by Sally Colby
When a friend suggested a murder mystery might be a good idea for a winery event, Kristofer Sperry wasn’t convinced.
“I didn’t expect it to go well,” said Sperry, owner of Myrddin Winery in Berlin Center, Ohio. “I started advertising a month and a half in advance. It filled up, and within two weeks I was already filling a waiting list for a second one.”
Sperry says that some people come dressed up as characters in the mystery, while others come as they are. Although Sperry doesn’t hire actors, he does use the services of a writer who creates the materials for the event, which he says helps people feel more comfortable. The writer also supplies role packets that help the ‘actors’ maintain strong roles.
“Guests get an overview of the mystery and a list of suspects,” said Sperry. “We also put people in groups, so they’re working together to figure it out. It helps take the pressure off any one person.”
Sperry keeps the cost for the mystery meal event reasonable, and his wife Evelyn acts as the caterer. Of the 38 people who attended a recent mystery dinner, 20 signed up for the next one. Sperry says that attendees also purchase wine while they’re there.
But before he was able to offer tastings and events, Sperry endured several years of municipality disputes regarding whether the winery should be zoned commercial or agriculture. He says that in the end, it came down to the fact that Ohio considers wineries as agriculture enterprises, and he eventually opened his tasting room in 2012. Sperry started as a beer maker, but says that making wine is similar enough, and that he learned the process through a combination of experimenting and using the services of Cooperative Extension. “Every season I run into something that’s new and different,” he said. “You can either make your best guess, or call someone and find out what to do.”
Although Sperry grows some grapes, they provide only enough for about 800 gallons/year. The majority of grapes for Sperry’s wine come from several local growers, and this meets his annual production goal.
When it comes to grape varieties that work well in his area, Sperry benefits from Extension research. “There are a lot of new varieties coming out,” he said. “Part of what we’ve been doing here is learning about the new varieties and how to make the wine.” Sperry says that Todd Steiner, of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development program in Wooster, Ohio, provides a lot of current information on varieties.
After the overwhelming success of a batch of cranberry wine last season, Sperry had to create what he calls ‘the cranberry list.’ “Last year I didn’t make enough,” he said. “I didn’t see foresee the popularity of it, and it sold out in five weeks. There were people who bought some and came back the next day to get more.”
The cranberry wine was on the shelf right before Thanksgiving but Sperry says it disappeared quickly. The cranberry list is so that customers can line up now and not miss the opportunity to purchase that wine.
Sperry tells the story of how he happened upon the popular offering. “I started making wine about 10 years ago,” he said. “I wanted to buy cherry juice for cherry wine, and my juice supplier said he had cranberry. I got some frozen cranberries and made a 20-gallon batch. We really enjoyed it, so now I specifically purchase cranberry juice for that wine.”
Sperry majored in architecture, and says he isn’t as scientific as some of his winemaker friends. He makes about 2,500 gallons/year, which he says is small in comparison to other winemakers. The Myrddin Winery tasting room seats about 40 people, with plenty of extra space on decks that overlook Lake Milton.
Myrddin Winery partners with local charities to carry out a monthly theme. “We want to use our business to be good community members,” said Sperry. “For me, part of that is finding ways to give back. From a pure business standpoint, it gives us a connection with people we might not have connected with.”
One benefit was for Fifth Sparrow, an organization for women coming out of prison. For that charity, Myrrdin hosted a ‘sangria-off.’ “I had more of one wine that I wanted, so we used it for that,” said Sperry. “It went very well. Then the local humane society approached me about holding a benefit for their organization, and patrons were encouraged to bring their dogs.” That event was dubbed the ‘Yappy Hour.’
“They chose to mirror the sangria-off,” said Sperry. “They had three coolers with different flavors of water for the dogs. There were doggie pizzas, and a friend donated Frosty Paws ice cream.”
Sperry says that a group of area wineries have established themselves in the area, creating what he calls ‘a little bit of a wine area.’ “We have really good wines, and we make them ourselves,” he said. “People enjoy coming because we’re friendly and easy-going. We spend time with our customers. We try to visit with folks and make them feel welcome.” Sperry says that he has noticed that people who visit the winery tend to create friendships with others who are there at the time. Those same people often make future plans to attend more Myrddin winery events.
One upcoming event is the winery’s first concert, which will feature dinner and music in an intimate setting. “We have a barrel club and I’m giving them first chance at tickets,” said Sperry. “I’m trying to keep it small as possible to create a special experience.”
In addition to creating special meals for winery events, Evelyn holds food and wine pairing classes, which Sperry says are more popular than his wine-making classes. Sperry also hosts topical classes to discuss grapes and wine, and general overviews on how to taste wine. He says that he was told that teaching people how to make wine would mean fewer customers, but the opposite has happened. “The more people know about wine,” he said, “the more they enjoy it, and the more I see these folks.”
Visit Myrddin Winery on Facebook and on line at www.myrddinwine.com
Serving up fun and serving the community
by Sally Colby