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Mike and Margaret Lytz of Sarah’s Vineyard serve vintages in the valley: My Cleveland

August 23, 2018 GMT

Mike and Margaret Lytz of Sarah’s Vineyard serve vintages in the valley: My Cleveland

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Mike and Margaret Lytz built Sarah’s Vineyard in the Cuyahoga Valley. Named for Margaret’s late daughter, this winery, restaurant and art gallery draws crowds, especially before shows across the street at Blossom and Porthouse.

Mike and Margaret Lytz:

Currently live: Cuyahoga Falls

Family: Mike’s two grown children

Favorite locally owned restaurants: Russo’s, Papa Joe’s Iacomini’s, Clearview Inn, Gasoline Alley, Luigi’s

 

Mike:

Greater Cleveland creds: Moved to Summit County from Knoxville at 4

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Age: 62

Schooling: Walsh Jesuit, University of Akron, Kent State

Margaret:

Greater Cleveland creds: Lifelong in Summit County

Age: 66

Schooling: Copley High, Akron General Nursing

 

What’s it like living and running a business in a national park?

Margaret: You put a work order into them, and it takes years.

Mike: The park people have good intentions. They’re just stuck in a lot of bureaucracy. You can’t use certain sprays or tools or tiles for the vineyard. We need to do an environmental assessment every year.

You’re not even supposed to bring in alcohol to the national park. But Blossom sells alcohol, and the orchestra allows you to bring it in. People buy bottles from us.

We were the only alcohol-producing facility in a national park in the country. But they recently opened a brewery in Hot Springs.

Do the shows help your business?

Mike: The orchestra’s very good for us. People come and eat here first. But sometimes the big rock concerts are more harm than good because we get a traffic jam.

How big’s your spread?

Mike: This piece of land right here is 15 acres. There’s another 25 acres down the road.

Where’d you get all your old knickknacks and stones and buildings and all?

Mike: Different places around the area. Our barn used to be across the street from Cloverleaf High School in Medina. The kids used to to hide out there and smoke cigarettes and stuff. We got our doors from St. Martha’s in Akron. The fireplace stones are from West 14th Street in Cleveland. They used to chisel the addresses on them.

Our farmhouse was original here, before the Civil War. Margaret does our art: the mosaics and stuff.

Is Ohio a good place for wine?

Mike: A lot of people dismiss Ohio wines, but they ­­­­can be excellent. Our microclimate here’s good for a few varieties, like vidal and traminette.

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I only make only make about 15 percent of my wine from grapes I grow. I try to use as much from Ohio as I can. One of my best sellers, my Double Trouble, is all Ohio grapes; It’s named after our vineyard dogs, Stanley and Frontenac. But I also get stuff from Michigan and California.

Other popular wines?

Mike: We have a really nice dry red called Miserabile. It’s named after a miserable friend who help us build the place.

We try to cover everything from sweet to dry and red to white. We have a very popular red blend, Sweet Elisa. That’s the name of my daughter. Like her, it’s sweet but not too sweet.

Popular food?

Mike: We’ve got a wood-fired pizza, and our homemade meatballs with my Grandma Flavia’s pasta sauce. We also have what we call raviogie. It’s a pierogie with our spaghetti sauce and meatballs.

What’d you do before Sarah’s?

Margaret: For 34 years, I was a nurse, most of the time at Summa City in intensive care. I also did ceramics and mosaics. I used to go to art shows and sell. I had a nice studio in the back here. It turned into a kitchen and washroom. I still sell wholesale art here.

Mike: I was a teacher for 30 years at Perkins, Redinger, Goodyear and Hyre. I coached wrestling at Perkins and was defensive football coordinator at St. Vincent-St. Mary, Buchtel, North and Hoban. We went to the state finals four times and won twice.

How’d you get into wine?

Mike: Margaret always has an interest in art and food, and I was a home winemaker. My grandfather gave me his recipe. I always had a dream of opening a winery someday.

We bought a bank building in Senecaville downstate. But it didn’t seem like there were a lot of wine drinkers down there.

We got our lease from the park in ’02. It’s a 60-year lease. I was still teaching, and Margaret was still nursing. Our previous home was only a couple miles from here.

It took us five years to plant the vineyards and buy the barn and open. We had loans from family and friends. We sold our home. I cashed in my annuity. I borrowed against my retirement. We did a lot of the construction ourselves. I paid people to help, and others volunteered. Now it’s appraised for about a million dollars.

Margaret: We were one of the first farms here.

Mike: We’re the only one of those left. But there’s 11 farms altogether now right now.

Margaret: We opened with no kitchen, just a warming room. We brought in sandwiches.

Mike: Chuck Ayres did our label; he illustrates Crankshaft. Since then, we’ve added a kitchen and the loft and a pavilion. We can hold about 350 people now.

We have over 100,000 visitors every year. We get about 5,000 people on our solstice weekend: a wine and music and art festival. We have about 30 people working for us in the summertime and half that in the winter.

Do you sell wine off the property?

Mike: No, all our wine is sold right here. It’s pushed from the cellar to the taps.

Music?

Mike: We book different musicians on Wednesdays and Jake Richardson on Thursdays.

Do customers hike or bike here?

Mike: We get a lot of hikers and bikers and motorcyclists, a horse rider, cross-country skiers. People come in muddy. They can bring their dogs to the garden.

Got any customer stories?

Mike: A young woman came up and said, “Sir, do you have a screwdriver? I got something stuck in my car.” I head down to the cellar and get her one. She goes, “Oh, thank you so much. I’ll be right back.”

Margaret: Soon another lady said, “Excuse me, but I think somebody just stole something from your bathroom.” The first woman had taken all the artwork. Some of it was mine.

Mike: She left the screwdriver on the vanity.

Margaret: He’s not allowed to have any tools now.

Local suppliers?

Mike: L.D. Carlson has a huge distribution center in Kent for beer and wine making. Europa Charcuterie in Parma makes salami for us.

Local hangouts?

Margaret: I try and get to Don Drumm’s gallery in Akron and Zeber-Martell.

Do you hang out in the park?

Mike: We try to go to Blossom. The last show I saw was  Lynyrd Skynyrd with some high school buddies who came to town.

Margaret: I used to hike Hampton Hills.

Mike: Now we hike up and down the cellar steps. It’s sometimes 16 hours a day, especially this time of year. Our busiest season for customers ends about now, but fall is harvest time.

Sarah’s Vineyard is open Wednesdays through Sundays at 1204 W Steels Corners Rd,. Cuyahoga Falls, 330-929-8057, sarahsvineyardwinery.com.