Grape Escapes: Taste of Italy

Gervasi Vineyard brings a touch of Tuscany to Northeast Ohio with its wine-focused resort.

"Are we going the right way?" ask my backseat skeptics, three friends whom I've recruited for a day on the Akron-Canton area's Canal Country Wine Trail. They have a point. It's hard to imagine the anticipated opulence of Gervasi Vineyard among these North Canton residential streets.

But then we see a dramatic, wrought-iron arch welcoming us to the grounds, a destination for which the term "winery" seems insufficient.

Sure, there's the expected vineyard, bistro and tasting room. But Gervasi is also home to a 24-room boutique inn, high-end event center, retail store and outdoor pavilion. There are concerts, cooking classes, a farmers market and even yoga classes.

We head for the bistro and order four flights of three wines each at just $7.50 a flight, allowing us to taste all but two of Gervasi's wines. Our favorites are the buttery chardonnay Ciao Bella and the dry cab Abbraccio.

The couple of hours I allotted for this stop on our winery tour isn't nearly enough. We could have spent half a day or more, relaxing on Adirondack chairs at the lake's edge or soaking up the sun on the bistro's outdoor patio, where there's a fire pit for chilly evening tastings.

Gervasi Vineyard is only a little more than 2 years old, but its decor hints at Old World Italy, with villa-style architecture, exposed rough-hewn beams and enormous arched doors that seem fit for a castle. It's an homage to the Italian heritage of owner Ted Swaldo.

Former CEO of Canton's ASC Industries, Swaldo bought what was an overgrown 55-acre tree farm in 2008 with intentions of creating a family-run venture.

"Something that's really important to my dad is legacy, and a vineyard is a classic generational business," says Scott Swaldo, Ted's son and the winery's general manager. "It was something that the family could enjoy together."

They learned the winery business and learned it well. Today, Gervasi draws 175,000 people a year, selling 5,000 cases of wine on-site. Most of Gervasi's grapes come from California, Oregon and Ohio vineyards. Gervasi will harvest its first grapes this fall — frontenac gris and marquette — which will be used in a blend ready for drinking by next year.

New grapes? Just another reason to come back to Gervasi. And next time, we plan to stay awhile.

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