LAKE COUNTY, Ohio (WOIO) - Recreational tourism is poised to have a high growth year in Lake County on the strength of the 30 or so wineries, and their popularity among those willing to take a trip to Lake County for a day or two - and a bottle or two.

While the county has an abundance of beautiful parks, beaches, and the first-class experience of the Cleveland Guardians affiliate Double-A Lake County Captains ball club, Lake County Visitor’s Bureau Executive Director Neil Stein said it is the wineries that really drive people to visit.

“The wineries have been doing phenomenally well, better than ever, quite honestly,” Stein said.

That’s quite a post-COVID statement when so many local businesses, including the wineries, struggled to survive during the pandemic.

But they had, and still have, what seemed to be an inherent advantage, according to Stein.

“People are still looking for outside stuff, everybody kind of re-discovered the love of the outdoors during COVID, like it or not, that was about all we had,” Stein said.

In 2019, the last year before the pandemic took a toll on the tourism numbers and dollars across the country, Lake County visitors spent $622 million.

Considering that number, it is no wonder that just before the pandemic hit, two new hotels were built along I-90 at the Route 528 exit in Madison, largely it seems, to serve those looking to spend a couple of days exploring the wineries.

Hampton Inn Director of Sales Kelly Webster acknowledges that the hotel was built largely with the explosive popularity of the wineries in mind.

“With having almost 30 wineries out here, having a hotel and our guests staying a couple of nights, every guest loves it and they end up coming back,” she said.

Debonne Vineyards went into overdrive with take-out and delivery orders and pushed to increase their wholesale business to withstand the pandemic.

Tony Debevc now runs the family business and said it was a team effort that helped push the business through the tough times of the pandemic.

That included a struggle to find employees once the pandemic eased.

“We’re the fastest-growing industry here in Northeast Ohio, maybe not the most profitable, but the fastest growing, and people really like this area,” Debevc said.

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