Jared and I spent this weekend celebrating our 13th wedding anniversary at The Lodge at Geneva on the Lake, a small resort in Ohio’s wine country.
Yes, Ohio has wine country.
It borders Lake Eerie, and 90% of the grapes grown there are sent to Welch’s and turned into juices. The remaining 10% are pressed into sweet wines that are sold to tourists at the local wineries, establishments geared more toward the drinking and selling of wine than the making of it.
We spent Saturday night being driven by shuttle to several of these rustic restaurant/gift shops/wineries. At each stop, we ordered a tasting flight, which consisted of a cafeteria tray loaded up with plastic shot glasses filled with different types of wine. Over the course of our tour, we sampled roughly 20 varieties of local wines. So, I say this with confidence:
Ohio wines are not very good.
Grapes that are primarily grown to be turned into juice should not also be turned into wine, not unless you want your wine to taste like grape juice that’s been spiked with cough syrup.
That’s not to say we didn’t have fun. We did. In fact, I think we learned something while drinking all of that bad wine about how to be happier.
We sat in the sun, listened to live music, and laughed at our own descriptions of the offerings: “This smells like wet fox.” “I think this tastes like grandma.” After several shots of grandma’s juice, we even made friends with our tour mates, which led to stories about child birth and nursing told around a wrought-iron table.
Scientists and sociologists would say that we enjoyed ourselves because connection makes us happier. And it’s true that I loved having quality time with my husband and swapping tales with strangers. But it wasn’t just the connecting that made me happy.
Figuring out that the wines at the second, third, and fourth stops were just as off as the ones we had tasted at the first made my brain kind of crackle and pop. Talking to a bartender about why they didn’t use aerators on the reds and hearing about when and how the wineries popped up helped me understand that the pattern wasn’t in my head.
Putting together the pieces made me happy.
On the drive home to Pittsburgh the day after our wine tour, Jared asked me if I’d go back. “Absolutely,” I said. “But I wouldn’t go to the wineries.”
“Really? I had fun on the wine tour, even if we didn’t love the wines.”
“I had a blast,” I said. “But now that I know, I don’t need to do it again. Next time I’d spend more time on the lake, at the state park, and checking out the antique shops.”
“Yeah, that’d be fun.”
“But I’d tell other people take the wine tour.”
“Definitely! I learned that I didn’t like Ohio wines, but figuring that out was fun.”
Travel magazines are always filled with stories of beautiful places to visit and delicious foods to eat while you’re there. What they don’t tell you – what they can’t tell you – is that the real joy of traveling is figuring out for yourself what makes a place beautiful or a food delicious. It’s learning on your own what you love and what you hate.
What I discovered this weekend about how to be happier is that it doesn’t matter what you find when you set out on an adventure. Learning that Ohio wines are ridiculously sweet – and why – was just as much fun as learning why Napa Valley wines are so damn good (and considerably less expensive).
It’s going looking that makes the difference.