Within one hour of hopping off our respective conference calls, my wife and I were checking into the Lakehouse Inn, a picturesque bed and breakfast perched along the shores of Lake Erie. A few minutes later, we were sipping wine on the patio while trying to identify migratory songbirds. Neither of us could remember decompressing as quickly and completely as that late spring afternoon, which is precisely what we hoped for when we planned this getaway.
As wine lovers, we make frequent trips out to the Grand River Valley—one of the best romantic getaways in Ohio—where the rolling landscape is dotted with dozens of wineries that are as distinctive from one another as the land beneath them. Over the past few years, we’ve watched as vineyards in the region, where 50% of Ohio’s grapes are grown, continue to produce amazing products. Each time we visit, it seems there is something new to try.
On the short, scenic drive to dinner, we cruised through Geneva-on-the-Lake, a fun and funky resort destination, and passed scores of adorable cottages that hug the shoreline. We traced Ohio’s North Coast until we landed in downtown Ashtabula. Handsome brick buildings from the late 1800s line the main strip, and one of those stately buildings is home to Bascule Bridge Grille. We settled into our chairs with a view of the iconic bridge and met Chef John Senger, who prepared a seasonal meal that included wine-steamed mussels, spicy housemade sausage and grilled duck breast with silky parsnip puree.
When we could eat no more, we followed the owner’s recommendation and landed a few doors down at Rennick Meat Market’s cocktail bar, a former butcher shop-turned-bistro. Owner Alex Asteínza greeted us warmly before telling us about the building’s history and walking us through the wine list. He opened a special bottle of Laurentia’s intoxicating elixir, which we shared before heading to the beach to take in a breathtaking sunset.
A true B&B, Lakehouse Inn started us off on the right foot the next morning with a hearty breakfast at Crosswinds Grille, a farm-to-table eatery on the same property. Back home, we rarely have the chance to enjoy a leisurely breakfast together—and we most certainly don’t get to do so while taking in lake views. Over a meal of hot coffee, fluffy omelets and corned beef hash, made by a local butcher shop using grass-fed beef, we mapped out our day of wine tastings.
We didn’t have to travel far for the first wine tasting of the trip because Lakehouse Inn is also a winery. Vintner Sam Fagnilli has been making wine from local grapes for nearly 20 years, and his barrel-fermented Chardonnay is every bit as buttery and complex as those found in the hills of Burgundy.
When it comes to winery visits, my wife and I make a habit of mixing old favorites with new-to-us discoveries. With two dozen wineries in the immediate area, that’s not difficult to do. On this particular trip, we bypassed one of our favorite destinations, M Cellars, which offers exceptional European-style wines and matchless vineyard views. Instead, we plotted a course for Laurello Vineyards, a 15-year-old winery that we’d never visited before. We pulled into the parking lot, walked through the door and immediately regretted waiting so long. Owner-and-winemaker Kim Laurello was onsite and eager to share some of her most delicious offerings. My wife and I have sampled countless locally crafted wines, but neither of us had tried anything like Laurello’s Simply Mad Habanero Ice Wine. The wine is infused with a hint of those famously spicy peppers, which provide the perfect counterpoint to the honey-flavored wine. The flavors were so unique and delicious, in fact, that we added a bottle to our shopping bag.
Red Eagle Distillery is impossible to miss. The gleaming red barn sits high and proud on a hill, and the interior is no less arresting. Warm, woodsy and rustic, the beautifully restored building offered us a welcome detour in a day filled with winery visits. What immediately set the facility apart were the two copper stills that poked up through an opening in the floor. We sampled some familiar and not-so-familiar spirits, like smooth-sipping, barrel-aged bourbon and another distilled from local maple syrup.
Red Eagle celebrates the fruit that grows outside its door at the neighboring South River Winery; it distills local Concord grapes into a very special vodka.
“I took a trip to Peru and discovered pisco, which is basically an unaged brandy made from grapes,” resident expert Eddy Eckart explained. “I came back and asked, ‘What can I do with Northeast Ohio grapes?’” Red e vodka is the distinctive answer.
Before heading to dinner, we made a quick trip to The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake to check out the breathtaking views of Lake Erie and a brand new attraction. Lake Erie Canopy Tours has only been open for a year, but it has already made a name for itself among adventure seekers thanks to a web of zip lines, sky bridges and towers—all dizzyingly high up in the trees—that had us already planning our next visit.
Few things are more romantic than a covered bridge, and we drove right through a 230-foot-long beauty on the way to dinner that night. Easy parking on both sides encouraged us to get out of the car and snap some pictures to make our friends on social media just a little bit jealous. It wasn’t just the bridge that caught our eye, though, as a red-tailed hawk soared above our heads and a red-headed woodpecker attacked a fallen tree nearby. Even as casual bird-watchers, we were impressed with the diversity of wildlife that was so different from back home, just an hour away.
Before sitting down to dinner at Ferrante Winery & Ristorante, we roamed the gorgeous grounds, where the vines were just beginning to leaf out, signaling the start of the growing season. Inside the vast, cathedral-ceilinged dining room, we savored the fruits of a previous vintage in the form of the Cask Red, a sumptuous blend of locally grown Cab Franc, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. We did our best to make the bottle last until our meals arrived, a tender grilled steak with garlic mashers, in my case.
For our second night in Ohio’s largest wine region, we decided to make reservations at a new lodging option, the aptly named Vineyard Woods. We pulled off the main road, eased down a winding gravel lane past 10 acres of vineyards and landed at our dreamy little cabin in the woods. In the morning, after one of the best sleeps in our recent memory, we sipped coffee on a patio overlooking the vines.
We had every intention of packing up our stuff and making the short trip back to Cleveland, when we learned that close friends happened to be in the area. We met up over glasses of estate-grown Riesling and Merlot at Kosicek Vineyards and ended up playing a few games of cornhole. Owner Tony Kosicek was behind the bar and more than happy to invite us into the wine cellar for a peek into where the magic happens. This was one of those unforgettable, spontaneous experiences that so rarely happen back home that we were hesitant to see it end. But end it did, and before long we were back home rehashing a phenomenal weekend of wine, food, fun and friends.
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