Cultivating Catawba Island: Twin Oast Brewing and Gideon Owen Wine Co.

Discover how the Smith family hopes to preserve the history and charm of this Ohio island while offering their own take on wine, beer and dishes to pair with them.

Quintin and Donna Smith weren’t expecting to fall in love with apricots.

Yet, their first farm, a 16-acre apricot orchard they bought in 2009 and named QuinStock Farms, sparked a passion for Catawba Island’s unique microclimate — and for preserving land for generations to come. The family now owns 176 acres in the area that are home to both Twin Oast Brewing and Gideon Owen Wine Co.

“We can grow apricots on Catawba Island, and we’ll have a crop nine out of 10 years,” Quintin says. “But, if you go 10 miles in on the mainland, you’ll have a crop two out of 10 years.”

While they didn’t know it at the time, that orchard was just the beginning.

The couple’s move from Port Clinton, Ohio, just down the road to Catawba Island (which, technically, is a peninsula) was fueled by a yearning to reconnect with their agricultural roots. For decades, Quintin’s main focus was Northern Manufacturing, a steel fabricating company in Oak Harbor, Ohio, that had been in the family since 1975.

“I grew up on a farm and didn’t realize until after I got my career that I enjoyed farming as a hobby,” Quintin says, adding that he discovered the area’s potential for fruit crops by planting “a Noah’s ark of fruit trees” and seeing what flourished.

That kept the couple busy for a while, but soon they turned their attention to helping their son, Cory, achieve a dream of his own — opening a sustainable microbrewery that celebrates the bounty of Catawba.

In 2018, nearly 10 years after buying and cultivating their apricot farm, Cory and his family launched Twin Oast Brewing. Embracing a “farm to fermenter” philosophy, the family experiments with homegrown fruits, herbs and even yeast from the property’s orchards to create innovative brews.

“My dad’s passion for restoring green space and my passion for brewing were perfect for this,” says Cory. “I still catch myself walking around and seeing that it’s something extremely special and beyond what I ever dreamed it could be.”

In addition to the 17 beers on tap, the menu features elevated gastropub fare designed to complement the drinks. The perch tacos, a family recipe, includes a hint of spice that pairs perfectly with the Old Ohio, an easy-drinking blonde ale with a citrus finish. And the pizzas marry well with a glass of Legitimate Swells, a fruity IPA.

Just a year after opening Twin Oast, Quintin and Donna doubled down on their passion for preserving the island’s heritage by saving the former Mon Ami Restaurant & Historic Winery from a proposed development and reopening it in 2020 as Gideon Owen Wine Co. Cory recalls his dad’s drive to learn everything he could about its history.

“He calls the Lake Erie islands the original Napa Valley because the grape-growing region around here was huge,” Cory says.

Built in the 1870s, the structure served as home to Catawba Island Wine Co., a cooperative winery in which a group of local farmers and grape growers pulled together their funds and resources to purchase bigger equipment and barrels with less individual financial risk. The land itself was cultivated by winemaker Gideon Owen. That’s why, when the Smith family bought the winery, they leaned into that rich history.

“Quintin and I always say that we’re just curators of the building,” Donna says, “and hope to pass it on to someone who will love it as much as we do.”

Today, Gideon Owen Wine Co. still exudes a sense of grandeur and history. Yet the Smiths have incorporated state-of-the-art technology, most notably in the Tirage Wine Bar, where the walls are lined with temperature-controlled wine stations offering both 1-ounce tastings and regular pours of 48 wines from around the world. The property also offers cellar tours, guiding visitors through the fascinating world of winemaking.

Another option is to simply relax by sinking into a leather chair by the fire pit, savoring lunch or dinner in the recently renovated chalet or unwinding with live music on the patio.

As for the food, expect elevated dishes that complement the extensive wine list. Whether you choose to indulge in a gourmet meal or enjoy a light bite, the focus is on creating harmonious pairings between food and wine.

“Our goal was to rejuvenate the atmosphere and have a wonderful dining experience,” Quintin says. “We have prime ribs and steaks, but the ambiance is casual and relaxing.”

In 2022, with the help of winemaker Brad Indoe, Gideon Owen began crafting its own award-winning wines again using grapes grown on the south shore of Lake Erie. Already, people are in love with the flavors. In 2023, Gideon Owen took home five medals at the Great American International Wine competition including gold for the 2022 pinot grigio. This year, the winery won 14 medals between the Ohio Wine Competition and the Great American International Competition including gold for his 2023 Rose of Pinot Noir.

It’s no surprise that the Smith family isn’t stopping there.

Just last year, they increased their acreage once again by acquiring Catawba Island Brewing Co., which — for now — they’ll utilize as a distribution and production space. Here, the team will be free to focus on creative sour ale creations, which will be available on tap at Twin Oast. “We even have the ability to use the yeast from the fruit that we grow,” Cory says. “That’s hyper-local and super exciting.”

Quintin and Donna, meanwhile, are full speed ahead in their commitment to reviving the area’s rich agricultural heritage of orchard planting and grape cultivation on Catawba Island.

“It’s something they do because they love it, not because they have to, and it shows,” Cory says of his parents’ passion for preserving Catawba Island. “It’s really inspiring.”