Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Kelley's Island

Datus Kelley planted Isabella grapes on Kelley’s Island in 1842 and founded the wine-growing industry on Kelley’s Island. Kelley’s son-in-law, Charles Carpenter, began operating the first commercial winery on the island in 1850. The impressive solid stone walls of the ruins of Kelley Island Wine Company were built in 1871-1872 and had the capacity to store 500,000 gallons of wine. Old equipment and cellars can still be seen at the ruins today.

Frank Hauser worked for Kelley’s Island Wine Co. until he established his own winery, Monarch Winery, in 1904, on the former site of Sweet Valley Winery after it moved to the mainland. Monarch Winery is also in ruins, but in 1981, Kelley’s Island Wine Company was reborn and continues as the only winery on the Island today. The old Kelley Island Wine Co. plaque behind the bar boasts that it makes “Pure Native Wines” from island grapes. The modern “Australian Outback” building built by Kirt and Robby Zettler is nothing like the old castle-like winery. The Zettlers offer vinifera wines, as well as Sunset Pink and Coyote, a nod to those sweet island wines.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Bit of History - Lake Erie Wine Appellation

Grape growing on the Lake Erie Islands--Kelley’s Island, South Bass, Middle Bass, and North Bass--as well as in Danbury Township on Marblehead Peninsula and in Sandusky, was well established by German immigrants by the mid-1800s. The moderating climate along the Lake Erie shoreline and on the Lake Erie Islands creates a long growing season and the winds that discourage mildew. Prohibition destroyed the wine industry in Ohio, but some the farms and wineries along Lake Erie’s moderate shore continued to grow grapes for juice and jellies. South Bass’s Heineman, Middle Bass’s Lonz, and Port Clinton’s Mon Ami produced native wines after Prohibition and into the 1960s, and Heineman and Mon Ami are still in operation today and they're making European-style vinifera wines that are surprisingly good.

The first island I explored was Kelley's Island. Artist's Way friend Judy DuShane (pictured at left) grew up in the island winery tradition and her family grew grapes and made wine before development made the land too valuable for grape growing. Long-time friend Gayle Absi and I caught an early Saturday ferry over to Kelley's Island and rambled around winery ruins before having lunch.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


My Husband Paul bought me Patricia Latimer’s Ohio Wine Country Excursions for Christmas some years back. We had enjoyed many romantic trips to New York’s Finger Lakes region, where the vineyards roll down the hills to the deep glacier-grooved lakes, but after we browsed Latimer's book, we learned that during the 19th century, Ohio was the major wine producing state and by the end of that century, most of the vineyards were along Lake Erie and on its islands. Since the Lake Erie shore is where we make our home, we started exploring Ohio's Lake Erie wineries.

The stories of Ohio’s Lake Erie wineries begin with the Lake's moderating temperatures and the resulting long growing season. My sense of adventure was kindled when I began to learn about native Ohio grapes and how grape growers graft vines to make French-American hybrids like Chambourcin and Vidal Blanc and the European vinifera varieties l love. The trellising must keep be at the right height to keep moisture away. The making of wine is knowing the chemistry that turns juice into wine and how to enhance to natural flavors of the grapes. To grow grapes and make wine, one must begin with an acre and plant the vines and see how they do. It’s a leap of faith, the buying and clearing of land and growing grapes, hoping they will produce quantities of juice that can be fermented into wine.

Growing grapes and allowing them to take on unique characteristics from the soil and climate of the land is an age-old art. The making of wine is as romantic as the hope that a lover will while away the hours on your back porch or on a picnic near a pond in the woods, with a bottle of wine. My Ohio wine country adventures have helped me be grounded and allowed me to dream.

They also inspired me to write the book I call Ohio’s Lake Erie Wineries. The book is about the Lake Erie Wine Appellation wines and the people who make them and live in harmony with nature. The book will be published by Arcadia in 2011. Join me as I explore Ohio’s Lake Erie Wineries on this blog. And maybe one day, you’ll join me on a wine country adventure, Lake Erie style!