When I think about Put-in-Bay, thoughts of summertime come to mind – balmy weather and a cool breeze coming off the mirror-smooth lake. However, this past weekend I was surprised to learn how Lake Erie’s islands are also the perfect Fall escape when we visited for Put-in-Bay’s Island Wine Festival.
We drove out to Catawba early Saturday morning and hopped on the Miller Ferry. The winds and whitecaps were pitching the boat around so I stuck downstairs to avoid getting seasick (or would it be ‘lakesick’?). We had fun, though – it was a bit like going on a water ride at Cedar Point.
Everyone unloaded onto South Bass Island when the Ferry docked – it was time to hunt down transportation! From shuttles to walking to bikes, there are plenty of ways to get around Put-in-Bay. My favorite? Zipping around the island on a golf cart.
At the top of the hill leading away from the ferry dropoff is Island Bike and Cart Rental where you can rent an electric golf cart from 2 to 6 seats. If you’d rather some exercise while touring the island, they also rent bikes for the day. This is who we usually use when we visit Put-in-Bay and Saturday was no different.
Because we had a very full day ahead of us, we huffed our way up the hill to be first in line for a cart. A little short of breath but keys in hand, we were off to our first destination: Perry’s Cave.
Named after the Commodore who is credited with discovering the cave during the War of 1812, Perry’s Cave offers a fun journey underground for amateur spelunkers.
The highlight of the tour was the underground lake, famously used for drinking water by Perry’s men during the war as well as Put-in-Bay’s infamous Hotel Victory in the early 1900s.
In addition to Perry’s Cave, the grounds has expanded to offer a full family fun center. We got a combo ticket for the day which allowed us to pick 3 attractions from their list of 5. Even though Scott and I don’t have kids, we had a whole lot of fun acting like them.
We took a break from the cold in their Butterfly House, a large greenhouse home to hundreds of beautiful butterflies. A few of them seemed to really like Scott, landing on him as he walked.
And for our third attraction, we tried our hand at Fort aMAZE’n. The maze may not look that tough from the outside, but let’s just say I didn’t do so “amazing” in navigating my way through. At least I gave Scott a good laugh as he watched me backtrack through the maze from his perch in the observation tower:
While the combo pass also includes the War of 18Holes mini-golf and a rockwall, there’s a free exhibit I really recommend not missing out on the next time you visit. Tucked away in the back corner of the property is Skip’s Antique Barn. This free museum features the impressive antique car collection of Charles “Skip” Duggan, who started the Island’s weekly antique car parade.
Highlights included the Popcorn-Peanut Wagon and Put-in-Bay’s oldest automobile, but the jewel of the collection for me was this 1924 Model T snowmobile:
After our visit to Perry’s Cave, we drove across the street to Heineman’s Winery. Although their wines are a little sweet for my taste, I like going to Heineman’s for their patio and the Crystal Cave, the world’s largest geode.
The cave is currently closed for the season (which runs May-September) but Scott satisfied his sweet tooth with a glass of his favorite Pink Catawba.
Our brief stop at Heineman’s was just a taste of what was to come, as we headed over to the Island Wine Festival at the Put-in-Bay Winery. Showcasing over 350 different wines – a healthy mix of both local and international – the Wine Festival was a delicious way to warm up on that blustery Fall afternoon.
Cozied up in our coats and hats, Scott and I walked through the tasting tent and around the Doller Estate sipping white wines and grabbing a bite to eat from Old Forge Cafe and Creperie.
While Scott opted for their dessert crepe filled with dark chocolates, caramel and sea salt with a side of whipped cream, their savory prosciutto crepe hit the spot for me.
The prosciutto was paired with fresh pears, goat cheese and arugula – flavors that were all sharpened with a balsamic reduction.
Having found success with their crepe cart this past summer, Old Forge is setting up shop next door to the Put-in-Bay Brewing Co. in 2013. Definitely pay them a visit next summer!
Out of the 20 or so wines we tasted, our favorite – Twilight from Vermilion winery Paper Moon – had us going back for multiple tastings and eventually a bottle. The sweet and spiced blush instantly gave me red cheeks – a great wine for the brisk weather we’ve been having. We also took in a bit of grape-stomping and checked out the Doller House’s gazebo and tasting room.
With all of the time we spent at the Festival, my only regret was missing the day’s winery tours and not actually picking up a bottle of one of Put-in-Bay Winery’s wines (loved their sparking moscato Celebration!). However, I’m looking on the bright side: this gives me yet another excuse to return next season.
Before catching the last ferry out, Scott and I made a pit-stop at the Put-in-Bay Brewing Co. to get some fortification against the cold with a beer and bowl of Guinness Onion soup. While their Pass Out Stout didn’t have the kick I was expecting from the Kentucky Bourbon it was aged in, the oatmeal stout did offer a nice smooth finish. We also got to catch a glimpse at Perry’s Monument – it was nice to see the scaffolding off of it and I’ll be making time next trip to take the elevator ride to the top.
Put-in-Bay may be slowing down for the upcoming winter, but there are still a few great Fall parties to enjoy on the Island in 2012:
- This coming weekend – Oct. 13 and 14 – is their annual OktoberFest. Held in DeRivera Park in downtown Put-in-Bay, it’ll feature German food and beer, island wines and entertainment.
- On Saturday, October 20, the Roundhouse Bar will mourn the passing of another season at their annual “Put-in-Bay Wake“.
- And the last big weekend of the year takes place Saturday, October 27 when all of the downtown taverns celebrate Halloween with decorations, costumes and parties.
Whether you go for one of these events or just to take in some of the Island’s attractions, the Miller Ferry runs regularly through November 25th so bundle up and spend a day on Put-in-Bay.
Disclosure: I was invited by the Miller Ferry Service to spend a day on Put-in-Bay and share my experiences. I was provided with roundtrip tickets on the ferry and a golfcart rental. I was also invited by Perry’s Cave and the wine festival to visit during my trip. As always, though, the opinions expressed here are my own.