Molly’s Vineyard embraces traditions while trying new things


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Molly and Terry Anders stand in the vineyard on the first day of their season, September 17, in Vermilion, Ohio. (photo by Sarah Donaldson)

VERMILION, Ohio – Molly Anders took a break from stocking baskets of grapes to chat with a customer, Drew Rathbun, of Naples, Fla. 1950s jazz music played through loudspeakers around the barn as they talked about the grapes, Ohio, Florida, and family.

Rathbun, who has family in the Vermilion area, tries to get back to Ohio in the fall each year so he can pick grapes while visiting family. On September 17, the first day of the season at Molly’s Vineyard in Vermilion, Ohio, Rathbun wasn’t the only repeat customer to stop by. Some came from out of state. Others were local. Throughout the day, Anders has stayed true to what she learned from her mother, Connie O’Leary, who grew up in the vineyard.

“Treat people like family… it’s like a reunion of family and friends,” Anders said.

Family

Anders was just a baby when his parents, Patrick and Connie O’Leary, bought the vineyard in 1978. They didn’t know what to call it and ended up giving it his name. Anders, now 43, returned to the vineyard about 12 years ago.

Anders did not expect to return to the vineyard. After college, she started working as a nurse and started her own family. His three older siblings all decided not to take him back. But after having her own children, Anders decided she wanted them to have the same experience she grew up on.

Fall has always been her favorite time of year, with the weather changing and the grapes ready for harvest. She passed on this love of the season to her three sons. Her oldest son, Patrick, who is in college, dropped out of school and came home on his lunch break to help out at the vineyard for opening day.

“It was always, we had to work weekends, and then we could do fun things,” Anders said. “I wanted our children to experience it.”

Changes

There were about eight acres of grapes planted in the vineyard when the O’Learys bought it, with three varieties – concord, niagara, and catawba. They’re now down to about two and a half acres, which is a bit more manageable.

Connie O’Leary passed away in 2020, but Patrick O’Leary is still involved in the management of the vineyard. Terry Anders, Molly’s husband, takes care of most of the maintenance of the vines. He learned to prune vines and tie them to his wife’s sons. He also does most of the mowing during the summer and much of the picking during the harvest season.

Since taking the lead, Molly Anders has done more marketing through Facebook, to attract more people and make sure customers know when they’re open. They also added a small corn maze and field trips with students from local schools. For field trips, a nearby farmer brings a tractor to take the students around the farm, Anders reads a story to them, and they can pick grapes.

“Molly is, she’s kind of like the mastermind of the operation, you know?” O’Leary said. “She made it bigger.”

Tradition

This is also how Anders describes his mother’s role in the vineyard, when she was involved. While Anders has made a few changes, she also sticks to much of what she learned from her mother.

“She was the queen of the vineyard,” said Anders. “It’s not like I’m reinventing the wheel. I just do whatever she did.

Anders’ grandmother, Helen Baniecki, also helped manage the cash register. She also made grape jelly. Years ago Anders filmed his grandmother making jelly at the age of 89. Now every year she releases the DVD and follows her grandmother’s recipe for making jelly.

Over the years they have tried different things like adding apples at some 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 vines. Grapes and grape juice are usually what brings people to the vineyard.

Norbert Perry, his daughter, Kristina Whaphan, and his grandson, Michael, traveled all the way from Indiana on opening day to pick grapes for wine making.

Years ago Perry obtained grapes from a local vineyard. He closed, and his daughter, who lived in Vermilion, told him there was a vineyard up there. He decided to take a look and has been going for over 20 years now. On September 17, they arrived at 11 a.m. and spent several hours picking grapes before they were ready to leave.

Becky Saunders of Vermilion also stops every year. She has spent most of her life in the vineyard.

“After Labor Day is over, I know it’s almost time to get my grapes,” Saunders said.

Season

It’s a short season in the vineyard – usually only four to six weeks. But in mid-September, everything is on deck.

The family picks the grapes on weekends. Anders’ siblings sometimes help too. On weekdays, Terry and Molly Anders go to their regular full-time jobs, although Molly has taken a day off for opening day. Their children help on the weekends and when they have finished school during the week. O’Leary, who is retired, can attend during the week.

It is not necessarily the most profitable business. Things like field trips also give them a little boost. They also sell grapes and juice at the Woollybear Festival in Vermilion every year. But the family loves it, and Anders and O’Leary love to see and talk to the other families who visit year after year.

“He [O’Leary] yields so many grapes and grape juice that we’re on the verge of breaking even, ”Anders said.

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