Chateau Tebeau Winery, Helena
Embracing their love for French wines, Mary and Bob Tebeau make guests feel right at home at their Sandusky County winery.
Mary and Bob Tebeau’s winery rises from the seemingly endless farm fields of northwest Ohio, just outside the tiny burg of Helena. A stand of tall pine trees bordering rows of carefully manicured grapevines is the first indication you’ve arrived. The second is the sight of the inviting stone-and-gray-sided Chateau Tebeau Winery as you turn down the gravel driveway.
It’s a slice of rural charm combined with French influence and the welcoming atmosphere of a friend’s home. That environment is by design. The Tebeaus live on the property in a home next to the winery. A gazebo in their backyard overlooks an immaculately landscaped koi pond, rows of grapevines and a stage where musicians perform on the weekends.
“The customers can sit anywhere except inside the house,” Mary says with a grin.
From the pond to the wine bottle labels to the decor in the tasting room, the couple has infused the property with personal touches. They chose each of the stones that landscape the patio area around the pond at the back of the property and carefully planted a variety of flowers.
“It makes you feel like you’re in Provence, doesn’t it?” Bob says as he walks by a fragrant patch of lavender.
After retiring from running nursing homes throughout the region, the couple was looking for a new outlet. They had already bought the land where the winery sits, originally with the idea that it would be the perfect place for Bob to hunt deer.
Then a remnant of one of their longtime hobbies sparked an idea. The Tebeaus had made wine on and off for several years. One Christmas in the 1980s, they even printed their own labels and gave bottles of their homemade wine as gifts.
“We made labels that said ‘Chateau Tebeau’ on them never knowing we’d actually have a winery,” Mary says.
Today, one of those bottles sits in the bar area, next to a dollar bill from their first customers — their neighbors — when the winery’s tasting room opened in 2010. “I made wine for 40 years,” Bob says. “Now, I make it bigger.”
The couple takes seminars at The Ohio State University and Kent State University to learn techniques and have visited France to get inspiration for special blends of wine. Today, they grow five varieties of grapes and make French-style wines, which they chose because of Bob’s French ancestry. Cuvée rouge, a dry red blend; traminette, a dry white; and frontenac dessert wine are just a few.
They also have a menu that incorporates fresh herbs and vegetables from a garden on the property. Offerings have included smoked salmon pate and lox and bagels. The winery also serves staples like panini sandwiches and flatbread pizzas and offers special cookout events throughout the summer.
Over the years, the Tebeaus have expanded their production area, as well as their tasting room, and their wines have won awards at national, state and regional competitions. Their most popular is the Harvey Schwartz Concord sweet red.
The Tebeaus named the wine after a friend who offered to help when the Tebeaus first planted their vineyard. He died a week later in a plane crash. Harvey Schwartz was the alias he used when performing skits at their church.
“He was such a good person,” Mary recalls. “We told his wife that if we actually got the winery going, we would name a wine for him.”
Mary designs the labels for each bottle of wine, which feature the couple’s beloved deceased beagle, Freddy, as well as the vineyard at sunset and other motifs. Inside the tasting room, the head of an elk Bob shot while bow hunting in New Mexico hangs above the fireplace.
Bob’s paintings hang on the walls, and stained glass windows taken from one of the couple’s former nursing homes are built into the arch in the tasting room. Bob even crafted many of the tables from old barrels in which the winery aged its wines.
For the Tebeaus, the operation has become more than a business. It’s a way to share their passion for wine with locals and travelers alike.
“I love meeting all the new people,” Bob says, “and hearing their stories of other wineries.” Tues.–Wed. 11 a.m.–7 p.m., Thur.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. (May–August), Thur.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. (September–December), Thur.–Sat. 2–10 p.m. (January–April); 525 St. Rte. 635, Helena 43435, 419/638-5411, chateautebeauwinery.com