Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sipping My Way Through The Lake Erie Islands, Part Two: Heineman's Winery, Put-In-Bay

Lake Erie Islands
The Winey Family decided a visit to the Lake Erie Islands was in order this summer....and it was long overdue. I have lived in Cleveland for 25 years and had never set foot on these famed islands. But that's not as bad as the Winey Hubby, who has lived here for the better part of half a century (I love saying that about him, since I am NOT there yet) and not visited them. It was The Winey Daughter who decided we should all hop the Jet Express Ferry and explore for the day. Bless her winey little heart.

In part one of my winey day visiting our two chosen islands, I sipped my way through the Kelley's Island Wine Company offerings. Same day, a bit later, found us on South Bass Island, the third largest of the islands. The only incorporated village on this 3.7 by 1.5 mile island is Put-in-Bay. And boy, does it work the "only one" angle!!

Put-in-Bay is, at its heart, a Victorian village sprawled out along the shoreline of the harbor. You can't miss the gorgeous homes, the village green, the fudge stores (The Winey Daughter would not let us miss the fudge stores) and the old fashioned charm of the place. You also can't miss the two million restaurants and pubs (OK, not 2 million, but you know what I mean), the trendy stores, the super sized golf carts and what I believe was every single bachelorette party held in the entire state of Ohio that day. It's simply fun, fun, fun. Rent a golf cart and head out to see Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial (War of 1812), The Butterfly House, the putt putt courses, and for heaven's sake, do not miss a stop at Heineman's Winery!

Heineman's Winery
Heineman's was founded in 1888 and at one time was one of 17 wineries on Put-in-Bay. But, as with many wineries, that icky Prohibition law put quite a crimp in their style, not to mention their business. (Heineman's survived by selling grape juice and giving tours of the winery caves.) Quite the shame too, because the soil of the islands as well as the long growing season (Lake Erie keeps it quite temperate late into the fall) makes for some wonderful wine making.

Luckily, that misguided era of Prohibition is long gone, and now about 50 of the island's 1500 acres grow grapes. The Lubrusca (native) grapes are grown on South Bass. The two major varieties are Concord and Catawba. Heineman's offers 16 wines and 2 grape juices (never forgot what saved them during the lean years, did they?). The wines range from the famous and award winning Pink Catawba to a Pinot Grigio to Cabernet Sauvignon and on to sparkling and ice wines.  We were at the end of our visit to the island, and, time being tight, we decided to take the easy way out and buy some of the wines to bring home and sip at our leisure.

The first choice was The Lake Erie Niagara Wine (12%, NV, Put-in-Bay, Ohio). The nose on this was pure summertime: honeysuckle and orange blossom with the same tastes bursting in your mouth. It felt round and smooth and silky and finished with the slightly tart taste of citrus. You can almost feel yourself on the deck of a lovely white boat, skimming across the water and sipping this bit of summer. No, really. It was that full of flavor.

Our next choice was The Lake Erie Island Chablis (12%, NV, Put-in-Bay, Ohio). This is a very pale gold in color and gave off an aroma of faint citrus. I have to admit I was a bit worried by the "faint" thing, but then I tasted it and got a mouthful of candied lemon. It was sweet but with a tiny bit of a zest at the end. This was not as supple a mouthful as the Niagara - think how a Sauvignon Blanc feels compared to a Riesling - but it IS a wine that sweet wine drinkers would embrace. And if you are a bit skeptical of sweeter white wines, don't skip this one. It's less sweet than the Niagara, and filled to the brim with flavors.

We also could not leave without taking 2 bottles of famed Heineman's grape juice home with us. In the interest of fairness, we bought the red Concord Grape Juice and the white Catawba Grape Juice. I will refrain from reviewing them here, but let me tell you that the bottles alone would really class up the kid table at the holidays (or the designated driver's place at the adult table). And...they have an amazing taste. No offense to Welch's...but you just can't beat a boutique variety grape juice!

We had a wonderful day on our island hopping trip. Golf carts, monuments, boats, food...and all that wine! Cheers to my adopted home state of Ohio the sipping pleasure it brought me!

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