I’d heard of Harvest Hosts before, but got more interested once I read my fellow contributors’ post about the program. When we were driving through several states to get to Michigan for a half-marathon I was running in Grand Rapids, it seemed like a good time to give the winery thing a shot.
For the uninitiated, Harvest Hosts is a network of wineries and farms across the country that agree to host RV travelers for one night. There are no hookups, you have to reserve in advance, and the expectation is that you’ll buy something, because your hosts are running a business.
My daughter and I had a good time at the first winery we visited on the way over. Afterwards, Lindy met us in Michigan for the race.
Full of good cheer from my family pep squad, and full of lunch from a post-run meal, the three of us hit the road for a Harvest Host winery outside Akron.
We had visions of a few glorious hours outside, exploring fall-themed activities and letting the kid burn off some steam after sitting in a booster seat the whole day. But, our experience was a little different than what we’d pictured.
On the drive, we saw parts of Ohio we’d never seen before, despite several dozen trips through the state over nearly 20 years. We also noticed lots of dark rain clouds along the way. A little later than we’d planned, we rolled into the parking lot at about 6 p.m. on a Sunday. It wasn’t raining, but it had obviously been a wet day. We had two hours left before the winery closed for the night, and less time than that before dark.
We’d talked up the corn maze and various outdoor activities during the whole ride over to Ohio. But the winds were strong and the fields soggy. So, we paid the $10 admission charge for each of us and opted for the last hayride of the day. (The deserted corn maze and impending nightfall had us thinking about “The Shining,” so we decided to skip that one.) We had a private tractor ride around the impressive grounds just before dusk.
With less than an hour to spare, we visited the spacious cafe and gift shop. We’d brought our own dinner in the van, but were interested in some hot apple cider. Nope. Cold apple cider in less than a half-gallon bottle. Nope. And the winery couldn’t sell wine, because it was Sunday in a dry jurisdiction. Except, somehow, beer sales were allowed. I opted for a small flight of beer, we found some apple butter for our daughter’s teacher, and we went out and got ourselves settled in Roxanne for the night.
It was a pretty disappointing visit, and one that ended up being pretty costly compared to sleeping in a Wal-Mart parking lot or even a campground.
Everyone we met, from the cashier to the tractor driver to the server who made great beer recommendations, was very friendly and helpful. We just found ourselves wishing we’d come on a different day with different weather. There was no chance of a do-over on this trip, because we left the next morning before the place opened back up.
So, what will we be thinking about next time we do Harvest Hosts? And what advice would we give others?
Think about your hours.
If you’re looking for that fresh air in the country, outdoor experience that a winery can offer, you need daylight. The later on in the year you’re traveling, the less daylight you have into the evening. It requires a little more planning than pulling into a hotel parking lot or even a campground at any hour that you happen to want to stop for the night.
Know that some days are more suitable than others.
As we learned, weather can have a major impact even if it’s already passed through by the time you arrive. But even day of the week makes a difference. Live music is typically for weekend nights. I had seen, but glossed over the fact that the location we visited doesn’t sell wine on Sundays. Some wineries are closed a day or two each week. All of this is pretty easy to verify because you have to talk to a live person to make your Harvest Hosts reservation anyway. I recommend asking which days are best to visit.
Choose your parking spot with care, if possible.
There was an ample parking lot that was mostly empty when we arrived. We backed into a spot with a couple of trees nearby. It seemed fairly secluded when we parked there. As it turns out, our heads were barely 100 feet from a two-lane road that hosted a surprising amount of traffic all night! There was also what sounded like a pretty raging house party somewhere across the street. And folks seemed pretty eager to leave for work even before the sun came up, so we got an early start back on the road. Look for quiet in addition to shade, if you can.
Don’t assume you’ll save money.
I’m always looking for ways to keep our travel costs down. One strong suit of a well-equipped RV is that it’s dramatically cheaper night by night than staying in a hotel, and doesn’t always require staying in a campground. We’ve done Wal-Mart and driveway stays (free) and the Ohio Turnpike rest areas ($20). The customary purchase and the add-on attractions can make a Harvest Hosts stay a pricey one.
I probably spent $30 on a few drinks on our first Harvest Host stay, which is a pretty decent bar tab that came with a live band. We were plenty entertained. But for our second stay, it was $30 just for the outdoor activities. With snacks, a gift and the beer flight, we probably dropped close to $60 that night. I’m happy to support local business and family farmers. But I wouldn’t call this a travel bargain unless you’re planning to do some drinking and shopping anyway. Then you get the overnight parking space for free.
I’m glad we had the Harvest Hosts experience two different ways, and I’d like to try it again sometime. I’d definitely visit again if we find ourselves in that part of Ohio — just to make sure we get the full breadth of what the place has to offer.
Not very soon, though. Our next trip through the Midwest will be in late December, so we’re probably done with the wineries until spring.