VERMILION, Ohio — Molly Anders took a break from filling baskets with grapes to chat with a customer, Drew Rathbun, from Naples, Florida. Jazz music from the 1950s played from speakers around the barn while they talked about grapes, Ohio, Florida and family.
Rathbun, who has family in the Vermilion area, tries to come back to Ohio in the fall every year so he can pick up grapes while visiting family. On Sept. 17, the first day of the season at Molly’s Vineyard, in Vermilion, Ohio, Rathbun wasn’t the only regular customer who stopped in. Some came from out of state. Others were local. Throughout the day, Anders stuck to what she learned from her mom, Connie O’Leary, growing up on the vineyard.
“Treat people like family … it’s like a family and friends reunion,” Anders said.
Anders was just a baby when her parents, Patrick and Connie O’Leary, bought the vineyard, in 1978. They weren’t sure what to call it, and ended up naming it after her. Anders, now 43, came back to the vineyard about 12 years ago.
Anders didn’t expect to come back to the vineyard. After college, she started work as a nurse and started her own family. Her three older siblings all decided not to take it over. But after having her own children, Anders decided she wanted them to have the same experience she did growing up.
Fall was always her favorite time of year, with the weather changing and grapes ready to harvest. She’s passed that love for the season on to her three sons. Her oldest son, Patrick, who is a junior in high school, signed out at school and came home on his lunch break to help out at the vineyard for opening day.
“It was always, we had to work on the weekends, and then, we could do fun things,” Anders said. “I wanted our kids to experience that.”
There were about eight acres worth of grapes planted in the vineyard when the O’Learys bought it, with three varieties — concord, niagara and catawba. They’ve scaled back to just about two and a half acres now, which is a little easier to manage.
Connie O’Leary passed away in 2020, but Patrick O’Leary is still involved with running the vineyard. Terry Anders, Molly’s husband, handles a lot of the maintenance of the vineyards. He’s learned how to prune the vines and keep them tied to the wires from his wife. He also does most of the mowing over the summer, and a lot of the picking during the harvest season.
Since she took charge, Molly Anders has done more marketing through Facebook, to draw more people in and make sure customers know when they are open. They’ve also added a small corn maze, and field trips with students from local schools. For field trips, a nearby farmer brings in a tractor to give students a ride around the farm, Anders reads them a story and they get to pick grapes.
“Molly is, she’s kind of like the brains of the operation, you know?” O’Leary said. “She made it bigger.”
That’s also how Anders describes her mother’s role in the vineyard, back when she was involved. Though Anders has made some changes, she also sticks to a lot of what she learned from her mom.
“She was the queen of the vineyard,” Anders said. “It’s not like I’m reinventing the wheel. I’m just doing everything she did.”
Anders’s grandmother, Helen Baniecki, used to help run the checkout, too. She also made grape jelly. Years ago, Anders filmed her grandma making jelly, at age 89. Now, every year, she gets the DVD out and follows her grandma’s recipe to make jelly.
Through the years, they tried different things, like adding apples at one point. But they learned that what worked best was keeping it basic: grapes, grape jelly, grape juice and a handful of other things, like wreaths made from the vines. The grapes and grape juice are typically what brings people to the vineyard.
Norbert Perry, his daughter, Kristina Whaphan, and his grandson, Michael, drove all the way from Indiana on opening day to pick grapes for wine making.
Years ago, Perry used to get grapes at a local vineyard. That one closed, and his daughter, who lived in Vermilion, told him there was a vineyard up there. He decided to check it out, and has now been going there for more than 20 years. On Sept. 17, they arrived at 11 a.m. and spent several hours picking grapes before they were ready to leave.
Becky Saunders, of Vermilion, stops out every year, too. She’s been going to the vineyard for most of her life.
“Once Labor Day is over, I know it’s almost time to get my grapes,” Saunders said.
It’s a short season at the vineyard — usually, just four to six weeks. But when mid-September hits, it’s all hands on deck.
The family picks grapes on the weekends. Anders’s siblings sometimes help out then, too. On week days, Terry and Molly Anders are working their regular, full-time jobs, though Molly took a day off for opening day. Their children help out on the weekends, and when they’re done with school during the week. O’Leary, who is retired, is able to be around during the week.
It’s not necessarily the most profitable venture. Things like the field trips also give them a little bit of a boost. They also sell grapes and juice at the Woollybear Festival, in Vermilion, every year. But the family enjoys it, and Anders and O’Leary love seeing and talking to other families who visit year after year.
“He [O’Leary] gives away so many grapes and grape juice, we just about break even,” Anders said.
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