Way back in the 1800s, when the Lake Erie Islands were first settled, their primary source of economic success wasn’t tourism, but wine! The soil on the “Lake Erie Wine Islands,” as they were called, produced delicious wine-making grapes including Catawba, Concord, Niagara, and Riesling. The Put-in-Bay wineries are still going strong today, producing an array of delicious wines.
If you’re a wine connoisseur or just someone who loves a good glass of Catawba, Put-in-Bay is the perfect place for a day trip. We recommend checking out the annual Wine Festival the first weekend in October on South Bass Island, but the area’s wineries are happy to welcome you any time of year.
There are so many fantastic wineries around the Lake Erie Islands, that you have a few options on how you want to organize your Put-in-Bay wineries day trip. Take your pick from two different routes:
Getting to the islands Option A: Straight to South Bass
Make sure to arrive a little early to Jet Express’ Port Clinton dock in time to park and board the boat. Most wineries on the islands open around 11 a.m. You can dock a bit early to do a little exploring prior to wine sipping, or make your way across the bay closer to opening time. Jet Express has a wide variety of departure times during the week with the earliest leaving the dock at 8:30 a.m. during peak season.
The ferry has restroom access and allows passengers to bring on any food, drinks or even their bikes! Tickets for the ferry can be purchased online or in person. Round trip for adults is $35. Jet Express provides convenient parking for travelers, and the parking lot is conveniently located across the street from the dock allowing for easy boarding. Parking is only $12 for the whole day so passengers can spend as much time on the islands without worrying about the parking fees they may incur throughout the day.
The journey to South Bass Island amounts to thirty minutes dock to dock. You can choose to spend the day sticking to the Put-in-Bay wineries on South Bass, or take a different route and make a bonus stop to Kelley’s Island.
Getting to the islands Option B: Bonus stop at Kelley’s Island
The trip to Kelley’s Island starts at our dock in Downtown Sandusky instead of Port Clinton. The route stops at Kelley’s Island, then South Bass Island before making the trip in reverse back to Kelley’s Island, then to Downtown Sandusky. If you choose this route, park for free in the public garage, then head over to board The Jet Express. Round trip for adults from Sandusky to Put-in-Bay with a stop at Kelley’s is $40.
Once you dock on the south side of Kelley’s Island, you can rent a golf cart at one of the establishments right near the dock or take the 15-20 minute walk over to Kelley’s Island Wine Co. Since 1982, this winery off the main drag of Kelley’s Island has been growing grapes on property and bottling their own wines. They offer a full food menu and seven different original wine blends.
Once you’ve had your fill of the gorgeous scenery on Kelley’s Island, you can head back to the main dock. From the Kelley’s Island dock, The Jet Express can take you straight to South Bass Island for the next stop on your wine-sipping itinerary.
South Bass Island Activities for Wine Fanatics
Whether you choose to travel straight to South Bass Island or come from Kelley’s Island, you’ll dock directly in Downtown Put-in-Bay, meaning you do not need to worry about how you will be getting to your island destinations. Disembarking right in the heart of downtown, making it easy to secure transportation and navigate to your next stop. It’s easiest to get around the island and take in every stop on the itinerary by renting a golf cart for the day.
Start your time on South Bass with a hop, skip and a jump over from The Jet Express docks to the Put-in-Bay Winery, located in downtown Put-in-Bay. The winery opened its doors in 2009 on the old Doller House property, home to one of Put-in-Bay’s wealthiest citizens, Valentine Doller. The winery offers a tasting tour through the old Doller Mansion as well as a wine making tour that shows the process from grape to bottle and ends in the wine tasting room and gift shop. They also offer an excellent view of the Harbor and Gibraltar Island from the front porch of the mansion.
Heineman’s Winery and Crystal Cave
After your time at Put-in-Bay Winery, take a break for a hearty lunch at your choice of the many restaurants in Downtown Put-in-Bay. Then head over to South Bass Island’s second prominent winery, Heineman’s Winery, which has been famous for its island wines since 1888! Heineman’s offers a tour of its wine making process with a wine sample included. But the winery is also famous for its location right on top of the world’s largest geode, known as Crystal Cave. Your winery tour ticket comes with a tour of the sparkling cave, which has drawn tourists for well over a century. In fact, during Prohibition Era, tours of the cave and sales of non-alcoholic grape juice kept the winery running. Enjoy a wine flight on the patio and don’t forget to order the cheese platter for a snack!
After your relaxing day at the Put-in-Bay wineries, it’s time to head back to the dock for the boat ride back to the mainland. Depending on where you came from, board the ship back to Kelley’s Island and Downtown Sandusky or the one heading straight back to Port Clinton Once back aboard the Jet Express make sure to grab a seat on the top deck to take in the views!
Your day doesn’t have to stop here! Gideon Owen Wine Company is located on Catawba Island, just a ten-minute drive from The Jet Express dock in Port Clinton and a 25 minute drive from the Sandusky dock. Drive responsibly, and enjoy one last hurrah at Catawba Island’s first commercial vineyard in over 100 years. Their delicious wines, full service restaurant and live entertainment are the perfect way to end your day on Lake Erie.
Ride with Jet Express
A quick day trip is an easy way to have a fun outing with family and friends for an adventure everyone will enjoy. Once you have decided to take a day trip to the Put-in-Bay wineries, visit Jet Express to purchase your ferry tickets. You won’t regret it!