Thursday, December 1, 2011

Get Ye to Markko Winery for the Yuletide Tasting

This weekend, December 3 and 4, Arnie and his family and friends will share their bounty and say thank you. The winery is open from 12-5 on Saturday and from 12-4 (I think) on Sunday. The e-blast said "It seems to be the little things we find in wine that add some extra pleasure."

I first met Arnie Esterer, winemaker and owner of Markko Vineyards in Conneaut, on our first Ohio wine country adventure.  Arnie, with partner Tim Hubbard, started experimenting with European varietals and French-American hybrids in the late 1960s after purchasing one hundred acres of land, as instructed by Dr. Konstantin Franc of New York’s Finger Lakes.  There are no pretences at Markko—it’s all about the wine.  The chardonnays and cabernets at the boutique winery are the best in Ohio because they’re handcrafted and estate bottled, and Arnie admits that they are expensive.  Arnie’s the guru of winemakers in the Lake Erie Appellation, and other vintners like Ken Tarsitano will admit they learned how to trellis vines and craft a decent wine from Esterer.  Arnie readily explains how the vines in our region must be kept three feet off the ground to prevent moisture that leads to rot.  The dark cellar of stainless steel for his Rieslings and oak barrels for the Chardonnays and Cabernets remind me that the grapes become wine all on their own, and it’s the winemaker’s job to create an excellent, drinkable wine from the results.  When we first stood at the counter in the tasting room and tasted dry wines with complimentary cheese, Markko became our favorite Ohio winery because Esterer wants to create the best wine possible from what the land offers, and he does.   

Monday, November 28, 2011

Wine Country Getaways

Geneva State Lodge was our grape escape headquarters last weekend when we celebrated our wedding anniversary.  We enjoy the inside swimming pool and hot tub and the outdoor walking paths through waves of tall flowing grasses with views of Lake Erie.  The rooms, each one with their own porch, are comfortable. Grapes, wine, and covered bridges are picked up in the Lodge's decor. The lobby is gorgeous, especially during the colder months when a fire is crackling in the fireplace and a tall tree lit with white lights stands regally near it.

The covered bridges are a bonus for our winery excursions, and we visit some of them, like Harpersfield, over and over--the photographs are different every time we go. There were few leaves on the trees, but the winding Ashtabula River and Conneaut Creek with their shale riverbanks present interesting naturescapes We remember the first time we toured the bridges and wineries, fascinated by the countryside of barns and dirt roads only an hour or so from home, which makes our getaways special.

We ate dinner at Crosswinds Grille at The Lakehouse Winery on Saturday evening, and we were once again wowed by the quality of the food.  Paul ordered the chicken with a salad (which I sampled and found tender and juicy) and I savored the shrimp with spinach fettucini and spaghetti squash, a rich and buttery plateful of deliciousness that I can duplicate at home. We enjoy watching our food being prepared in the open kitchen, which is as large as the dining room. The restaurant is tiny, but we hear it will be expanding. The Lakehouse's cascading deck at water's edge is enticing, even on a dark November night when all that can be seen are white topped waves, but the lull of continuous waves would be pleasant music to sleep by, and one day we'll spend the night at The Lakehouse's bed and breakfast instead of the Lodge.  It's much closer to the water and homier.

Homemade bread, finely crafted wine, locally harvested food, and high-quality pastas and meat await diners at Tarsitano Winery & Cafe.  Ken Tarsitano is committed to making every meal a special ocassion, and he did when we ate there late Sunday afternoon. Despite the winemaker's efforts to craft other smooth taniny red wines, I still preferred the Cabernet Sauvignon. Diners have choices of pastas and meats, and everything on the menu sounds so appealing that in the end one has to just choose something, knowing it'll be good.  We ate assorted bruschettas and raviolis, and it was all delicious, especially the ravioli made with Ken's grandmother's recipe. The steaks are cooked perfectly. Every bite was better than the last, and when dinner was over, we kept remembering how scrumptious it was.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Whiskey on the North Coast?

Yep.  Gene and Heather Sigel of South River Vineyard (the "church winery") have been busy converting the a barn on their property (a couple hundred feet down the road) into a distillery.  Once it's up and running, I'll be sure to let Cool Cleveland and others know when they can go to the red barn and taste some whiskey.  Heather says Ohio's behind the times and they aim to catch up with neighboring states, like Kentucky, which has its bourbon trail.

South River Vineyard can be found at 6062 S. River Road, Geneva. Gene and Heather met while employed at Chalet Debonne and leased a small 2-acre vineyard in 1995 and purchased their present estate in 1998.  In 2000, they bought an 1892 Victorian chapel, that Gene spied on a drive to Kent, in Portage County and moved it to their property for the winery.  They do a good job with cold-winter Rieslings and deep red blends.   

