The first thing that hits us is the view. We arrive at the Winery at Wolf Creek in Norton to find an unassuming, one-story building tucked in the woods. Inside the tasting room, we discover that we're perched at the peak of a valley, with panoramic windows overlooking Wolf Creek's 12-acre vineyard, a lake and miles of unblemished forest.
Yes, the view is what distinguishes the Winery at Wolf Creek from others along the Canal Country Wine Trail, but just as distinctive are its wines. For 25 cents per sample, our group of four tastes many of Wolf Creek's 15 varietals before settling on our favorites. For me, that's a dry syrah that I learn earned a silver medal in the 2009 Ohio Wine Competition.
The Winery at Wolf Creek has been around since the early 1980s, when once-owner Andrew Wineberg began planting grapes on his parents' rural property. In 1984, he blasted the cellar-turned-winery out of the rocky hillside overlooking the vineyard, which today is topped by the tasting room and an expansive covered deck.
"That view sells more wine than any marketing campaign I could ever come up with," says current owner Andy Troutman, who was the winery's longtime vineyard manager before he and his wife bought it in 2002. Troutman has been obsessed with viniculture since his 4-H Club days as a kid, when he bypassed typical projects such as raising rabbits in favor of planting his own grapes.
He describes his wines as clean, fresh and fruit-forward, with about 30 percent of his grapes grown in Wolf Creek's vineyard. He also relies on a handful of other Ohio growers, as well as grapes from states such as California and New York. The winery produces about 10,000 cases a year that are sold on-site and in 100-plus retail locations such as Giant Eagle.
Today, we head out of the tasting room and bypass the deck in favor of a picnic table on the lawn. It's a Sunday afternoon, and families unpack picnics while their kids log-roll down the grassy hill. Groups of friends share a laugh and a bottle, couples lounge lazily, and all of us sit riveted, valley-forward.
We marvel at how such a destination so close to home could have escaped our notice. Troutman gets that a lot.
"You get the winery experience, and you don't feel like you're in Ohio," he says. "You can get a cheese basket and wine for $20 and just get away from it all."