A relaxing ride on the Miller Ferry’s bright blue-and-white “Wm. Market” took me from the tip of Catawba, to the Lime Kiln dock on South Bass Island. Within 100 yards of the ferry landing I found a sweet little ride at E’s Golf Carts. My cart was decked out with a “Vegas Baby!” logo, an American flag flying proudly and a pink breast cancer sticker. That spirited ride delivered me straight to Heineman’s Winery. The sign with the arrow near the airport helped a little.
The oldest family-owned and operated winery in Ohio is also the second oldest in the nation — and as with most things beautiful, it isn’t fancy, but rather, just right. The little island grape-spot is now run by third, fourth and fifth generation family members.
Wooden barrels, hanging baskets and window boxes filled with lush geraniums, marigolds, pansies, ferns and petunias and other colorful eye-candy will greet you with bright smiles. Inside, a tin-roof, ceiling fans and a simple place to taste, and learn about great Ohio wines and wine-makers. And if your kids aren’t interested, send them across the street for putt-putt and other interesting adventures. But let us partake in the fruit of the vine.
Concord, Ives, Delaware, Niagara and Catawba grapes are the main ingredients, with most all fruits harvested from the limestone-rich soils of the islands. A tour of the winery, led by Greg Rowan was interesting and informative. But, he said, if you want to see wine in the making, come in autumn when grapes and skin and juices are flying.
The ice-wine, made from pressed frozen grapes, is akin to ambrosia. “Mix it with Grey Goose, drop in a couple frozen grapes and I think it makes a great after-dinner cocktail,” Rowan said.
And the best-selling wine? “Pink Catawba,” he said. “It out sells all others combined.”
I tried the Pink Catawba, Sweet Concord and Sweet Belle. I renamed them That’s Nice, Mmmm Very Good and Holy Mackerel My Mouth is in Love! A Heineman’s official declined my offer to rename the three wines.
Annette Yano and her Cleveland-area high school friends from the class of, well, we don’t need numbers, meet for annual gatherings. This year they met at Put-in-Bay and stopped in for a few gracious sips of Heineman’s, all smiles and giggles.
“We love it,” Annette said, Riesling still fresh on her tongue. “Very good.” Follow that with singing praises of Rowan’s knowledge, manner and presentation. “He’s so knowledgeable,” and “He was very, very nice!” You get the idea.
While plenty of folks linger in the quiet wine garden out back, plenty of others grab a sip and go, like Jonathon Oxx and Kasey Morgan, visiting from upstate New York. Neither had been here, or tasted Heineman’s previously.
Kasey’s choice was Sweet Concord. “That was the one he said was grape juice with a little bit of fun in the bottle,” she said, speaking of Rowan’s tour. Meanwhile, Jonathon sampled Riesling, he purchased bottles of Pink Catawba as gifts – not too dry, not too sweet.
If wine is not your fancy, Heineman’s still has something for you: Crystal Cave. Just 42 steps below the winery itself is the world’s largest geode, at more than 32 feet in diameter. You can stand flat-footed smack dab in the middle of it, surrounded by thousands of massive strontium sulfite crystals – how many other wineries can boast that? That’s right, none.