Ohio Lake Erie Wineries ON SALE - Consider an Author Appearance

For the holidays, I'm selling copies of my book, Ohio's Lake Erie Wineries, for the usual $22 but I'm not charging for shipping if you order it from me (I'll autograph them for you).  The cost for two or more is $20 each.

I'm available for winery talks and wine tasting presentations.  I can adjust my Powerpoint presentation to any ocassion and it can be as formal or informal as you need it to be.  If you'd like, I can mingle with guests or customers while they try wines and just tell stories. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Stop by Ferrante During the Turkey Trot

Ferrante Winery & Restorant began its history in Cleveland's Collinwood neighborhood where Nick Ferrante made wine after working as a tailor by day. Nick and wife Anna eventually bought land in Ashtabula County’s Harpersfield Township as a country retreat. Son Peter’s winemaking passion was spurred by visits to the vineyards. The Cleveland operation closed in 1973, and Peter and Anthony built the wood-and-stone Ferrante Winery in Ashtabula County and opened it for business in 1979.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Historic E&K Winery

Engel & Krundivig Winery was at one time one of the larger producers of wine in Sandusky.  Ohio's Lake Erie Wineries includes a photo of employees posing for a group portrait surrounded by their barrels and baskets of bottles in 1890. They are dressed as merchants or wine makers or cultivators, a tribute to the team work required to produce wine. The winery eventually became E&K Winery, whose 1944 display included Haute Sauterne, Ohio Claret, American Muscatel, and Ohio Rhine Wine. The building that housed E&K can be found in downtown Sandusky today.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Firelands Winery, the old Mantey Brothers' Place

In 1880, Edward Mantey, originally from Kelley’s Island, purchased land in Venice, a village just west of Sandusky.  Much of the fruit farm was allotted to grapes and Mantey's wine was eventually sold from Pittsburgh to Chicago. This winery eventually became Firelands Winery, which now produces Mantey label wines from grapes grown on North Bass Island.  Winemaker Claudio Salvador oversees the winery operations, and visitors can tour the winery and watch a film about its history and wine-making operations. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Follow a Trail

The Lake Erie Shores & Islands Wine Trail and the Lake Erie Vines & Wines Trail provide an afternoon or weekend adventure with sweeping views of Lake Erie along scenic byways. A great selection of wine can be enjoyed in cozy tasting rooms or fresh-air patios. Serenading accordion music and oven-fresh bread lull wine lovers into Old World siestas, Lake Erie style.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Mon Ami Champagne Company

George Loeb built the beautiful 1872 limestone building that housed the Catawba Island Wine Company. The Neals, Landys, and Ellithorpes  ran the 130,000-gallon winery until 1937 when the property was purchased by Mon Ami Champagne Company of Sandusky. Mon Ami, “my friend,” was one of only a few US wineries that produced champagne at the end of the 19th century. The vitis labrusca-classified Catawba grape is still used, in Mon Ami’s famous sparkling champagne. Enjoy a smooth Cabernet Sauvignon and other European-style wines, served with lobster bisque and crab cakes. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Covered Bridges with Your Wine

Since I live in the Cleveland area, my wine country journeys have mostly been confined to northern Ohio.  Today, many vineyards along Lake Erie’s shore and on the islands grow local varieties of Catawba, Cayuga, Delaware, Concord, Chambourcin, and Niagara grapes, but are also experimenting with French varietals such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc. During the Covered Bridge Festival in the fall, one can drive along the back roads surrounded by spent corn stalks, and find historic bridges and modern wineries. Most of the wineries are new, but the soil on which the tasting buildings stand is enriched by grapes and vines. Ohio’s in the midst of a grape-growing and wine-making revival. East of Cleveland, Ashtabula County has more wineries per square mile than any other region of the state and is home to over half of the wine grape acreage in Ohio.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Island Wines

Tourism has brought vacation homes, bars, and restaurants onto the Lake Erie Islands and has claimed much of the available land. The 2000 tragedy on Middle Bass closed Lonz Winery, which sat on the location of Golden Eagle Wine Cellars, once one of the largest producers of wine in the country. With renewed interest in wine taking hold in Ohio, only one wine-producing winery remains on the islands--Heineman’s on South Bass Island, which grows some grapes on South Bass but most from North Bass Island.  Isle of St. George, also known as North Bass Island, has become a sub-appellation and continues in full grape production on land leased from the State of Ohio, which is committed to supporting Ohio’s wine industry.  Firelands Winery, the largest winery in Ohio, grows many of its grapes on Isle of St. George.  The Erie Islands, or Wine Islands, have the longest growing season in northeastern United States, with their 190-day growing season.  The annual wine festival on Put-in-Bay straddles the last weekend in September/first weekend in October.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Women's Aerospace Museum Event

Ohio's Lake Erie Wineries is about the history of the vineyards and wine-making, but it's also a celebration of the wines of today.  I was privileged to be part of the annual fundraising event at the Women's Aerospace Museum at Burke Lakefront Airport where wine and history came together.  Debonne and Grand River wines were poured by Beth Debevc.  Here's me with my books.

