The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

April 26, 2013

KeyBank learns what’s in a name

By MARGIE NETZEL - mnetzel@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

GENEVA —  KeyBank has funded a lot of grapes for the Pairings Wine and Culinary Experience, securing the naming rights to the education and culinary center with a donation of $45,000.

Jennifer Brown, who has been working on funding and development for Pairings said the donation is a “significant step” for the proposed 38,000-square-foot non-profit business incubator.

“Exciting things are happening,” Brown said. “KeyBank’s donation is very good news.”

Brown said the donation will be paid over the next three years.

Pairings will include restaurant and banquet facilities, cooking classes, wine making demonstrations, incubator facilities for start-up wineries, educational culinary demonstrations, office space and a gift shop.

Brown said she used local successes in the wine industry to showcase Ashtabula County’s rich heritage of grapes and depended on the youthful enthusiasm of up-and-coming wine makers.

“We were able to demonstrate to KeyBank that the industry here is growing,” she said. “Our area has a long history, a heritage in wines, but it also has young people, like Tara and Matt Meineke at M Cellars, who are willing to invest in the area and the industry.”

M Cellars, located on South River Road, is Ashtabula County’s newest winery. It is owned and operated by the Meinekes, both 30-somethings with previous careers unrelated to the wine industry.

“To have young people with passion and drive and energy putting everything they have into the land and the area, that’s what we needed to show the investors,” Brown said. “We also showcased Ferrante, which has a long history and legacy in Ashtabula County wines.”

Brown said plans for Pairings are moving forward. A new driveway has been constructed at the former Geneva Elementary School property on Park Avenue, where the center will be constructed. Earlier this week grape vines were planted to begin the center’s “teaching vineyard,” which will provide vines for classes in harvesting, pruning, cultivating and growing.

Pairings will begin with the start-up project “Windows on Pairings,” a smaller version of the wine center built inside an existing barn. The project will allow Pairings staff to develop as a brand, gauge sales, build foot traffic and perfect the concierge, special event offerings and educational and cooking classes, Brown said.

KeyBank isn’t the only business interested in Pairings. The Ashtabula Civic Development Corp. granted $200,000 toward the project. First Energy also donated to the start-up.

“What we are doing now is a matter of raising awareness, which is what Pairings is meant to do,” Brown said. “The wine industry here offers a lot of exciting opportunities.”

Culinary center officials will celebrate a “Blessing of the Vines” on May 4 at the new teaching vineyard. The event will be held at 3:30 p.m., rain or shine, on Park Avenue. Light refreshments will be served.

“It’s a tradition to bless the vines in the hope that they will be bountiful and plentiful at harvest,” Brown said.