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Vineyards Bring a Taste of Vino to Pine Lake

BEAVER TOWNSHIP, Ohio – Joseph Glista III strolls astride a long row of curling vines on a warm afternoon and pauses. He pulls back an oversized leaf to reveal clusters of green pellets that in about three months will have grown into hearty grapes.

“We had our first harvest last season,” he says. “It was about 60% to 70% of what we expected.” By August, the harvest this year should yield closer to 90% and be near 100% the following year.

Southern Mahoning County isn’t exactly known for viticulture and winemaking. However, the principals at the Vineyards at Pine Lake in Beaver Township on state Route 7 just north of Columbiana have demonstrated that with the proper grapes, this region can grow the ingredients for delicious local vino.

Glista, pictured above, is the winemaker and vice president at the Pine Lake Vineyards. He acknowledges that the climate here doesn’t present the ideal conditions for a vineyard, given the cold temperatures during winter and the limited growing days when the weather is good.

Still, the vineyard planted four years ago is able to yield nine varieties of grapes, some of them, such as a hybrid Muscat grape designed for cold climates, are derived from seeds engineered at research institutions such as Cornell University. Others – Niagara grapes, for example – are native to this region.

It all comes down to the art of winemaking and establishing what Glista says is an authentic working vineyard. “To us, if you’re going to be a winery, you need to grow your own grapes from start to finish and utilize that product,” he says. “That’s our philosophy.”

The first vineyard fronts Route 7 as you enter the grounds of the winery. A long, winding driveway through a wooded area takes patrons toward Pine Lake, where a tasting room stands atop a hill. At the bottom of the hill and directly on the lake is an events center to host banquets, weddings and elegant dinners.

Should the vineyard reap a full harvest this year, it could yield as much as 2,160 gallons of wine, Glista says. This year, the vineyard planted another two acres with 1,450 new vines and there are plans to add another 10 to 12 acres of vineyards. It takes vines about three years to mature before the first grapes can be harvested.

Glista says the company is working with Ohio State University Agricultural Research and Development Center in Ashtabula County for the planned vineyard. It is considering experimental initiatives.

“There’s some work they’ve been doing recently on growing in high-tunnel greenhouses,” he says. “You open up the sides during the season, but you can control the irrigation.”

This would enable local growers to produce Sauvignon Blanc and other varieties difficult to grow in Ohio. “That’s something we’re considering looking into,” he says.

Still, the wine produced from these vineyards isn’t nearly enough to support demand and sustain volumes at the winery, Glista says. As such, the company must import its juice – mostly from Ohio, the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, Oregon, and a small portion from California.

“We’re sourcing our reds more from Oregon,” Glista says. “I’m really proud of the work they’re doing out there.”

The Vineyards at Pine Lakes sells 14 varieties of wine, all of which are bottled and consumed on the premises. Three additional wines should be introduced later this year, Glista says.

“We’re not in distribution,” he notes. “Our business strategy is to find that saturation point before we get into that.”

As of now, the wines of the Vineyard are sold exclusively on the 40-acre development, which includes the event center and the tasting room.

The tasting room and event center provide entertainment, exclusive dining opportunities and other attractions throughout the season, says Athena Catsoules, event center manager. “This year, we’ll be doing a wine, body and soul event – a yoga series over the summer,” she says.

This season kicked off with a summer celebration June 3 at the tasting room, which featured a Jimmy Buffet-themed evening along with barbecue. Other special events include sip-and-paint evenings, a harvest festival on Aug. 25 when the first grapes are picked, and a “trunk-or-treat” party replete with pumpkin carving, hay rides and bluegrass bands, Catsoules says.

“This year, we’re also doing something new,” she adds, “and that’s a lakeside dining experience on the patio July 12.”

The Lakeside Dining event is an upscale dinner hosted on the broad patio that overlooks Pine Lake. An exclusive five-course menu includes original creations paired with the Vineyard’s handcrafted wines of the Vineyard, says executive chef Angus O’Hara.

“One of the reasons I came here was to have the opportunity to create with a heavier hand with wine,” he says. “I’m very excited about it.”

O’Hara says that pairing wine and food isn’t always as simple as red with meat and white with fish.

“My favorite wine quote is from Justin Wilson, the Cajun chef, who said ‘I drink red wine with fish because I like it,’ ” he says. “Sometimes, it’s very simple. You have to find out what you like.”

Glista reports that this is the third year the event center at the Vineyard has been open and the second year of business for the tasting room.

“We were in the natural gas business until the market started going south, so we decided to diversify,” Glista says. “Wine’s always been a passion. We decided to take a leap and take a shot at it.”

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Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.