Clam Bakes Go With Wine

Vermilion Valley Vineyards was established on Gore Orphanage Road in Henrietta in 2009.  The beautiful winery is surrounded by vineyards, makes exceptional wines, and includes stargazing with owner David Benzing.  Join the winery for a clambake on Friday September 30, catered by Pogie.  Enjoy clam broth, New England clam chowder, one dozen top neck clams, Prince Edward Island mussels, grilled lemon herb chicken, corn on the cob, baby redskin potatoes, dinner rolls, and a glass of wine while listening to music by The Minor Adjustments. Call 440-965-5202 or order at        

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Friday, August 26, 2011


The first time Paul and I visited Harpersfield, we sat on the deck and listened to an accordian player in a yard that felt like it could be in France.  We went back in the winter and sat by the large hearth and sipped red wine to keep warm.  We took friends with us on a weekend when a band entertained and the crowd became routy.  While researching the book, the owners welcomed me to their table and told me their tales.  I'm looking forward to being there again this coming Sunday to share my book and drink a glass or two of Wes Gerlosky's exceptional hand-crafted French-inspired wine.   

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Hermes Winery

What a wonderful time I had on a rainy day at Hermes Winery last weekend.  I anticipated being lonely at the table set up with my books, but people came and went and most of them stopped at the table, looked through the book, and liked what they saw.  Some were familiar with the history of the area and the challenges of winemaking, and they found my book to be thorough.  Others came through with thoughts of starting their own wineries on family property, as Dr. Kraus, owner of Hermes Winery has done. 

The first vineyards were planted at Hermes Vineyards & Winery in 2002.  The Sandusky vineyards contains 25 varieties of grages on over 25 acres, all of which are vinifera.  The Italian, Spanish, Rhone, and Burgundy grapes include Vignior, Alianco, Nebiola, Tarilea. The list of wines is mesmerizing, and all the varieties of grapes on grown right on the premises.  The wine list contains no grapes native to Ohio, no Catawbas or Concords or anything other varieties enjoyed in the area during Ohio’s early winemaking days before the Prohibition. “A Note From the Owner” on the website gives a bit of a history lesson.  “Starting in the 1850s, German grapegrowers like my ancestors, were attracted to Sandusky’s chalky limestone soils and long, temperate growing season, created by the moderating influences of the western basin of Lake Erie and the Sandusky Bay . . . In fact, for a quarter of a century after the fall of the Cincinnati wine industry (America’s first) due to grapevine diseases in the mid 1800s and prior to the emergence of the California wine predominance in the late 1800s, Sandusky was the leading wine producer both for quality and quantity in the country.” 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Lake Erie Wineries highlight the spirit of entrepreneurs and those passionate about wine. This weekend is all about wine at Vintage Ohio, the premier Ohio wine tasting event, where I'll be, books in tow. There are over 40 wineries in the Lake Erie Appellation and many of them (Debonne, Buccia, Emerine, Ferrante, Grand River Cellars, John Christ, Klingshirn, Old Firehouse, Old Mill, Paper Moon, St. Joseph, the Winery at Spring Hill, and Vermilion Valley) will be there.  Lake Erie is the prime growing region in the state, but wineries throughout the Buckeye State offer wines from Pinot Grigio to Pink Catawba.  If you’re going to Vintage Ohio, write me at, and I’ll send you the discount code for discounted admission.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

History and Prohibition

Several weeks ago, I was at the Westlake Historical Society at Clague Park Museum.  Westlake, originally known as Dover, was the second largest shipping point for grapes in the United States in the 1800s. Collamer, east of Cleveland, was first.  Wine-making went underground during Prohibition, and when it ended, restaurant owners bottled and labeled their own fortified wines made from local juice or brought in from California. Some of the wineries started mass-producing wine with new equipment, but the wines of Ohio, like all of the eastern United States, was mostly sweet and made from native lambrusca grapes, until wine makers began to experiment with hybrids. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Local Wine, Local Book, Local Bookstore, Local Music

