Off the beaten path (for now): Visitors stomping a trail to winery (and brewery) in rural Wyandot County

Chairs are stacked in front of a sign awaiting the weekend events.

NEVADA — The vines are heavy with fruit and the grape harvest is under way at Wyandot County’s only winery.

White Shutter Winery, 3794 CH 56, opened in 2013 as a retirement project for Joe and Cindy Kraus of Upper Sandusky. But it’s grown larger than they imagined.

“We had made wine for about 20 years at home in the basement, and we had made it for some wedding receptions and we were making more and more,” Kraus said Wednesday after a day in the vineyard.

As they neared retirement age, he said, he and Cindy started to think it might be fun to have a place where they could have friends over to drink wine and have a good time.

“It hasn’t quite turned into that,” he said. “It turned into a full-time job.”

The Wyandot County vineyard as viewed from the winery grounds.

Although that wasn’t their original vision, the Krauses are happy so many people are enjoying the winery.

“We had no idea how popular it would be,” he said. “We knew people liked to go to wineries and we knew there were people around here who liked wine, but we didn’t know it would get this big.”

The number of people visiting the winery varies greatly, he said.

“We may have some nights when have 20 people and we might have some nights when we have 120 people,” he said. “We’re thrilled with the support that we’ve got, not just from Upper, but from Marion, Bucyrus, Tiffin and Findlay.”

The winery features a tasting area housed in an 1850s-era farmhouse with a view of Wyandot County’s first vineyard. The 2 1/2-acre plot contains 1,600 vines which produce 6-8 tons of wine grapes each year, Kraus said.

A view of the winery grounds.

Also, the winery uses raspberries grown on the farm for its raspberry wine as well as strawberries grown elsewhere in Wyandot County.

On its grape wine list are Southern Cross, a dry red; Barn Dance, the most popular red; Grape Garden, a sweet concord; Summer Breeze, a dry white; Porch Swing, a spicy, semi-dry white; Sweet Dreams, a semi-sweet white; and Happy Daze, the sweetest white.

Kraus estimates the vines will yield 6,000-7,000 bottles of wine this year.

“Primarily, they’re consumed on site,” he said. “We bottle what we grow. We don’t buy juice. That makes it kind of unique, too.”

Something new brewing

The grape harvest was under way Wednesday at the vineyard.

The winery has grown so much that it added a line of beer last spring made by the Kraus’s son-in-law, Jake Thiel.

Thiel is the husband of Kerri, a fourth-grade teacher at Union Elementary in Upper Sandusky. The younger generation has two children — Nash, 4, and Ellie, 2 1/2.

Thiel also is learning to make wine. Both are made in the barn on the property.

The winery has been his full-time job the last two years — managing the vineyard, mowing, brewing, getting ready for special events and doing all the other tasks required.

“I brewed with one of my buddies out in Wyoming,” he said, making beer for themselves.

Owners Joe and Cindy Kraus harvests grapes in the vineyard.

“I’ve always loved beer and wine,” he said. “We started to notice a lot of people here wanted beer and we didn’t want to hand them a Miller Lite.”

Thiel began to experiment with enlarging his home brewing.

“Since we opened, I’ve been figuring out how to make bigger batches at once,” he said.

Now, he makes beer about once a week.

Today, Thiel makes three beers — an oatmeal stout called Frogleg, a honey wheat called Dark Side of the Moon and an American pale ale called Blackbird.

Jake and Kerri Thiel pose behind the wine-tasting counter as they package a customer’s order.

Thiel said he uses locally grown ingredients in the brewing process as much as possible, and he has a goal of making a totally local beer by growing his own hops and other ingredients in the future.

Grape expectations

While growing hops is in the future, growing grapes is happening now.

The grape harvest in late August or early September is one of those major tasks the entire family takes part in.

When the grapes are ready to harvest, Thiel said, they are picked, crushed, destemmed and pressed into juice. The winery grows nine varieties of grapes, and the family plans to expand that number in the future.

The juices from each variety are kept separate so they can be blended to create different tastes.

Yeast is added for fermentation.

Sugar also is added to the sweet wines.

“California grapes have a lot more sugar during harvest time,” Thiel said.

In northwest Ohio, he said, they tend to have less natural sugar, but each year is different.

“We try to keep them as close as possible by measuring pH levels and lots of other levels,” he said. “Other than that, we kind of let it be what it is.”

He said wine is made by a natural process, but is preserved by adding sulfides to maintain taste.

The fruits of their labor are offered to the public during winery/brewery hours — 5-9 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 3-9 p.m. Saturday.

The grounds have plenty of space for outdoor entertainment during the warm season.

Saturdays, the winery often hosts local musicians and food trucks to add to the wine and beer experience.

“We try to do music about three Saturday nights a month,” Kraus said.

As a family-operated business, the winery remains family-friendly.

“Kids are welcome,” Kraus said. “We’re selling a destination more than just wine or beer. We’re not a bar, and we’re not trying to be a bar.”

A special event called the Sip and Stomp is planned for Sept. 30 to benefit Hospice of Wyandot County. Planned activities include a grape-stomping competition, a “Lucy” look-alike contest, music, games, food and, of course, wine and beer.

The band Grape Jam, of which Thiel is a member, plays the first Thursday of each month during Firsty Thursday.

Throughout the year, the winery hosts painting classes on Fridays as posted on its Facebook page. The schedule isn’t always regular, Kerri said.

“They’re posted about two weeks in advance,” she said.

The first glass of wine, wine slushy or pint of beer is included in the price.

Another regular activity is Pour and Pose Yoga on the second and fourth Thursday of each month. The $10 class includes a glass of wine or a pint of beer. The third Thursday is a workout class.

The winery also provides a venue for small parties and celebrations such as bridal and baby showers, retirement parties, birthday parties and similar get-togethers.

Customers are invited to stroll among the grapes in the vineyard.

Visitors also are invited to walk around the barn to see a mural painted by Dick Eyestone.

“He did a breathtaking job of painting and it’s almost like you can reach out, pick one of the grapes, and taste them,” says the winery’s website.

The winery remains open until the Saturday before Christmas, and offers a special event filled with Christmas carols.

Thiel said he’ll be working on a project this winter to remodel an area of the barn for use during wet weather before the venue opens again next spring.

For details, visit the website, www.whiteshutterwinery.com or Facebook page, www.facebook.com/whiteshutterwinery, or contact the winery at (419) 310-1473, corky@whiteshutter

winery.com or whiteshutter

brew@gmail.com.

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