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Off the beaten track on a country road west of Killbuck, Scott and Kathy Buente own and operate French Ridge Vineyards and Winery. The adventure began in 2001 when the couple, with the help of a few family members and neighbors, planted about 3,000 grape vines on their property in one weekend. Fifteen years later, Scott and Kathy have expanded their operation beyond grape growers and into a winery and gathering ground for tourists and community members.
The idea for the vineyard sprouted from Kathy's mother who reportedly urged "you have all this land why don't you do something with it." When the couple planted their first two varieties of grapes, they both knew the vineyard would spread beyond a hobby. Growing up on a vineyard, Scott had the experience and yearning to successfully create and run a business. The family vineyard was situated in New York state and the product they grew was sold to wineries such as Taylor Winery.
Applying his knowledge to French Ridge Vineyards and Winery, Scott and Kathy sold their grapes to 8 wineries, but when they consistently were left with extra grapes they decided to expand the business. It was Kathy who first encouraged Scott to start making their own wine from their grapes; "We work all year for one pay check....why? Selling the grapes is great, but selling the finished product is better." At the beginning of production, Scott made the wine in the basement of the couple's home. That is until the makings of blueberry wine exploded all over the white walls. Thus Scott's man cave was built on top of the hill and the wine making began in earnest.
Producing seventeen different wines visitors are welcome to sample available varieties and explore the vineyard. French Ridge Vineyards and Winery has engulfed and expanded upon Scott's original man cave, growing into the multi-room building guests enjoy today. Often commenting on
the tranquility of the location, guests will gather on the deck overlooking the vineyard and enjoy the peaceful experience.
Guests are encouraged to visit French Ridge Vineyards and Winery for a relaxing evening. Every Friday, Scott and Kathy host a movie night where entry and the popcorn are free and the surround sound system is designed to make the beverages ripple. Topping off the evening with pizza made freshly at the vineyard, the evening promises to be a good time. Saturday evenings Scott and Kathy serve a buffet style dinner for fifty people on a first come, first serve basis. Both of these events are always well attended and the food on Saturdays always runs out.
Forever perfecting the business, Scott and Kathy are always looking for ways to improve productivity and customer service. Maintaining bird houses on the support posts of the grape vines, blue birds, wrens, sparrows and purple martins eat the bugs off the grapes eliminating the need for pesticides. During the extremely cold winter a couple years ago the vineyard lost around 1,000 vines. Learning from the experience, a hardier variety of grape was planted in their place.
In the early days of the vineyard, Scott and Kathy relied on six outside workers to help pick the grapes. Each picker would fill a plastic tote weighing forty pounds when full. The totes would be left under the vines to be picked up in the evening by Kathy and Scott. With an increasing production weight, this year's averaging about eighty three tons, the old system had to be modified to maintain efficiency. Now the couple have a piece of equipment called a harvester which rides above the vines. Long finger like pieces hit the vines, knocking the grapes onto a conveyer belt where they are funneled into a wagon.
About three years ago, the decision was made to build and rent out two cabins on the twenty three acre vineyard. Equipped to comfortably accommodate four people, both cabins are complete with a kitchenette, a bathroom with a shower and two beds. Situated to overlook the vineyard, the cabins have been a popular addition, so much so that Kathy was able to make French Ridge Vineyard and Winery her full time job.
Paying their success forward, French Ridge Vineyard gives back to the community by donating to various charities. Once a month, the vineyard will have a special dinner where all the money brought in is donated. Consulting with a couple area ministers, Scott and Kathy are constantly keeping their ears to the ground to find out how they can best help members of their community.
French Ridge Vineyard and Winery is one of the only businesses in Ohio growing their own grapes and making their wine. Continuously expanding different aspects of the business, Scott and Kathy remain conscious of the surrounding community and how they can help those in need. Guests are encouraged to visit French Ridge Vineyard and Winery for a glass of wine, a group meeting or a weekend away. Groups are encouraged to call ahead, ensuring available space. More information on cabin reservations, wine selection and menu items may be found at www.frenchridgevineyards.com or by calling 330-377-4962. Winter hours (Tuesday-Saturday 12 p.m.- 7 p.m.) will begin on daylight saving time, November 6.