CATAWBA ISLAND – Gideon Stiles Owen opened his commercial winery on Catawba Island in 1865. It was located on NE Catawba Road in a simple, tall wooden barn built over a stone cellar with an arched ceiling.
Remains of the cellar can still be seen in a copse of trees across from the exit driveway of Twin Oast Brewing, but not a photo or likeness of Gideon Owen.
The business was initially quite successful. But with the approach of the 20th century, orchards began replacing Catawba’s grape arbors.
Fortunately, Owen was an astute businessman and adapted well to the times. He converted the winery to a peach packing house and used excess fruit to distill brandy.
The building later became home to soup production; “soup” being the name used for the liquid lime and sulfur mixture that was sprayed on peach trees to prevent disease. Before being torn down to accommodate the widening of State Route 53, it was also used to commercially grow mushrooms.
The old white barn may be gone, but the name “Gideon Owen” is still associated with local winemaking. It was selected by the Quintin Smith family for rebranding what had been Mon Ami Restaurant and Historic Wine Company, which they purchased in 2019.
Despite the resurrection of his name and winery, a photograph of Gideon Owen, or even any other likeness of the historic vintner, was nowhere to be found.
At least not until now.
According to Craig Koerpel, a Catawba Island Historical Society (CIHS) trustee, it took nearly four years of searching, but an early illustration of the winery’s namesake has finally been discovered. It was in family records belonging to Owen’s great, great grandson, whose mother had childhood memories of Gideon. She recalled that reading a newspaper was one of his favorite pastimes.
“Bringing history to life is one of our objectives at the Historical Society,” said Koerpel. “Files, photos, and other records contributed by the community often help us piece together stories that might otherwise have been lost.”
There is no charge to visit the museum. Its cost of operation is principally underwritten by CIHS membership dues.
An additional incentive has been added this year to encourage joining the Historical Society. Those with memberships will be included in a drawing at the museum on opening day. The prize, in recognition of the Owen illustration’s discovery, is a V.I.P. cellar tour for up to eight people of today’s Gideon Owen Wine Company, including the lower vaults which are seldom open to the public. It will be followed by a wine tasting experience with charcuterie board pairings.
Information about membership in the Catawba Island Historical Society can be obtained at www.catawbaislandhistoricalsociety.com or by calling Union Chapel Museum at 419-967-5363.
Join or renew by May 13 to be included in the drawing for the private cellar tour of Gideon Owen Wine Company.