Tools of the Trade


Published: 04/20/2015

by Nina Polien Light

Photos

    When Duke Bixler and his family quietly booked a few weddings in The Tool Shed about two years ago, they had no idea how popular the newest structure on their picturesque property would become.
    “With each wedding we had there, there’d be two or three others that would come from it,” said Bixler, owner of Breitenbach Wine Cellars, where The Tool Shed is located. “Now, we’re booking weddings into 2016.”
    At 16,000-square-foot, The Tool Shed is named to reflect the site where Bixler exercises the tools of his trade. It is here that he barrel ages wine varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in mostly French oak barrels. The barrels only occupy part of the space, so Bixler decided to offer the venue for special events. To date, The Tool Shed’s aging and production facilities have formed a unique backdrop for weddings, church services, large furniture sales, reunions and other affairs.
    From the hilltop event center, guests enjoy an expansive view that encompasses Breitenbach’s vineyards, German-influenced buildings and a vista that spans up to seven miles on a clear day. Folks also appreciate the property’s history, which includes a storied amphitheater.
    “At one time, the property was a country music venue,” Bixler explained. “The stage in the Roadhouse Amphitheater hosted some of the biggest names in country music, like Johnny Cash and Reba McIntyre. But the fellow who owned it went out of business and the property sat empty for years, was vandalized and became fallow land. I purchased it, restored the amphitheater and music facility and built The Tool Shed.”
    Of course, one of The Tool Shed’s biggest draws is the chance for guests to sip the award-winning wines which Breitenbach has been producing since Bixler and his wife, Cynthia, founded the winery in 1980. Over the years, the family-owned winery has earned silver, gold, double gold and Concordance gold medals from competitions around the world.
    Not bad for a guy who went into the winemaking business blind.
    “I never made wine and never saw a winery before I built one,” Bixler admitted. “I had a lot of bad ideas to start with. So I did a lot of reading and traveled all over the world to the wine areas of France, Italy, Portugal, California and New York State. I still go to seminars and wine shows.”
    In the beginning, folks laughed at what they thought was Bixler’s folly in starting a vineyard in Dover, the heart of Amish country. At the time, the state’s only wineries were located along Lake Erie or the Ohio River. But Bixler was confident his dreams would come to fruition.
    What began as the state’s smallest winery is now one of Ohio’s largest. The full-production winery grows, crushes, ferments and distributes. The initial production of 3,500 gallons of wine has grown to more than 100,000 gallons of wine annually, including longtime bestsellers Frost Fire, Roadhouse Red and First Crush. In addition to these wines that carry what Bixler calls “fanciful names,” Breitenbach produces vinifera varieties such as Viognier, Riesling,
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Zinfandel and Sangiovese. Fruit, berry and dandelion wines are also big draws.
    Some 10,000 grapevines and 2,000 blackberry bushes thrive at Breitenbach. Other grapes are grown at vineyards across the Midwest and in Oregon and Washington.
    “We have contracted with what I feel to be the best growers in the country of different varieties,” Bixler said. “I work closely with the growers, so the grapes are grown to my specifications.”
    But Breitenbach is more than a winery.
    “I’m very much into offering something for the whole family to enjoy,” said Bixler, whose wife, daughters Anita Davis and
Jennifer Kohler, sons-in-law Scott Kohler and Brinley Davis and grandchildren work
in the business. “We wanted a family experience. We offer not just a full range of wines, but a full range of gourmet foods, smoked meats and cheeses, unusual gifts and antiques—things nobody else does. We strive to be different. When we see somebody copy what we’re doing, we’ll change it up and stay one step ahead of the game.” w

    Breitenbach Wine Cellars is located at 5934 Old Road 39 Northwest, in Dover. Hours are Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., with tours every Friday and Saturday at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. The phone number is 330-343-3603 and the website is BreitenbachWine.com.