Grape Escapes: Country Charmer

Vermilion Valley Vineyards creates a far-away retreat by focusing on local appeal.

On a cold May night with the sky streaked in gray, even the stars seem to shiver as we arrive at Vermilion Valley Vineyards.

Tucked back off the dark, rural road, the winery's entrance is easy to miss (and we do several times) before the lights of Vermilion Valley's updated farmhouse greet us like a warm hug. It's a feeling that continues inside as well, where the high-arched wooden ceiling, yellow lights, fireplace and brick walls give the open tasting room the feel of a modernized Colorado chalet.

Yet despite its ski-resort leanings, the 3-year-old winery is all about being local.

Vermilion Valley is the product of three environmentally concerned owners: a retired school teacher, a retired Oberlin professor and a development worker at Case Western Reserve University who all wanted to create an eco-friendly winery.

"Our vision was to take land that had been used for a long time for corn and soybean production and turn it into something that was good for the local environment and the local economy," says Larry Gibson, one of the owners.

Gibson and David Benzing, a retired Oberlin professor and a professional winemaker, had been looking for a place to house their winery when they were re-introduced to Jack and Fran Baumann, the owners of a 24-acre farm in Wakeman. The land, with its rich soil and 1 1/4-acre pond, was perfect.

"All of Vermilion Valley's estate wines are produced and grown on-site," Gibson adds.

At $6 per glass, Vermilion Valley offers a nice selection of red, white and fruit wines.

We love the spicy cabernet franc, indigo-colored with the taste of burnt cherries, and the light, sweet persimmon wine hand-pressed from the tangy fruit of the persimmon tree growing at a nearby farm.

And if you enjoy fruit wine, this is your place. Vermilion Valley's selection reads like a host of Life Saver flavors: blueberry, strawberry, pear and peach, all made from the fruit of local orchards.

But the winery's sustainable focus extends beyond its fruit. The tasting room floor is made from the wood of locally felled ash and walnut trees, while the gable-shaped roof and its perimeter of windows provides a host of natural light. Even more impressive is the heating system, which uses geothermal coils buried in the outside pond.

In spite of the chilly night air, I convince my friend to join me for a walk outside on a trail that meanders through Vermilion Valley's acres of twisty grape vines and trees.

We pause outside the vineyard's pond. In the future, Gibson hopes to rent paddleboats so guests can stay all day long.

They have also planted an acre of tomatoes, beans and corn. As the vegetables grow in, the owners want to allow visitors to pick their own as they spend a day sipping wine.

"We wanted to create a casual boutique winery experience, where customers could come in and relax in a serene, rural setting," says co-owner Mary Gibson.

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