These days, the winery is helmed by the fourth and fifth generation of Heinemans and actually ranks as the largest family-owned winery in Ohio. All grapes are handpicked and the majority are grown just a quick boat ride away on North Bass Island.
So how did Heineman's survive over a century and become the tourist hotspot it is now, plus manage to produce over 300,000 bottles per year? Well, its history is a rocky one:
By 1900, Heineman's was one of 17 wineries on Put-in-Bay. The passage of the Volstead Act creating the Prohibition of Alcohol in 1919 was catastrophic to the Island's grape and wine industry. Most of the wineries failed and the vineyards fell into disrepair. Heineman's survived under Gustav's son, Norman, by selling unfermented grape juice and providing taxi cab service to and tours of the Winery's caves.
Tasting details: For $7 (adults) or $3 (children), you get tours of both the winery and the Crystal Cave, plus a cup of any wine (or grape juice) at the end. Want more? A glass of wine is $2 for regular wines, $8 for Ice Wine and $0.50 for grape juice. Tack on a plate of cheese and crackers for $6 and head out back to the Weingarten.
As there were two of us, we opted to try the Niagara (white) and Watersnake Noiret (red). The Noiret is so named because a portion of the proceeds go towards preserving Put-in-Bay's park and the watersnake population.
Our wine pick: We were very happy with both our tasting picks. Of the whites, gotta be the Niagara. Of the reds, we're really liking the taste and philanthropic goals of the new Watersnake Noiret. If you just want to quaff the most popular, then it's the Pink Catawba for you. If you decide to buy a case (or two, or twelve), Heineman's offers free delivery to either the Miller Ferry or Jet Express dock. That means you're free to enjoy your day on the island without having to lug around wine...until you pick it up before boarding the ferry home.
Descending into the Crystal Cave
[Photos: Cynthia Drescher/Jaunted]