By Jane Beathard
As state representative, Chris Redfern once spoke for the people of northwest Ohio. Now he’s promoting year-round tourism in the region with a new winery and inn on the historic Marblehead Peninsula in western Lake Erie.
Red Fern Inn at Rocky Point Winery represents a second career for the 50-year-old former chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party who also served 15 years in the state’s general assembly.
“I wanted to do something different from politics,” Redfern said. “I had some experience in private sector business and thought the area needed an inn.”
A life-long resident of Ottawa County, Redfern aims to expand the traditional mid-April to mid-October tourism season on Lake Erie and attract visitors all year round.
A winery and associated inn seemed logical choices in a neighborhood where half the homes are vacation getaways.
“I wanted to tap into that market,” he said.
Redfern and wife, Kim, bought the former Marblehead Schoolhouse in July 2014 and opened the inn five months later.
Winery doors opened last spring. Dianne Rozak, a local township trustee, suggested the name Rocky Point – the peninsula’s original moniker.
The 112-year-old rambling stone structure, a centerpiece of Marblehead Village, had already undergone extensive renovation and most recently served as a gift and ice-cream shop.
The Redferns added their own updates, turning four apartments on the building’s west side into luxurious guest suites with modern kitchens, baths and bedrooms. The east side became a winery tasting room and patio where visitors could sip, unwind, chat and listen to live music on summer weekends.
The Galley Restaurant next door agreed to deliver snacks and meals to overnight guests and winery visitors, sparing in-house food preparation chores.
Initially, Redfern did not plan to become a vintner himself. All that changed under the tutelage of Claudia Salvador, manager of Firelands Winery in nearby Sandusky.
Salvador urged Redfern to invest in wine-making equipment and develop his own Rocky Point label to augment the 20-plus California and European varieties already on the winery’s extensive list.
As a result, Redfern currently has 600 bottles of sweet pink Catawba aging in Rocky Point casks.
“They will be ready in a couple of weeks,” he said in August.
His goal is to eventually develop six more varieties, using as many locally-grown grapes as possible. Firelands will process and bottle the wines under a current arrangement.
“I would like to say in a few winters we will do it all,” Redfern said.
In addition to wine, Rocky Point offers craft beers, vodka and bourbon from a half-dozen Ohio breweries and distilleries.
“We try to offer liquors and beers that are different,” he added.
Redfern also wants to host weddings, corporate meetings, holiday parties and family reunions. With 10 employees now on staff, the inn and winery are prepared for gatherings both large and small, he said.
Business is good thus far.
“We’re exceeding occupancy projections at the inn,” he said. “And the winery has been a success.”
Viewing statehouse politics and policies from a distance has also proved to be fun for the couple.
“We’re enjoying this aspect of our lives,” Redfern said. “It gives us a chance to reflect on business and life.”
As for the future, he won’t rule out politics altogether.
“I have no more political aspirations – at least not today,” Redfern joked.
Jane is a retired staff writer for The Madison Press in London, and the retired media relations manager of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.