The story of Kirt and Robby Zettler starts with the history of wineries on Kelley’s Island. Vineyards were well established on Kelley’s Island by the 1840s. Datus Kelley planted Isabella grapes in Kelley’s Island limestone soil in 1842 and his son-in-law, Charles Carpenter, began operating the first commercial winery on the island in 1845. Kelley Island Wine Company was formed in 1865. Determined hikers can still find the impressive solid stone wall ruins of the building, built in 1878, with wine cellars and some equipment intact. The former vineyards around Kelley Island Wine Company are now covered in new growth trees. Kelley Island Wine Company, originally known as Island Number 6 and once one the largest producers of wine in the country, went out of business during Prohibition.
Island history and the prestige of the original winery operations motivated Kirt to seek naming rights to Kelley’s Island Wine Company when he and his family started growing grapes and making wine 30 years ago. “Kirt was studying agricultural engineering in Australia, and they started growing organic vegetables, which wasn’t a commercial success, so they started growing grapes,” Robby reports. Kelley’s Island Wine Company was reborn back in the early 1980s. The plaque behind the bar boasts that the winery makes “Pure Native Wines” from island grapes.
The winery has become a destination for vacationers because of the casual ambience of the modern “Australian Outback” building, outdoor seating, and fine chef-crafted food served in the evenings. The winery is a fun place where children can play and patrons can engage in volleyball and horseshoe. During the afternoons, pizza and cheese platters compliment the wine, but in the evening, the chef conjures up scallops and ribeye. The winery also bottles its own olive oil and has a full-service bar. The boats will start running in late March-early April, and the first big event is the Spring Wine Fling on April 22.
The Kelley's Island Wine Company shows off its wine at their new mainland home in the Cleveland area at Metropolitan Home Design, Lakewood’s newest lifestyle store specializing in global and local home design, food and wine. Author Claudia Taller will be there on February 10 from 7-9 PM to talk about how northern Ohio's wine industry started on the islands and sell copies of her book "Ohio's Lake Erie Wineries."