Escape to Gervasi
by Mimi Vanderhaven
If Canton’s new Gervasi Vineyard was itself a bottle of wine, it would be a bold red. Italian, of course. Full-bodied with notes of red berries, pepper and spice followed by a velvety smooth finish. Drinking it would be a relaxing experience, like falling into the arms of a strong, caring grandfather.
If your grandfather were Sean Connery.
Everything about Gervasi is handsome and solid. None of that wispy, trendy Ikea feel. The main restaurant, known as The Bistro, is housed in a stunning 1823 barn featuring the original, massive wood beams. Reclaimed wood from the same barn is used throughout the 55-acre estate—in window sills and door trims—even the sturdy tasting bar was once part of the barn. Indeed, Oklahoma Slim may have fired his gun from behind that very board during his gang’s infamous 1922 shoot-out with a local Canton posse.
History pulses through the vines. Much of the heavy, moss-covered barn stone dotting the property came from the historic Massillon State Hospital. The farm’s original milk house is now an outdoor kitchen.
The patio dining area, called The Piazza, features heavy iron furniture, custom brick, vintage-style gas lamps, and a huge fire pit. On sunny summer afternoons and cool evenings you can relax there, enjoying the serene lake view or trying your hand at bocce ball or other lawn games.
To your left, the dramatic Italian-style, open-air pavilion seats 200. Already fifty weddings are planned for this year, with brides from Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. “They’re coming here,” says general manager Scott Swaldo modestly, “instead of going to California or Italy.”
Across the 6.5-acre lake, The Villas will offer overnight accommodations beginning this fall, and the new Villa Grande will host conferences and events, featuring a culinary and wine education center.
It’s as if someone uprooted an entire, multi-million dollar, dot-com-funded California estate winery—buildings and all—dipped it into the Old World charm of Tuscany, then placed it in Canton, Ohio.
The stunning arch entry, the tree-lined access road, the first glimpse of the young vineyards instantly relax you even before stepping out of your vehicle.
The Swaldo family spared no expense. Fairlawn’s FMD Architects left no creativity on the table.
Gervasi Vineyard is a work of art.
Dining at Gervasi
There are two distinct dining experiences at Gervasi—outside on The Piazza and inside in The Bistro. Let’s start inside:
Although The Bistro is decidedly upscale, its rustic charm demands a more casual menu, so don’t come expecting Flemings. It’s a bistro, featuring authentic, rustic Italian comfort food prepared with seasonal ingredients. The chef uses local purveyors whenever possible. Imported Italian cheeses and meats make up the antipasto, and Boston’s legendary Foley’s supplies the fresh seafood.
To get you started, the antipasti menu includes the GV Artisan Piatti, an authentic selection of imported Italian meats and cheese, $14. For your greens, try the Warm Asparagus Salad; it’s asparagus wrapped in speck ham served with a garlic vinaigrette and a hard-boiled egg, $7. For a more refreshing choice, the Gervasi Caesar features romaine hearts with house-made pecorino crackers, and white anchovy, $7. The GV Iceberg is topped with crispy pancetta, roasted tomatoes, Gorgonzola dressing and cheese croutons, $8.
For your entrée, you can man-up with the Tuscan Beef Short Ribs (Angus reserve), braised for six hours and served with Parmesan mashed potatoes, young carrots and a mushroom veal sauce, $22.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an Italian bistro, darling, without pasta. Mimi recommends the Lobster Formaggio Gemelli (with chunks of lobster) served with basil bread crumbs, $16. The Gemelli with Bolognese Sauce is just $14. And don’t forget the brick-fired pizzas. The popular “Guiseppe” is topped with sausage, banana pepper, tomato and provolone, $12.
The Bistro represents a rustic, but full-service dining experience. That’s not the case outside.
The Piazza at Gervasi Vineyard is undoubtedly one of the top al fresco dining experiences between New York and Chicago. It’s totally relaxing and there are fewer rules. A hostess seats you, but you order at an outdoor counter; reservations are not accepted, so feel free to enjoy a glass of wine before or after your meal as you shop in The Marketplace or take a lakeside stroll. In fact, you are free to sip your wine anywhere on the property (except in the parking lots). Soak in live music on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. The likes of Helen Welch and Ryan Humbert will be on hand as a part of Gervasi’s summer concert season.
The Piazza’s menu is lighter, featuring antipasto, salads, sandwiches and limited entrees like ribs, steak, shrimp, paninis, burgers and pizzas. There are plenty of items on the outdoor menu for under 12 bucks.
And, of course, you’ll need something with which to wash it all down.
Crafting the Wine
Unlike wineries that try to force the land to grow more popular grapes, the Swaldo family selected varietals that are a better fit for Canton’s climate and soil. “We asked which grapes will thrive and that’s what we will grow—not the other way around,” Scott says.
The family chose Marquette, Frontenac Gris, plus new varietals from New York and Minnesota. “These have been tested and can do well in our environment,” Scott assures. “We will use them to create signature blends.”
The six acres of vineyards already planted are so new that it will be another year or two before head winemaker Andy Codispoti can get his feet on them. In the meantime, he’s been importing grapes and juices from California, Oregon, Washington and even Northern Ohio to create almost a dozen different wines—made, bottled and cellared on-site. It’s a broad offering compared to many Ohio wineries.
“The consultants told us to offer 60% sweet wines because that’s what Ohioans like,” Scott reveals, “but we wanted to produce dryer, more full-bodied wines, so we flipped the ratio. About 60% of our wines are dry and 40% sweet.”
Gervasi’s signature wine is Truscano, an Italian red done in a super-Tuscan style, featuring sangiovese as the primary varietal. It’s the winery’s top seller.
The Luce Luce, the featured Italian house white, is a pinot grigio, and the Piove (Italian for “raining”) is a delightful riesling.
“We visited many California vineyards and hand-selected exactly where we want our grapes to come from,” Scott adds. “This allows us to be consistent and have control over quality.”
Gervasi Vineyard is a family-owned business entirely funded by retired ASC Industries executive Ted Swaldo, who wanted to do something he enjoyed, create a special place where the people of Canton and Northeast Ohio could relax, and honor his Italian heritage by building something lasting for his family. “Gervasi,” it should be noted, was the maiden name of Ted’s mother who arrived in the U.S. through Ellis Island.
Anyone else may have been tempted to turn her namesake into some kind of private country club or Wall Street-owned themed resort, but not this family.
They aren’t simply running a business, they are building a legacy.
Gervasi Vineyard is located at 1700 55th Street NE in Canton about 10 minutes from the Everhard Rd. exit on I-77. For reservations, call 330-497-1000 ext. 3 or reserve online at GervasiVineyard.com.
The Bistro hours are Tuesday through Thursday 5-9 p.m.; Friday 5-10 p.m. (winebar until 11 p.m.); Saturday noon-10 p.m. (winebar until 11 p.m.); Sunday noon-8 p.m. The Piazza is open Tuesday through Thursday noon-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday noon-11 p.m.; Sunday noon-8 p.m. The entire facility is closed on Mondays.
For more information, including a calendar of events, please visit GervasiVineyard.com.