This Saturday, July 23, at Visible Voice Books in Tremont, experience an evening of living well locally.  From 7-9PM is a wine tasting/book signing, and music will be played on the courtyard from 8-10PM. I already said most of what you need to know in Cool Cleveland this week. But I didn't tell you the wines being served are by Laurello Vineyards, whose Italian-styled wines are robust and far from the sweet wines most people associate with Ohio wines. Laurello is located in the Grand River sub-appellation of wineries.  Cosmo Red, named after grandpa, is the one to try.  The winery has a pretty large grape growing and wine making operation going on, so it looks rustic from the outside, but inside you'll find the enveloping warmth of Tuscany.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Read a Review of the Book

Urban vineyard owner Mansfield Frazier wrote an eloquent review of my book, and I'm delighted. I hope others enjoy it as much, while drinking a glass of Lake Erie wine. Read it here.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Release Party -- June 23 at John Christ

I chose John Christ Winery for my release party because it's close to home and can accommodate 50-plus friends and family. John and Toda Christ of Macedonia planted 23 acres of grapes in Avon Lake in the 1930s and eventually built a Chalet winery. John Christ Winery became a bonded winery in 1946 and grew Horwittel Concord and Niagara. The Christ family no longer owns the winery, and most of the vineyards are gone, but the winery is committed to crafting good wines that are served in a pleasant setting. Summer evenings on the lawn are relaxing.  

Monday, May 30, 2011

Ohio's Lake Erie Wineries - June 20 Release Date

Ohio's Lake Erie Wineries will be released by Arcadia Publishing on June 20. The Images of America series celebrates the history of neighborhoods, towns and cities across the country. This book celebrates the islands and shore line wineries of Lake Erie. The 1941 Sandusky Grape Festival parade is on the front cover, and right inside is a photograph of Lee Klingshirn as a young boy in the 1960s followed by his foreward about growing up on a wine farm. The book contains 200 photographs.

As you know, Ohio's Lake Erie wineries and vineyards are rooted in the traditions of European wine making. The wine industry flourished in the 1800s but industrialization and Prohibition destroyed much of the wine industry in Ohio. Today, Lake Erie wines are makng a comeback as grape growers and winemakers experiment with vinifera wines, which are being sold alongside native labrusca wines. This book is a tribute to wine country forefathers, the wineries of today with a long history of winemaking, and the brave entrepreneurs who are planting new vineyards today.

You can purchase a copies of Ohio's Lake Erie Wineries through the publisher's website or I can bring copies of the book to local wineries to sign and sell. Arcadia will also be contacting you to place the book in your gift shop.  In addition, I am available to do afternoon history talks. I am eager to share what I learned with wine lovers. If you are interested in a book signing or an author talk, please e-mail me at  

Monday, March 7, 2011

Mon Ami - Champagne Experts

Once a year, my girlfriends (including sister Beth and mother Dana) spend a weekend in Lakeside, Ohio's Chautauqua, for the Sharing Our Gifts Retreat.  We treat ourselves to the Saturday night seafood buffet at Mon Ami, where the food is fantastic.  Last time, I started with crab legs, mussels, and shrimp, and moved on to salad, salmon in lobster sauce, stuffed sole, grilled tuna, and buffalo blue cheese shrimp.  Then I had more crab legs followed by bananas foster and tiny baklava and cannoli.  The Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was rich and deep and fruity but dry, a delectable wine that wore the label “American.”  On the way out I asked the manager which part was the original building, and it’s the building at the entrance, four stories, one above, and two cellars below, with the cellar just below the first floor used as a prison during the Civil War.  The winery was completed in 1870 and the first vines yielded grapes in 1872.  Unfortunately, most of the  wines are made from non-Lake Erie grapes.  The few vineyards on the property are Concord.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Paper Moon - A Popular Spot in Vermilion

During that same wine exploration trip with Mom, we stopped at Paper Moon Vineyards, which is on Route 60 near my sister's house in Vermilion. We had visited the winery several times since its opening in 2008, but we had never met the owners.  On the afternoon we stopped by, we missed Sheryl Cawrse, but her husband Richard and son and winemaker Adam were great hosts for an hour. They told us everything we wanted to know about the winery, including the fact that the winery does not intend to harvest any of its estate-grown grapes until five years after planting.  After the hard work of clearing the land that was once covered in Concord grapes, they want to make sure they have a high yield of high-quality grapes. Marquette, Chambourcin, Vidal Blanc and Traminette will be ready next year, but in the meantime, Adam is learning how to make great wines from west coast grapes.  The winery keeps busy with customers who return for the cozy feel of Paper Moon where board games can be enjoyed by the fireplace in winter.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Johlin Century Winery - 140 Years of Winemaking

