Where do you think we are? Tuscany? Sonoma County? The south of France? No, we are outside of Bethel, in Clermont County, at the Harmony Hill Vineyards and Estate Winery.
Owners Patti and Bill Skvarla have owned and operated their 70 acre farm since 1994. Bill began making wine just for fun, but later turned it into a business. They named their property "Harmony Hill" because when they first moved in, they had dogs, cats, ducks, geese, donkeys and horses all living together in harmony, and the name just fit.
The horses have gone, and the former stable is now the winery, including the fermentation room and the tasting room.
The donkeys are still here, and signs warn you to beware of "Free Range Donkeys." Whenever I have visited, though, the donkeys are always behind a fence. I have known many donkeys who bite, but these two are sweetie-pies.
The Skvarlas make no apologies about putting their pets first.
Harmony Hill is also certified as an official Backyard Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. They have numerous nesting boxes, and a sweet Purple Martin set-up. Whenever I visit, I manage to pull Bill aside for some martin talk.
They have always encouraged visitors to the winery to bring a picnic, to sit on the patio and enjoy some wine with their meal, to stroll through the perennial gardens, and just make a day of it, but this year they are introducing something new - musical entertainment.
The stage is on top of their newest addition, a wine cave.
Wine caves are common on the west coast, where they are generally cut into hillsides, but this cave uses a unique method of construction. Called a "cut and cover" process, four large concrete structures, like those used for freeway overpasses, were joined together, sunk into the ground and covered with earth, forming a cave 8 feet wide and 32 feet long.
The temperature in the wine cave, which holds sixteen 59 gallon barrels, stays between 55 and 58 degrees year-round, without heating or cooling systems. Gravity feeds the wine from the fermentation room through large hoses to these barrels for storage.
To me, the most interesting part of a winery in this part of the world is that Bethel, actually all of Tate Township, is "dry," as in no alcohol sales. Because everything from growing to manufacturing to sales is contained on the property, they are able to bypass the law.
As you leave Harmony Hill, you encounter this sign:
You can see where the owners' hearts lie.
[When researching this piece, I read on Harmony Hill's web site that they are the only winery in Clermont County, but I just found out that there is a winery in my tiny home town and they are having a festival this weekend. I plan to go on Saturday, and will report back with the details.]
Update, July 8: I visited my local vineyard on Saturday, and was surprised to find they have been in business since 1999. They were having their first festival, complete with music, vendors, and wine. I tasted 3 of their 7 varieties and had a nice chat with some folks. Wow - a winery in the most rural part of Clermont County! What's next - a sushi bar?