Robert Kirtland, a reporter for the Toledo Blade, wrote this interesting story about a Bellevue native in its April 15, 1997 issue. The article was one of many featured stories of various subjects in our area. And this area had many small wineries, plus the fact there were many second and third generation Italian, German and other European descendents still carrying on the tradition of winemaking.
“Sophisticated wine lovers have a chance for something better than, say, a concord by Manischewitz or Mogen David in the seder’s four ritual glasses of win after sunset next Monday. And one winemaker who deserves part of the credit is an area native, Gary Heck.
“Mr. Heck, who just turned 50 this month, is president of the family business, California’s Korbel winery. However, he doesn’t remember much of Bellevue, O., his birthplace, because he was still young when his mother and winemaker father migrated to California, after several years in the Midwest making sparkling win and advising other post-Prohibition makers of bubbly. What has stuck in his mind and heart, though, is considerable know-how about making these special wins, and a life-long love affair with the business.
“Winemakers, experts at both still and sparkling wins, were in demand when Prohibition was repealed, and with it the Volstead Act that gave it teeth, in 1934. Gary’s grandfather, Adolph, a winemaker in his native Alsace, had come to the United States around the turn of the century, and when Prohibition ended was hired by the American Wine Co. in St. Louis, Mo., to oversee the production of Cook’s Imperial champagne, the company’s line of sparkling wine.
“His son, also Adolf, was sent to Geisenheim, then as now the center of German research in grape growing and fermentation science, to learn the scientific side of the winemaker’s art. On his return to St. Louis he followed his father as the Cook’s Imperial winemaker.
“In 1944, however, it came out that a hidden partner in the ownership of the American Wine Co., unknown to the Hecks — Alsatian winemakers have far from fond memories of German rule — was Joachim von Ribbentrop, the foreign minister of Germany’s Nazi government. Once this was known, the company was promptly seized and closed down by Washington as enemy property, to be held against future wartime claims. Young Adolf was out of a job.
“Not for long, however. The Sweet Valley Winery, a Sandusky business, needed a full-time expert in the production of sparkling win, and other Lake Erie wineries were looking at least for a consultant near at hand. In 1951 the Heck family called lakeshore Ohio home and Gary was born there in 1947.
“California was — still is — at the end of many a winemaker’s rainbow, and so it was that Adolf and his brother Paul jumped at an opportunity to manage the Italian-Swiss Colony, Adolf as president and Paul as the manager of the company’s Asti winery.
“An even brighter opportunity opened soon after, for in 1954 Anton Korbel, heir of two brother who turned from lumbering in the Russian River Valley to winemaking in 1886, was ready to sell the historic winery. Since the arrival in 1896 of the Czech expert in the making of sparkling wines, Mr. Korbel had been known across the country for champagne-style wines.