Wines, vines and fine times are only a short drive away

Miami Valley residents don’t have to fly to the Napa Valley in order to to stroll through rolling vineyards, or to share a glass of wine in a well-appointed tasting room, or take a tour of a picturesque winery nestled in wine country.

Those opportunities exist within a tankful (or two) drive from Dayton, in the fast-improving Ohio and Indiana winery scenes.

Here are some suggestions for a couple of wine destinations, one in central Indiana and one in northeast Ohio, as well as some shorter trips closer to home that can be visited in a single day in your very own customized “Miami Valley Wine Trail.”

Let’s head west first, to the Bloomington area in central Indiana, home to the Hoosier state’s oldest and largest winery, Oliver Winery & Vineyards, and to an emerging wine-producing region around it. Oliver Winery is about 9 miles north of Bloomington.

Founded in 1972, Oliver produces 47 wines, across a range of dry to sweet. Its sweeter-style “Soft Red,” made with Concord grapes, is the top-selling wine in the state.

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The winery grounds include a pond, patio, wooded landscape and picnic area, and are designed to be family-friendly. And in a few weeks, the grounds will erupt with color, a flower-bulb display that includes 2,700 tulips and many other perennials and annuals, winery spokeswoman Sarah Anderson said.

Anderson said the peak period for the blooms will start around April 18 and extend through May 17.

Oliver Winery’s Creekbend Vineyard is about 9 miles — about a 15-minute drive — from the winery’s main tasting room. The vineyard will host the “Cork & Fork Live Music Series” from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on May 30, June 26, July 25, and Aug. 29. A special menu and is served at each live-music event, and wines are served by the glass. Kid-friendly options and vineyard tours are available.

If staying in Bloomington — probably the best bet (see box) — keep in mind that Oliver Winery also operates a wine bar on the square in downtown Bloomington, offering up light fare such as cheese and charcuterie plates and desserts.

Other Indiana wineries to fit into your travel schedule include Huber’s Orchard, Winery & Vineyards (www.huberwinery.com), French Lick Winery (www.frenchlickwinery.com), Owen Valley Winery (www.owenvalleywinery.com) and Chateau Thomas Winery (www.chateauthomas.com).

Northeast Ohio/Grand River Valley

Ohio wines have boosted their reputation on the national an international stage in recent years, so those who hold the outdated notion that Ohio wines are inferior just haven’t been paying attention. The proof is in the glass, and it’s time to dispel the myths. Here’s another reason to make the trip this year: the devastating Polar Vortex of early January 2014 severely damaged many grapevines in this region and wiped out the subsequent 2014 vintage for many Ohio wineries’ most prestigious grape varietals. Nearly every winery has plenty of 2012 and 2013 vintage wines in their tasting rooms, and the time to taste these wines is this year.

The Wines & Vines wine region tucked into the northeast corner of Ohio east-northeast of Cleveland is a great place to start. The region traces its grape-growing heritage to the first half of the 19th Century, and it is home to more than half of the winegrape acreage in the state. Many wineries are clustered relatively close together, especially in the Grand River Valley, making a wine-country visit more convenient.

The best place to start this trip isn’t with a single winery, but the lodging. Consider booking your stay at The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake (www.thelodgeatgeneva.com), which bills itself as “Ohio’s Wine Country Resort,” because, well, that’s what it is. The lakefront lodge offers a wine shuttle, on-site wine tastings, and serves as a launching point for nearly two dozen nearby wineries.

The winery to jump-start your Ohio Wine Country experience is Debonne Vineyards, for two reasons: founded in 1972, it bills itself as the largest estate winery in Ohio, with more than 175 acres of vines — and it grew and produced one of the most acclaimed Ohio wines of recent history. The Debonne Vineyards 2013 Vidal Ice Wine has been an absolute sensation at wine competitions where it has been pitted against the best dessert wines in the U.S., Canada and abroad.

The wine won the “Sweepstake Award” for best dessert wine at the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, “Best Ice Wine” at the 2014 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, “Gold/Best of Class” in the 2014 Pacific Rim Wine Competition, and “Dessert Wine of the Year” in the 2014 Indy International Wine Competition, among others.

Debonne also has a restaurant, the Grill at Debonne, as well as a tasting room. It hosts live-music events and offers vineyard tours.

Among the other winery highlights in the Lake/Ashtabula County area include Ferrante Winery & Ristorante (www.ferrantewinery.com), operated by a family that started making and selling wine in Cleveland in 1937; The Lakehouse Inn and Winery (www.thelakehouseinn.com), which operates a bed and breakfast, restaurant, winery and day spa; M Cellars (www.mcellars.com); Harpersfield Vineyards (www.harpersfield.com); and St. Joseph Vineyard (www.saintjosephvineyard.com), among many other worthy winery destinations.

One event worth noting: the Vintage Ohio wine and food festival (visitvintageohio.com) will be held from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. Aug. 7 and Aug. 8 at Lake Metroparks Farmpark Kirtland, off I-90 east of Cleveland. It’s the largest Ohio wine festival of the year in the state.

Miami Valley Wine Trail

If you’d like to stay closer to home but still enjoy a winery tasting room experience, southwest and west-central Ohio now has enough wineries to allow you to create your own Miami Valley Wine Trail of sorts. Here’s a quick peek at the region’s wineries (and for a guide and map of these wineries, go to www.dayton.com):

• Brandeberry Winery, 5118 W. Jackson Road, Enon (northwest of Yellow Springs, Clark County), www.brandeberrywinery.com, (937) 767-9103. Founded by the former dean of engineering at Wright State University, Jim Brandeberry, this winery hosts live music every Saturday night.

• Caesar Creek Vineyards, 962 Long Road in New Jasper Twp. east of Xenia (Greene County). www.caesar-creek.com (937) 479-4278. Unlike many Ohio wineries, Caesar Creek opened as an “estate” winery that grows all of the grapes for its wines.

• Hanover Winery, 2121 Morman Road, Hamilton (Butler County), www.hanoverwinery.com, (513) 863-3119.

• Kennedy Vineyard, 3911 State Route 722, New Madison, Ohio. www.kennedy-vineyard.com. (937) 273-8381. The region’s newest winery.

• Old Mason Winery & Vineyard, 4199 Iddings Road, West Milton (Miami County), www.oldmason.com, (937) 698-1122.

• Valley Vineyards, 2276 East US 22 & 3, Morrow (Warren County), www.valleyvineyards.com. (513) 899-2485. The region’s largest and oldest winery that hosts cookout dinners on the weekends year-round (and on Sundays from July through October), live music on Thursday nights, and a wine/beer festival on June 5-6. And did we mention it has its own craft brewery as well?

• The Winery at Versailles, 6572 State Route 47, Versailles (Darke County), www.wineryatversailles.com, (937) 526-3232.

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