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.