion Valley Vineyards in Wakeman where you’ll most likely want to stay a while. This sustainable winery produces bottles only from their estate vineyards and is one of the most celebrated wineries in the region. There’s frequently live music on Saturdays so take a snack with you and enjoy an afternoon of good wine and music on the estate.
Firelands Winery in Sandusky is where you’ll want to land just about dinnertime. Producing wines under several labels, the wines under the Firelands Winery are made with local grapes. Pair them with Italian dishes from the Osteria Gusto onsite.
Finish the day at Rocky Point Winery in Marblehead (and perhaps stay at the Red Fern Inn above the winery – see more about that below.) Located in an old schoolhouse and open until 10pm on Saturdays, guests can take their wines outside and in the chillier months warm up by one of the winery’s many fire pits.
Day Three, Madison & Geneva Wineries
Explore one or more of the wineries in the Winegrowers of the Grand River Valley group, all located in the Grand River Valley AVA. It takes less than a half hour to drive from the first location to the last. Depending on how much time you have on Sunday, you can hit one or all of the following wineries in Geneva and Madison.
Start at Grand River Cellars in Madison where all wines are produced from grapes grown in the region. Try their Riesling, Cabernet Franc, or Vidal Blanc Ice Wine while enjoying snacks or a meal at the onsite restaurant. (Try the pizza!!)
Next, head to Debonne Vineyards, the largest estate winery in Ohio with over 175 acres of vines and a microbrewery on site. They specialize in curated tastings that give guests an excellent sampling of the wines they produce.
From there, hit Cask 307, a boutique winery in Madison where guests can get an education on the European varietal wines the Grand River Valley produces and experience some fresh wine on tap.
The next two stops take you to wineries in Geneva. There’s live music on Sunday afternoons in the warmer months at Ferrante Winery and a wine for every palate from Apple Pie Riesling to the double gold winning Signature Series Cabernet Franc.
Finish up at Laurello Vineyards and sip Old World-inspired blends and single-varietal wines or get adventurous and try the Habanero Ice Wine. Fill up on an artisan cheese board or a house made pizza before heading ending your day.
Where to Stay & Eat
Ohio's Lake Erie AVA
Visitors to Ohio’s Lake Erie AVA find the Lodge at Geneva on the Lake a convenient place to stay in wine country. The lodge offers a year-round wine shuttle that makes stops at many of the region’s wineries. There are several dining options at the lodge, and for those traveling with kids, Lake Erie Canopy Tours is on the premises with zip lining and adventure courses for all ages.
Or, book a stay at Red Fern Inn at Rocky Point Winery in Marblehead. Located in an old schoolhouse, the guest rooms are on the top two floors of the building, with the winemaking facilities on the first floor. Guests can use complimentary bicycles, a private lounge on site, and take advantage of the onsite fire pits. There are plenty of walkable dining options from the inn, including Jamestown Tavern, known for its great wings and friendly atmosphere.