||During the mid-1800's, Middle Bass Island was a remote, sleepy little grape farming community. But a German settler named Andrew Wehrle changed all that when he conceived the idea of building a winery on his property at the southern tip of the island. Wehrle, a stonecutter by trade, began by carving a 14-foot deep wine cellar out of the island's native limestone. Over the winery he added a dance pavilion that could hold hundreds. By 1875, the Golden Eagle was reputed to be the largest winery in the United States.
The following year, Andrew Wehrle hired a winemaker named peter Lonz. Peter brought his wife Maggie to the island and worked for Wehrle for five and a half years before starting his own winery about a mile north of the Golden Eagle.
As Wehrle's Golden Eagle Winery flourished, so did his fortune. A short distance from the Winery-Ballroom, he built his own imposing residence, regarded as one of the finest in the county.
Then, as today, the island are of Lake Erie attracted thousands of visitors and dignitaries, including five U.S. Presidents with one of the more frequent being William Howard Taft. Vacationers came by steamboat from as far as Buffalo, Erie and Detroit to dance in the ballroom and sample the fine island wines.
Fire destroyed the Wehrle Mansion in 1906, and to accommodate a growing tourist trade, Wehrle built the 60-room Hotel Hill Crest in its place along with what was later to become the Lonz Manor House. Another devastating fire in 1923 completely destroyed the dance pavilion and beautiful hotel. This time, the fire, along with Prohibition, brought an end to the Wehrle Era and a beginning to the reign of Ohio's Wine King, George Lonz.
As a young man, George Lonz was an accomplished violinist and had contemplated a musical career. He met his wife Fannie at a music program for the inmates of the Marysville Reformatory in which they were both invited to perform. But George joined his father's business as general manager and in the years to follow, George and Fannie limited their music to performing duets for visitors. When George and Fannie purchased what was left of Wehrle's property during Prohibition, they kept the business solvent by selling grape juice with instructions on how to make wine vinegar. Now to make wine vinegar, you must first make wine. Needless to say, they sold a lot of grape juice!
Following the repeal of Prohibition in 1934, George designed the castle-like structure that still stands today above Wehrle's original wine cellars. Recently, the wine cellars at Lonz were added to the National Register of Historic Places, the nation's official list of places which are significant in American History.
Lonz Winery was gutted by fire once more in 1941. This time, all the wooden superstructure of the winery was destroyed, along with several casks of wine. All that was left was the stone. But a determined George Lonz rebuilt his winery, this time adding a copper dome from which he spent many evenings gazing at the stars through a telescope.
The land has since been purchased by the state of Ohio, with the intention that it will eventually become a state park site, preserving a piece of Ohio's history on this picturesque island.
Lonz wines, now part of a corporation bearing its name, continue to be made by enologist Claudio Salvador. Born in Italy, where he received his education and experience in the art of winemaking, Claudio has been making the signature Lonz wines since 1979. Combining his knowledge of wine making, continuing research, meticulous vinification, and creative effort, he has produced a new class of Lonz wines that are winning national awards. The same pride, the same determination and the same standards set by Andrew Wehrle and George Lonz continue today as we expand and improve on the fine wines bearing the Lonz name.