Geneva Ohio Wine and Culinary Center Moving Forward
The recent ‘Dare to Pair: the Chefs’ Challenge” was intended to silence the skeptics of the proposed wine and culinary center to be built on the site of a former schoolhouse in the town of Geneva, Ohio But instead of the expected 200 wine enthusiasts, nearly 350 showed up to taste Ohio wines and tapas and to help raise monies for the center which is called “Pairings, Ohio’s Wine and Culinary Experience.”
‘Dare to Pair” was the first fundraiser for the center. Emcee for the festivities was radio and TV personality David Moss, and Anthony Dominak, executive chef at Spire Institute, won the title of ‘Top Chef” for the evening by serving up such delicacies as roasted butternut squash and leek bisque, and chevre crusted rack of lamb.
But party goers never lost sight of the prize: a world-class, 38,000-square-foot wine and food center that will house two incubator wineries, classrooms for Kent State University’s VESTA degree program in viticulture and enology, a teaching auditorium, a fine dining restaurant, a tasting room and wine shop and a hands-on kitchen. Classes in sommelier certification are a possibility also. At least 50,000 visitors are expected annually. For tiny Geneva and surrounding towns, this new center would be big addition to a growing Lake Erie wine producing area that now has 22 wineries.
‘We’re excited about the possibilities the center will provide,” said Jim Arbaczewski of Ferrante Winery in Geneva, president of the Ohio Wine Producers Association, who poured his winery’s Riesling for the crowd. Jim’s station was flanked by that of Grand River Cellars, where owner Cindy Lindberg served her award-winning Cabernet Franc, and Harpersfield Winery, whose owner Patty Ribic was serving Harpersfield’s Chardonnay. They were joined by more than a dozen other northeast Ohio wineries pouring their own wines nearby.
Plans for the center evolved from conversations at a seminar three years ago. ‘We’ve always celebrated the grape harvest. Now we’re expanding on our wine tourism, showcasing Ohio wines and wine education, and pairing them with good food,” says Jennifer A. Brown, assistant city manager for Geneva, adding that officials will seek $12 million in funding from a variety of sources, including the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, economic development funds, foundations and corporate sponsors.
‘At the end of the day, this is a sustainable project,” says Mark Winchell, president of the Pairings board of trustees. ‘It cannot be a drain on the community. But Pairings will be more than a school, or a cluster of new businesses. This is going to move our wine palate to the next level.”
With some 170 wineries across the state, the time is right to broaden Ohio’s wine awareness and appreciation through a comprehensive center such as Pairings. Tourism in Ashtabula already is a $340 million business–though most of that derives from wine and very little from dining or other culinary pursuits–and in winter, Jennifer Brown says, these towns ‘roll up the sidewalks.”
Pairings aims to change that image and redefine Geneva and surrounding wine country as a year-round wine and culinary destination. Whether it will succeed is an open question; groundbreaking for the site–a former school building–isn’t scheduled until late 2013, and the grand opening will happen the following year. But if Pairings can attain its fundraising goals, recruit the right occupants and stay true to its mission of wine and food excellence, its impact on northeast Ohio, and on tourism in particular, will be substantial.