FAIRFIELD BEACH – Buckeye Lake’s south shore welcomes a slice of California’s Napa Valley wine country this spring. “We’re right between Compass Point and Crescent Cove. It’s a beautiful place to be,” said Tracy Higginbotham, owner of the Buckeye Lake Winery, which he plans to open in May. The winery is currently selling wine under its name online as well as the Buckeye Lake Yacht Club, the Beverage Source in Newark, and Ross’ Granville Market.
“I’ve always had a passion for good food and great wine,” said Higginbotham on the winery’s web site. “Now, after spending over 20 years in Corporate America, I’ve chosen to shift gears and turn my love of food and wine into a legacy for my family.”
Higginbotham continued, “My vision for Buckeye Lake Winery is to create a casual but elegant restaurant and winery that pairs simple foods with great wines. Whether it’s a casual dinner or a special event, my dream is to create a wonderful destination place with beautiful views, comfortable food and great wine.”
Higginbotham has a bicoastal strategy. As a fan of the Napa Valley wines, he consults with Napa Valley vintner Johns Edwards, learning the “wine side” of the industry. He said he’ll blend Buckeye Lake Winery wines at the facility when it opens and Higginbotham plans to begin growing his own grapes in spring. Higginbotham said he’ll move into the restaurant side slowly by offering gourmet sandwiches and the like to begin, and slowly expand the menu from there. He said the facility will have a full service restaurant kitchen. The winery, at least in its early days, will partner with Made From Scratch catering to handle weddings and large groups, which are already scheduling events.
“I’m really pleased at the progress we’re making,” said Higginbotham.
According to the winery’s web site, its red wines are carefully selected from vineyards in California and the whites will ultimately be estate grown and produced. Selections include Lake View Red Dry Red Wine from Lodi, California, which is a blend of Petite Sirah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and Lake View White Dry White Wine from California—a blend of Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
The Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 is from Lodi, California and has hints of black cherry, black berry, and oak with a soft finish. The Zinfandel 2010, also from Lodi, California is produced with grapes from 100 year old vines and is barrel aged for 18 months. The Pinot Grigio 2011 is from Russian River Valley and has a honeysuckle and pear taste. There’s also a Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 from Napa Valley, California with black cherry flavor and a hint of dark chocolate and tobacco; and the Chardonnay 2008 is also from Napa Valley, California and is clean and bright with hints of smoky toasted oak, vanilla, green apples and pears.
Higginbotham is thrilled that the Buckeye Lake Winery will be one of the only wineries locally (and possibly the only) with boat access. The facility already has 36 boat docks constructed. ‚“We‚’re very, very excited,” he said. Higginbotham said he grew up in Newark and has a home in Cranberry Bay, so he’s proud to bring his passion to his hometown area. “I love it out there at Cranberry Bay,” he said, where he intends to live full time when his children are through school.
During construction, Higginbotham said the Licking County Commissioners and county water and wastewater department have been supportive and business friendly. The construction crew employs 14 to 15 full-time local people. “That’s really important to me,” he said. Higginbotham is also working with Dawes Arboretum so the winery and its site are as naturally sustainable as possible.
“Our goal is to create an atmosphere of relaxation and recreation on the waters at Buckeye Lake,”said Higginbotham. “I really appreciate all the support we’ve been given.”