This Port Clinton winery dates back to the 19th century, when wines were first made at this property along the Lake Erie shore.
The welcoming words: Mon Ami, my friend, scrolled across the arched burgundy and gold entrance sign greet visitors to John and Peggy Kronberg’s Port Clinton winery. Nearby rose bushes grow as a nod to the vineyard’s tradition of planting the flowers along each row of grapes as a way to help promote vine health. At the end of the winery’s entrance walk, wooden doors open to a cool, stone cavern.
Inside, tucked away at one of the bar’s high-top table, John is looking over paperwork as Peggy and her bustling crew prepare for the evening’s events. Mon Ami is home to as many as seven weddings each weekend and other entertainment throughout the week, creating a place of constant movement. “We keep changing it, and it’s an evolution,” says John. “Every year, we reinvent ourselves … We try to change — not the brand — but what we do and how we do it.”
He and Peggy bought the historic 19th-century property in 2000. Once steeped in the chain-restaurant industry, Peggy and John traded pizzas and burgers for the quiet elegance of the historic manor. The stone building and surrounding grounds first churned out reds, whites and bubblies in 1872, when the building was used as a cooperative winery. (Mon Ami’s grapes are grown on North Bass Island, located a short ferry ride away.)
“Because of the lake, the season was extended longer, so they could have a longer season of growing,” says John.
The pink Catawba grape variety has been a regional favorite since winning the gold medal at the Brussels World’s Fair in the late 1800s. Mon Ami continues the tradition of making it, and John credits his Italian winemaker, Claudio Salvador, with the wine’s success.
“He knows how to grow grapes, he knows how to treat them properly, he knows how to make a great wine,” adds John. “I think the secret, if there is one, is the winemaker.”
That accessibility is part of Mon Ami’s allure, but the place also exudes an elegance, with accents such as a granite, piano-shaped bar equipped with an ice inset to keep drinks cold. Antique red dining chairs from the 1950s grace the main dining room, and the building’s original wooden bar anchors a nearby sitting area.
Restaurant reservations are only accepted for holidays, but Mon Ami can — and does — accommodate large walk-in parties on a regular basis. Although French influences shape the winery’s name and look, the menu features upscale American cuisine with classics such as Alaskan crab and prime rib. The Saturday night seafood buffet is a favorite, drawing lines out the door.
A visit to the cellar of the original winery, which still houses 19th-century wine barrels, champagne-making equipment and original mortared grey stonework, provides a true taste of history. Guests can peer inside the massive dark barrels that line the walls. Barred windows scattered throughout the lower level also reflect the time when this part of the building was used as an underground prison and holding cell for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, which has led to a few ghost stories over the years.
“You can see the bars on the windows from the old days of being a jail for the prisoners. The Confederate soldiers would have been in here,” says John. “I haven’t personally experienced any ghosts. Maybe because I don’t believe, they don’t come.”
3845 E. Wine Cellar Rd., Port Clinton 43452, 419/797-4445, monamiwinery.com