BY D’ARCY EGAN
The new Gideon Owen Wine Company on the Catawba Peninsula is taking a major step back in time, replacing the iconic Mon Ami Restaurant with an even deeper historical past, and a more modern look and feel created with hardwood and stone.
While Mon Ami has not been a winery for many years, it had become one of the premier eateries in the area. When Donna and Quintin purchased the restaurant and grounds nine months ago, few could see what was coming for the sprawling facility.
“Mon Ami had been a restaurant and wine shop, but we could see it being much, much more to the community,” said Quintin Smith. “We felt it could be a wonderful place for people to get together, entertain, have something wonderful to eat and enjoy a variety of our ‘house of brands,’ depending on their mood.”
Those brands are already under construction. The building is being redesigned to create Tirage Wine Bar and French Market, which will serve a variety of wines and the typical foods found in a French Market, including grab-and-go items, home-made breads, and the amazing meats and cheese one would find at a Paris charcuterie shop.
Tirage, which will also operate as a lounge and bar, is projected to open late Spring or early Summer of this year.
Those seeking a full service menu can dine in The Chalet Restaurant, and enjoy a more intimate experience than the former Mon Ami restaurant space. The Gideon Owen Winery will be the newest and most exciting addition to the property, as the Smiths begin to create their own vineyards both around the Gideon Owen Winery and elsewhere on the Catawba Peninsula.
“We love the history that we’ve discovered here, a reason for the name. Gideon Owen founded Catawba Island’s second winery, and we only recently discovered that we own land which holds 10 out of the 30 original acres of that historic vineyard on the northern end of Catawba,” said Smith.
The Smiths plan to utilize all of the main building in the future, including the spacious, century-old original vaulted wine cellars below what is now the restaurant. The vineyards yet to be planted — both on the grounds and around the Catawba Peninsula — and the renovated wine cellars will rival California’s Napa Valley, north of San Francisco, a place where vineyards, sparkling wine and high end restaurants draw a legion of tourists and wine connoisseurs.
Grapes have not been grown on the Catawba Peninsula for many years, and the vast vineyards on the Lake Erie Islands are almost all gone, too, after prohibition shuttered the doors of almost all of the wineries in the area.
“Catawba and the Islands have the soil and the potential to be one of the best producing regions in the country. It’s our responsibility to help make that a reality,” said Smith.
The plan is to bring the vineyards and apricot, peach and other orchards back to their prominence of long ago, relying on the amazing climate of the Lake Erie shoreline and Catawba Peninsula that embraces those crops.
A Letter From the Owners
Dear Community Members,
As you may know, Donna and I took ownership of Mon Ami in June of 2019. Our decision to purchase the business stemmed from our love of the historic building, cellars, and the beautiful surrounding property. We also had concerns that another buyer would choose to commercially develop the surrounding property which in our opinion would destroy the historical nature of the land.
We have sought out and discovered many of the historical truths of this facility. An interesting fact is that the original group of fruit growers who banded together to create this national treasure, named the entity “Catawba Island’s Wine Company”. In other words, they had the wisdom to view their magnificent creation as the community’s wine company, not just theirs. It is this knowledge that has guided our efforts to restore the facility and grounds into something which will be a point of pride for the community.
It was always our intention to create our own wine label called Gideon Owen in honor of the founder of Catawba Island’s 2nd winery. We were drawn to this Historic name over 10 years ago, but only recently discovered that we own the center 10 acres of Gideon’s original 30-acre vineyard and homestead. We sense more than a simple coincidence here.
Our goals are ambitious but simple:
- Establish the first commercial vineyard with wine production on Catawba Island in over 100 years! Thereby taking Catawba Island back to its roots as one of the world’s great wine growing regions.
- Expose and showcase one of America’s lost artifacts once again to the public — the European-inspired vaulted wine cellars. These wine cellars are second to none in the entire country, and our ancestors deserve recognition for their work.
- Create a campus environment where our local community and guests can immerse themselves in Catawba Island’s history and its agricultural beauty.
- Help preserve Catawba Islands agricultural green space for our descendants.
While implementing these changes, we realized that we were creating something that was distinctively different from the present-day Mon Ami. It is with that belief that we have decided to Rebrand the Mon Ami Historic Restaurant and Winery into Gideon Owen Wine Company. Gideon Owen Wine Company will be composed of several brands — Tirage Wine Bar and French Market, The Chalet Restaurant, and The Gideon Owen Winery.
We are confident in our vision but, as with all journeys, hardships will be found along the way. We will need help and support from our community and guests, and we invite all of you to come see our roots. This is the story of a second chance.
And now, the journey begins.
Quintin and Donna Smith