COLUMBUS GROVE — The whole thing started with a contest.
“We're all very competitive,” Janice Hanneman said, laughing and looking over at her husband, Jeff, behind the bar.
They've apparently won.
This October, the couple opened Sycamore Lake Wine Co., the culmination of a years-long journey that began with a competition among friends making batches of wine. The contest turned to hobby, which turned to serious enthusiasm, which turned to a tipping point.
“We were going to New York to buy juice, making a couple hundred gallons,” Jeff Hanneman said. “At some point, we said, 'We're either going to have to go really big, or scale this thing back.'”
After winning four medals at an international competition in the Finger Lakes region, they knew they could make could wine and started making plans for the winery.
The winery is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Sycamore Lake offers 11 wines, including dry and sweet reds, a popular blush and sweet and semi-dry whites. Glasses are $5 and $6, and retail bottles run from $10 to $15. Appetizers, such as cheese and meat plates, olives and bread with dips are available.
The winery will be open for a special Black Friday event from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a lunch special and merchandise discounts, excluding wine.
The property was owned by relatives who always had a vision for a winery there. When the Hannemans took the plunge, Janice Hanneman quit her job; she had worked in the administrative offices for more than 20 years at St. Rita's Medical Center.
To be selling wine now, they had to make it, and the investment, a year ago.
“To walk away from a stable job, stable income, was really scary,” she said. “We just took a leap of faith.”
Jeff Hanneman still works full-time at another job, but is inching closer to leaving it behind now.
A large bar made of flagstone centers the room. Customers can sit there, or take a table along a wall of windows that looks out at three acres of vineyard and a covered bridge that stretches across a narrow part of the 17-acre lake. The bridge is made from recovered planks from a Miller City barn taken down in the 2012 derecho. The bridge is the winery's signature; it's on the label.
“Not a Saturday goes by that we don't have wedding parties here getting pictures out there, and enjoying some time here before the reception,” Janice Hanneman said. “Families, teens for their senior pictures, we've been getting a lot of people who want their pictures there. We love having them here.”
The Hannemans have long-term plans to add facilities roomy enough for larger parties and wedding receptions at the property. At the moment, just getting the winery off the ground is taking up their time. For example, last Memorial Day weekend, they and 26 of their closest family and friends planted 1,600 grape plants to create the three-acre vineyard. It will be years before the grapes are producing for wine.
Many of those folks help out over the long weekends that the winery is open, and Janice Hanneman said they couldn't do it without them, because the place has taken off through word of mouth and social media.
Asked what he enjoys about making wine, Jeff Hanneman laughs.
“I'm not sure I do enjoy it,” he said. “It's a lot of work. But when we have people here who tell us how much they enjoy the wine, and being here, it's worth it.”