The Bass Islands earned the nickname "Wine Islands," and Middle Bass Island State Park is home to the historic Lonz Winery.
In 1807, Middle Bass and South Bass Islands, Green, Sugar, Ballast, Gibraltar, and Starve Islands were purchased for $26,087 by Pierpont Edwards, a Revolutionary War veteran and member of the U.S. Continental Congress. In August 1854, the Edwards family sold the islands for $44,000 to José de Rivera Saint Jurgo, who cultivated the land for grape production and winemaking. Jurgo sold Middle Bass Island in 1864, and in 1866 one of the new owners, Andrew Wehrle, established the Golden Eagle Wine Cellars, which soon became one of the largest wineries in the country.
The Golden Eagle winery expanded to include a dance pavilion over the wine cellar, and a subsequent owner built a 60-room hotel, the Hillcrest, in 1905. Both the hotel and the dance pavilion were destroyed by fire in 1923.
In 1926, Peter Lonz and his son, George, merged their own winemaking business, established in 1884, with the Golden Eagle Winery's remains. Despite the nationwide prohibition of alcohol, the Lonz business survived by selling bottles of grape juice with instructions for fermenting the juice at home.
Following the repeal of prohibition in 1933, George Lonz began rebuilding the winery complex. After a fire destroyed the structure in 1942, work began on the Gothic-style stone castle that became a familiar landmark for tourists and wine enthusiasts for nearly 60 years. In 1962, the winery complex added a marina to accommodate pleasure boaters. The Lonz Winery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.
After the tragic collapse of the terrace in July 2000, the state of Ohio purchased 124 acres on Middle Bass Island, including the shell of the Lonz Winery complex. The building's façade with the iconic Lonz tower, built in the 1930s, was restored. In contrast, much of the winery's upper levels could not be salvaged, but the building's footprint is preserved as an open-air plaza. Historical wine exhibits are inside the preserved cellars of Lonz Winery. These exhibits feature winemaking equipment found on the property, some as much as a century old.
Privately operated ferries offer daily service from the mainland on Catawba Island (millerferry.com, 1-800-500-2421). Golf carts and bicycles are available for rent. The Lake Erie Shores & Islands Visitors Bureau is an excellent source for travel options and ideas. See shoresandislands.com or call 1-800-441-1271.