MADISON,Ohio - Donald and Linda Himmelright found themselves pleasantly surprised while touring with a group of friends from the Akron area to Debonne Vineyards on the border of Ashtabula and Lake counties. Many in the group said the Ohio wines they tasted rivaled some they had experienced in California.
"This is excellent, love Debonne wines," said Linda Himmelright. "It's like being in God's country. It's the only way I can verbalize it."
Drawing in visitors to the area's 25 wineries in neighboring Lake, Ashtabula, and Geauga counties has turned into an economic boon trickling out to local merchants in all counties surrounding the vineyards thriving on this warm Lake Erie coastline region.
Owner of South River Vineyards and vineyard manager for Debonne and Grand River vineyards & wineries, Gene Sigel says the thriving winery industry doesn't seem to slow down as more wineries crop up for a piece of the pie. Ice wine has become more popular than ever here. Harvested when the temperature is just right, about 18 degrees, a twilight harvest early in the morning often brings out volunteers with the regular employees just for the experience.
But, the fine wines from this fall will be bottled soon through next summer.
"We start bottling wines all through the winter time and we bottle in the summer. We bottle February through the summertime is when we regularly bottle," said Sigel.
Tasting a grape from a vine freshly picked from a vineyard in Ashtabula County, just yards from Debonne Vineyards operations, Sigel likes what he sees and tastes. A wet summer had many vineyard managers worried.
"These are really nice color. Every berry is the same size, very consistent clusters. The grapes have had the leaves removed by hand to keep them really open to the wind and the sunshine. It helps them ripen," said Sigel.
"Grapes turn into good wine when they have adequate sunshine and they stay nice and dry during the summer and they're not hidden under a lot of leaves and stay damp early in the morning," added Sigel.
For first-time visitors to the region's vineyards like Debonne, Jim Markoski says it's like having a place to go within an hour that rivals Napa Valley. The sweet aroma of the ripened grapes while driving off of Route 528 south of Interstate 90 on Doty Road in view of Debonne is difficult to explain in words. It may just be a little bit of heaven on earth when it comes to Ohio-grown fruit.
Linda Himmelright may just have found the best explanation.
For information on the three wineries call: Debonne Vineyards: 440-466-3485, 7840 Doty Rd. Madison, Ohio 44057
South River Vineyard: 440-466-6676, 6062 South River Rd. Geneva, Ohio 44041
Grand River Cellars: 440-298-9838, 5750 South Madison Rd. Madison, Ohio 44057