From weeds to wine

From weeds to wine

Branching Out - Cover Story

A love of wine coupled with landscaping expertise drove the owners of Ohio Valley Group to open a winery in their business’ backyard.

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August 30, 2018
Lauren Rathmell
All photos © Kevin Kopanski

Nestled behind an industrial park in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, is Sapphire Creek Winery & Gardens. The nearly six-month-old business sits among a landscape filled with seasonal greenery, oak trees and beech trees – which isn’t there by accident. Next door to the winery, the full-service landscape company, Ohio Valley Group, operates on the 15 acres of shared land.

Owners Kathleen and Andy Dangelo have tied their landscaping expertise together with their love for Napa, California, and wine, running both the winery and their landscaping company on the same property. What used to sit ungroomed and overgrown now acts as a working showcase for the landscaping company’s clientele.

Run of the land.

Ohio Valley Group, approaching its 30th year in business, operates as a full-service landscaping company and is on pace to achieve about $4 million in revenue. When the business moved into the 15-acre lot 13 years ago, the Dangelos knew they weren’t going to need all that space for their landscaping business.

“A couple years ago we were trying to decide, did we want to expand Ohio Valley's operations or what are we going to do with the rest of this land,” Kathleen says. “My husband and I go to Napa frequently, and have traveled a lot and we thought there's really nothing like (the Napa area) around here.”

Kathleen began toying with the idea of a winery and started to write up a preliminary business plan. The Dangelos had past wine experience, experimenting with homemade wine. Once they spoke with several winemakers, they realized a winery could be a great fit for the area.

“About two years ago, I started with a feasibility plan,” she says. “It took about six months or so because I had to get a civil engineer involved.”

After the feasibility study ended in favor of the winery plans, Kathleen went to work drawing up a full business plan. Another six to eight months were spent on the business plan, which involved securing financing as well.

“It was like a year and a half of just getting everything lined up, all the blocks in a row basically,” she says.

Landscape architect Doug Nemeckay (left) worked closely with Kathleen and Andy Dangelo (right) to create a restaurant and winery that could serve as a showcase for Ohio Valley Group’s work.
A new venture.

Running a landscaping business was already a full-time job for the Dangelos. Kathleen manages the financial aspects of the business while Andy works with the landscape architect to manage selling and operations.

Kathleen manages the financials at Sapphire Creek as well. She also created an additional management company made up of herself, her husband, chefs and restaurant managers to oversee the in-house operations of the winery.

The location of the winery lets Kathleen bounce back and forth between Ohio Valley Group and Sapphire Creek with ease. She works out of one office in Ohio Valley Group’s building but tries to focus half of the day on landscaping and half of the day on the winery.

“It doesn’t always work out,” she says. “But it makes it easier that I use one office.” She also has a team of good managers to help her out if things get busy. And, since she mainly takes care of the financial aspects of both businesses, it’s not hard to switch gears from one company to the other.

The grounds.

When the plans were being drawn for the winery, the Dangelos involved a civil engineer to help get the lay of the land. Together, with the help of Doug Nemeckay, landscape architect for Ohio Valley Group, they came up with the layout.

“Having our background in landscaping was huge because we could weigh in on the development of the site,” Kathleen says. “The site is left primarily wooded with all the mature trees, so it was having that background that was critical to maintaining a really beautiful end result.”

Nemeckay says the specific design elements were a collaborative effort with everyone. “(Andy and Kathleen) have plenty of great insight and design skills themselves and when you put the three of us in the room together we really come up with some great ideas,” he says.

With Ohio Valley Group’s resources available, the team had the upper hand in finding labor and getting the project completed. Balancing the landscaping company’s jobs with the winery project was a challenge, but Nemeckay says they were able to get a jump start on a lot of the work.

“We did muscle out a lot of the work in early spring and then a lot was done over the winter months, so we did have the benefit of jumping on this and really hitting it pretty hard, before even starting our other projects because it was still too early (for those),” he says.

Right off the bat, the team wanted to make sure they created a large enough space to host events and weddings. The winery and restaurant feature a large terrace spanning 500 square feet. The terrace was made out of Brazilian hardwood. Another terrace area features porcelain pavers.

With hopes of hosting weddings and other events, the team was even mindful of accommodating crowds. They wanted to add in some greenery, so they had artificial turf installed. With the turf, guests wearing heels and dress shoes won’t sink into the ground with every step.

“(The turf) is always very nice even after a rain, so I mean that was sort of a real home run right there as far as an expansive green area,” he says. “Weddings often take place outside, so I think people like the idea of it feeling like it’s on turf.”

Sapphire Creek Winery & Gardens (A) sits on the same lot as landscaping company, Ohio Valley Group (B). The landscape company serves primarily commercial clients.
A working showcase.

With Sapphire Creek up and running, the team plans to use it as a showcase for the work Ohio Valley Group can do.

“Kathleen had that idea from the start,” Nemeckay says. “We have a little conference area (in the restaurant) that's very open and airy. It's like a balcony that overlooks the restaurant. Our whole intention is to bring clients there and roll out the plans and discuss things and maybe do a little entertaining at the same time.”

Keeping the idea of a showcase in mind, Kathleen and the team were mindful of what materials they used and what features they installed during the process. “It’s been sort of a cross marketing opportunity for both businesses,” she says. “The first thing is to make the winery beautiful, but hand in hand with that is to create gardens that we could take clients to and show them how this could be their backyard.”

Nemeckay says the gardens are still a work in progress. The group has plans to add more plants and more garden spaces, but work on the winery grounds has slowed some to accommodate Ohio Valley Group’s usual clients.

“What's really nice about doing the winery is that when you do design/build projects for clients, you don't really get to enjoy the end result,” Kathleen says. “And it's really, really fun to go back to the winery and look and think about how it looked when it was just raw land and then enjoy the garden space and enjoy everything that you created.”

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