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The center of American wine production today is the Napa Valley in California, but it wasn't always there. Once, the central wine-growing region was the Midwest. The small island, Kelleys Island, just off the coast of Lake Eerie in Ohio, boasts a rich wine-growing history that continues today. The island has the ruins of historic wineries and is one of the places that should be on one's bucket list for any Great Lakes tour.

While Napa Valley may be the best place to go wine tasting in the United States, it is far from the only place. Many may be surprised by the history of winemaking in the Midwest, and it is a story that goes back to the early days of settlement. No one needs to go out West for a wine tour!

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The Old "Grape Belt" Of The Midwest

The Ohio Valley is similar in climate and topography to the Rhine Valley in Europe. So early Americans decided to grow their vines there. The greater Cincinnati region dominated America's wine production for many years.

  • Ohio Valley: Early Center of American Wine Production
  • "Grape Belt": Once The Midwest

But by around the Civil War in the 1860s, things were changing. There was a nasty vine disease attacking the plants, there was competition from cheap whiskey, and then there were the labor shortages brought on by the war. In response, Midwestern wine production shifted to the north to Lake Erie and on to Kelleys Island just off the coast.

Related: 10 Top-Rated Wineries In Napa For The Ultimate Wine-Tasting Experience

Kelleys Island Historic Wineries & Ruins

Wine production on Kelleys Island first started in 1842 with Charles Carpenter from Norwich. But in the antebellum years, wine production really picked up on the island with the establishment of The Kelley's Island Wine Company in 1872.

Kelleys Island Wine Company:

  • Established: In 1872
  • Largest: Was One Of The Largest Wineries
  • Production: Around 350 Gallons Annually

At one time, The Kelley's Island Wine Company was one of the largest wineries in the nation. By the early 20th century, the tiny island was producing around 500,000 gallons of wine annually, and The Kellys Island Wine Company was producing 350,000 gallons.

  • Total Production: Around 500,000 Gallons Annually For The Island

The winery was large, impressive, and built with native stone. It resembled something of a feudal castle, and its wine was sold around the world. The Prohibition was a hard time for the country's breweries and wineries. But the Kelleys Island Wine Company managed to soldier by producing non-alcoholic grape juice.

But during the Prohibition era, two major fires destroyed the facility. A fire in 1933 gutted its buildings and left them charred and in ruins. Today the ruins of the historic winery are a significant attraction on the island.

  • Monarch Wine Company: Built In 1892

There was also another impressive winery on the island, the Monarch Wine Company. It was the only one able to reopen after Prohibition but finally closed for good in 1950.

Related: San Francisco To Napa Valley: How To Plan The Perfect Day Trip Itinerary

Modern Kelleys Island Wineries & Visiting

Another winery was established in 1982 on the site of one of the oldest stone cottages on the island and is today a working winery and tourist attraction. Kelley's Island Wine Co. is a full-service winery, restaurant, and more.

  • Address: 418 Woodford Rd, Kelleys Island, OH
  • Phone: 419-746-2678

Opening Hours (Memorial Day to Labor Day):

  • Monday to Saturday: Noon to 10.00 pm
  • Sunday: Noon to 8.00 pm

Their wines are all produced and bottled locally by the family-operated business on the premises. They have a total of seven varieties on offer.

  • Indian Red: $7 - Glass, $24 - Bottle, Cabernet Franc Blended With Shiraz
  • Inscription White: $6 - Glass, $19.50 Bottle, Dry Sauvignon Blanc
  • Glacial White: $5 - Glass, $15.50 Bottle, German-Style Wine
  • Sunset Pink: $5 - Glass, $15.50 Bottle, Table Wine
  • Coyote White: $5 - Glass, $15.50 Bottle, Semi-Sweet White Wine
  • Long Sweet Red: $5 - Glass, $15.50 Bottle, Semi-Sweet Red Wine

Today visitors can see the ruins of the two wineries. The remains of the Monarch Wine Company are on private property but are easily viewed from the road.

  • Best Time To Visit: mid-May to October

To get to Kelleys Island, there is a 30-minute ferry from Marblehead that runs most of the year. To get around the island, it is popular to hire golf carts from the ferry station.