By ANGIE ZAM NCBJ Editor
PUT-IN-BAY – Though a lot has changed since Heineman Winery was founded in 1888, it is those things that remain the same that are the biggest points of pride for its proprietors.
“We pick our grapes, harvest our grapes, press our grapes, filter our wine. We make the wine we sell,” said Dustin Heineman. “We are extremely proud to be a family owned and operated winery, let alone one that’s 130 years old.”
Dustin, general manager, is the fifth- generation Heineman to run the family business. He works daily alongside his father and head winemaker, Edward, and his grandfather, Louie, the 92-year- old owner who still shows up each day to collect the mail, keep an eye on the books and generally keep everyone in line.
This year, the family business is celebrating 130 years on the island with more grapes and new wines. New vineyards are going in on Mitchell Road and the family is working to bring back two spots where vineyards had frozen out by planting two varieties of grapes that can withstand lower temperatures.
This ability to change with the conditions is something that has helped keep Heineman Winery afloat throughout its history.
By 1900, Heineman Winery was one of 17 wineries on the island, but the Volstead Act creating the Prohibition of Alcohol in 1919 proved catastrophic for many in the island grape and wine industry. Norman Heineman, son of founder Gustav, began selling grape juice and the family started the Yellow Ribbon Taxi Company to get people from downtown out to the winery to tour Crystal Cave, the world’s largest celestite geode located under the winery.
“I love all the history,” said Dustin. In fact, a focus on the history is how the winery commemorated its 125th anniversary, updating the labels to feature historical pictures from around the winery and island region.
Heineman Winery currently grows five varieties of grapes native to the island – Niagara, Catawba, Concord, Ives and Delaware and purchases the rest from cities along the coast – Avon Lake and Geneva on the Lake to name a few.
“Even if this whole island was full of grapes, it still wouldn’t be enough,” said Dustin. “We try to stay as close to Lake Erie as possible.”
They also work to offer as many varieties as possible – something that has kept Dustin’s dad, Edward, busy since he took over as winemaker around 1980.
“He drastically improved the wine,” Dustin boasts. “With his expertise, he brought the total from eight wines to up over 20.
“People love wine and love being able to walk in here and try everything. Whether its sweet, medium, dry, white, rose or red … if they walk in this door they will walk out liking at least one of the wines,” he said.
In total, Heineman’s Winery produces 30,000 gallons of wine, which is 12,605 cases or 150,000 bottles each year. That’s in addition to 5,000 bottles of grape juice. All with a staff of 30 in the busy season.
The business is definitely a labor of love for the Heineman family and though Dustin has held every job in the winery, he has also worked for others, even starting a pizza company at one point. But in the end, he will carry on the family tradition, something he hopes his son will do as well.
“If he so chooses to continue the madness – and I love the madness – Eli would be the sixth generation,” said Dustin. “Hopefully he will.”
Regardless how he spends his future, Eli has already secured his fame on the island. According to plan, he was born at home in 2013, the first baby to be born on South Bass Island in 34 years.
“When that happened, news spread like wildfire,” proud dad Dustin recalls. “It was trending on Yahoo for a while. His ties to the island are just so deep.”
VISITING THE WINERY: Heineman Winery is open daily mid-April through late October from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 7 p.m. Sunday. Visit the gift shop, sit in the wine garden or take a tour. Tours of Crystal Cave and Heineman Winery are offered seven days a week from early May until late September. Cost is $8 for adults and $4 for children ages 6 to 11. Monday through Saturday, tours of the cave begin at 11 a.m. and continue throughout the day until 5 p.m. On Sunday, tours run noon to 5 p.m.
BY THE NUMBERS: Heineman’s Winery produces 30,000 gallons of wine, which is 12,605 cases or 150,000 bottles each year. That’s in addition to 5,000 bottles of grape juice. All with a staff of 30 in the busy season.
During the winery’s 125th year, the labels started getting updates from history. The White Riesling features the North Bass Island Chapel. This wine features crisp, medium white wine with flavors of apples and pears.
Today the third, fourth and fifth generations of Heinemans – Louis, Edward and Dustin – share the wine making tradition. Dustin’s son, Eli, will be the sixth generation if he chooses to “join the madness.”