My mother went with me on a winery research trip last fall.  The wine owners and makers were hospitable, loved the attention, offered wine tastings, andposed for pictures.  One of the wineries we visited was little-known Johlin Century Winery in Oregon near Maumee Bay. The winery was established in 1870 and still exists on Johlin family farm and red brick home outside Toledo.  Brothers Bolan and Jarrod have revitalized the winery which now makes vitis labrusca wines in the family's German tradition.  They learned wine making from grandfather Richard. Concord is their driest wine, and they bottle mostly mead and fruit wines as well as a cream Niagra and a decent Catawba. Bolan takes a good picture for a guy who didn't want his picture taken, but I've instead posted a photo of bottles of wine against the wallpaper he hung with his grandmother.  

Monday, February 7, 2011

Markko Vineyards - Ohio's First Vinifera Winery

I first met Arnie Esterer, winemaker and owner of Markko Vineyards in Conneaut, on our first Ohio wine country adventure. Arnie, with partner Tim Hubbard, started experimenting with European varietals and French-American hybrids in the late 1960s after purchasing one hundred acres of land, as instructed by Dr. Konstantin Frank of New York’s Finger Lakes. It’s easy to miss the stone gates on the edge of the woods on a dirt road. At the end of the drive is a dark weathered house with a non-descript entrance into a tasting room that opens onto a wooden deck. There are no pretences at Markko—it’s all about the wine. The chardonnays and cabernets at the boutique winery are the best in Ohio because they’re handcrafted and estate bottled, and Arnie admits that they are expensive. We always have some Markko wine in our wine cabinet, for special occasions.

When I gave Arnie an article I wrote about the winery, he gifted me a bottle of his Riesling, and when I told him I was writing a book about Ohio’s Lake Erie Wineries, he sat me down on his deck with a bottle of his Cabernet and shared his stories. Arnie’s the guru of winemakers in the Lake Erie Appellation, and other vintners like Ken Tarsitano will admit they learned how to trellis vines and craft a decent wine from Esterer. Arnie readily explains how the vines in our region must be kept three feet off the ground to prevent moisture that leads to rot. The dark cellar of stainless steel for his Rieslings and oak barrels for the Chardonnays and Cabernets remind me that the grapes become wine all on their own, and it’s the winemaker’s job to create an excellent, drinkable wine from the results. When we first stood at the counter in the tasting room and tasted dry wines with complimentary cheese, Markko became our favorite Ohio winery because Esterer wants to create the best wine possible from what the land offers, and he does. Read more in my Associated Content article published a few months ago.

Arnie's begun transitioning the winery operations to the next generation, but I have no fear  that Arnie's philosophy and high quality wines are in danger of being lost in the transition.  Arnie cares too much about leaving a trace to allow that to happen.   

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Finger Lakes Wineries

Before vintners were making European-style wines in Ohio, Dr. Konstantin Frank was making them in New York, with New York-grown vinifera grapes.  He envisioned better wines than the eastern US concords and catawbas, and developed methods for cultivating vinifera grapes in the Finger Lakes, whose climate is temperate because of the deep grooved glacial lakes. Dr. Frank of Keuka Lake brought in vine stocks and started producing wine in 1962.  During an interview with Mike Linehan of Keuka Lake Wine Trail, I found out that 10,000 Delights, a B&B on the Keuka, will reopen this year--it's time to again stay at the 10,000 Delights lakehouse and sit on the dock with my feet in the water and a glass of wine in my hand. And it will be a bottle of wine from Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars. While the Keuka Lake article has not yet been published, I wrote an article about the nearby Seneca Wine Trail for Long Weekends. The beautiful vineyard-covered hills of the Finger Lakes are beautiful all year round.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Wineries in Winter

I couldn't participate in the Tannenbaum weekends in the eastern wineries, but the idea of receiving a miniature Christmas tree at the first stop and ornaments from each of the wineries intrigued me.  Even though I was trying to make the book deadline, I wrote about Tannenbaum Weekends for Cool Cleveland.  Visiting the wineries dressed up for Christmas must have made the holiday season special, and visitors could enjoy the decorated tree when they arrived back home.

I also wrote about wineries around the state for Insider Ohio.  I have visited only the wineries along the lakeshore and Wolf Creek in Akron, so it was a challenge to write about wineries around the state I've never visited.  I would especially like to visit those wineries along the Ohio River, where the wine trail is named after the father of Ohio wines:  Nicholas Longworth.