NAPOLEON, Ohio — Autumn is a glorious time for wine lovers, especially those who like to travel and taste.
The weather is crisp, the year’s harvest is over, the grapes are happily fermenting, and the vintage from a year ago is waiting at delightful vineyards and tasting rooms around wine country.
Ohio’s newest wine trail is no exception.
A recent three-day excursion along the V.I.N.O. (Vintners in Northwest Ohio) Trail led me to many interesting and picturesque wineries, some of them on tiny back roads among vast fields of corn, others in the heart of small towns.
Along the way, I found cozy little wine nooks no bigger than a trailer (a couple actually were trailers) and large, elaborate tasting rooms with fireplaces, huge patios and seating for dozens of guests.
All were friendly, and, most important, they all had wine — and more.
My first stop was Majestic Oak Winery near Grand Rapids, where visitors can stroll around the vineyards to the massive, 200-year-old oak that gives the winery its name.
The winery recently opened Neon Groundhog Brewery on the same site, so visitors can order a wine flight or a beer flight. Eclectic drinkers might want to sample both.
Majestic Oak is not alone. Many other wineries along the trail also offer craft brews, so beer drinkers will feel at home.
And, because wineries are often family-friendly places, they usually are stocked with soft drinks or cider for non-imbibers and the younger set. Food, too, is usually available, from tapas and cheese plates to, at a few locations, full meals.
In the town of Napoleon, I found two interesting wineries just a block or so from the historic Henry County Courthouse.
The Lumberyard Winery & Supply, opened this year, is in what was once, yes, indeed, the showroom for a lumberyard, now repurposed as a cute tasting room. The markers used for taking tasting notes are traditional carpenter’s pencils stamped with the winery’s name. They make a great souvenir, although a bottle of wine is a better one.
A short walk up the street is Flat Rock Winery and Meadery, in a traditional pub setting in an old downtown building. Flat Rock is another location that also makes its own beer, so there’s a wide variety of tasting possibilities.
Driving through the countryside near the town of Bryan, I found Stoney Ridge Winery, the first of the region’s wineries when it opened 15 years ago.
“People didn’t know what to think about all this back then,” said owner Pam Ledyard, motioning around her comfortable tasting room.
Since then, Ledyard has provided advice to several of the other wineries that have opened nearby.
“We all help each other out,” she said.
Ledyard has steadily expanded her vineyards, which now cover 13 scenic acres, and she produces an array of estate wines made with grapes grown on-site. An expansion of the tasting room, set next to a pretty pond, is also underway.
Much smaller, but no less friendly, is the Corks Winery. As she poured a tasting flight, owner Amy Gorsuch joked that a failed child-care business on the site — and five kids of their own — turned her and her husband into wine drinkers, and eventually into wine-makers. Look for the colorful old farm truck out front near the town of Fayette.
I found one of my favorite outdoor seating areas at Leisure Time Winery, in the countryside near Napoleon. The winery’s expansive patios and gazebo seemed like a tiny slice of paradise on a beautiful fall day. Yet-to-be-harvested cornstalks rustled enchantingly just steps from my table.
Several of the region’s wineries offer entertainment, especially on weekends. At Knotty Vines Winery near Wauseon, an oldies band called Sugar Frog was outstanding in the field. Really.
The talented musicians played in front of a backdrop of vines as the setting sun began to turn the sky a merlot-like shade, and I enjoyed a glass of a pleasant, dry red and a cheese plate.
One of the special delights of visiting small wineries is meeting the owners.
At Knotty Vines, Julie Nofzinger talked me through a tasting before her husband, Steve Nofzinger, showed me around. We discussed Ohio-hardy grapes and the challenges of making wine out on the flat, wide-open land that was once part of the Great Black Swamp.
I suspect that those who make the trip to the V.I.N.O. Trail will be happy that so many wine-makers have proved themselves up to that challenge.
— Steve Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SteveStephens.
If you go
WINERIES OF NORTHWEST OHIO
— The region that once held the Great Black Swamp is now home of the most-productive agricultural land in the Buckeye State. Wine lovers, take note: Some of that agriculture includes grapes. More than a dozen wineries can be found in the northwestern corner of the state, many of them members of the V.I.N.O. (Vintners in Northwest Ohio) Trail, a part of the larger Lake Erie Shores & Islands Wine Trail.
TO LEARN MORE
— For more information — including wine-trail and winery listings, locations, maps, hours, offerings, phone numbers and websites — call the Ohio Wine Producers Association at 1-800-227-6972 or visit ohiowines.org; or visit the Ohio Grape Industries Committee site at findohiowines.com.
Small wineries have varying hours that sometimes change, especially as winter approaches, so always call ahead or check the website before visiting.