Rose Marie Petrovic and Tony Debevc

 
debevc.jpg

Rose Marie Petrovic and Tony Debevc met at Madison on the Lake when she, the city girl, vacationed with her friends in a cottage near the water. He, the country boy, was, according to Rose, 'a very kind and handsome man.' He lived on the grape farm that his father, Anton, had established in 1916. She had worked at the Halle's tea room in downtown ClevelandDuring their courtship, he used the farm's gas ration cards to drive to the east side to visit. While their backgrounds were vastly different, they shared a Slovenian heritage and over more than 60 years, Rose and Tony built a wonderful life together, raised a family of which they are very proud and helped establish a business that is nationally respected.

They married in 1943 in the middle of the war and soon purchased almost 90 acres adjacent to Anton's propertySeventeen acres of grapes were planted. Tony worked on the wells at the old Diamond Alkali in Fairport to pay off the property and support his family. He built his bride a tiny 2 room house, affectionately known as the 'chicken coop.' Their home had no telephone and only outdoor plumbing, seemingly a difficult lifestyle for the city girl. But they were happy because they shared a wonderful marriage. After the birth of their children, Donniella in 1945 and Anthony Paul in 1947, Tony spent the next 4 years building the 'new' house, based on Rose's design, from logs he cut himself off the woods overlooking the Grand RiverDuring the next 50 or so years, as their family grew, they enjoyed an enviable life, surrounded by a cadre of dozens of friends, known as 'the gang,' with whom they shared pinochle games and popcorn and/or danced to Slovenian polkas on Saturday nights.

In those days, the grapes, all concord, were sold to Fischer-Speigel and later to Smuckers. Tony was a founding member of the Tri-County Grape Growers Association. Whenever the spring frosts killed an annual production, Tony worked in construction to keep the bills paid and the kids in college.

When son Anthony Paul, at the urging of people like Roy Kottman and Garth Cahoon, came home from Ohio State with the grand idea to start a winery, Tony and Rose willingly mortgaged the farm and at age 52 and 57 helped establish Chalet Debonne'Vineyards in 1971. It was the first winery in the area since the days of Prohibition. Most of the neighborhood thought they were 'nuts.'

Over the years, vineyards were expanded, the tiny A frame building with 35 seats grew into a complex of hospitality rooms, state of the art cellars, juice houses, band stands, private tasting rooms, grape arbors and a most recently, a new complex to host dinners and banquets. A small Catawba Festival, established in 1974, drew several hundred local imbibers. It was replaced in the early eighties when the annual June Balloon Race was created. Weekly crowds grew from a few loyal locals, to thousands of annual visitors from nearly every state in the union. Through all the years, Tony has managed the vineyards and Rose the 'the books' as son Anthony Paul and his wife Beth pursued a dynamic business plan based on growth, quality fruit and fine wines. Daughter Donniella began working for the fledgling Ohio Wine Producers Association.

As their business grew, so did its reputation. The winery emerged as a local 'labrusca' producer but grew to become one of the largest and most respected estate wineries east of the Rockies. Its wines annually win gold medals in competitions against some of the world's best labels. They have hosted senators and governors in their cellars. When Vineyard and Winery Management magazine established its 'wine family of the year' award, the first family chosen were the Debevcs from Madison, Ohio.

Since the winery's establishment, in various ways and times, other family members have participated in the business. Granddaughters and grandsons, and now even great grandchildren can be seen in and about the winery grounds. Currently, besides son Anthony and his wife Beth, granddaughter Michelle and most recently grandson Tony Scott are actively involved in the business.

Rose and Tony celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary last June. In March, he will be 89 and still spends part of the winter and much of the spring tending his beloved vineyards. This April she will be 84 and still spends thirty to forty hours each week on winery business. The 'gang,' that ubiquitous circle of their wonderful friends, still play pinochle, travel together on bus trips and generally have enjoyed great friendships, fine wine and wonderful experiences for more than six decades. Rose and Tony's children and generations to come are firmly entrenched in the wine business. Their lives are blessed - and they can be truly proud of the significant contributions they have made to Ohio's grape and wine community.

We are honored to induct Rose Marie and Tony Joseph Debevc inducted the Ohio Wine Hall of Fame.

 
Ashlee Hayes