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Before setting sail for the new world, English Pilgrims carefully calculated what items would fit into their trunks. Necessities such as: a Bible, a good knife, some warm winter clothing and a bottle or two of wine, usually a French Bordeaux, were included. Some kind of alcohol was considered a necessity because water had a bad reputation in seventeenth century Europe, where much of the water was polluted. The colonists believed that the same situation existed in the the new world. So, before setting sail they stocked their ships with as much alcohol, of various kinds, as possible. It was not unusual for a Pilgrim ship, setting sail for America, to be stocked with three times as much beer as water, along with several thousand gallons of wine, and whatever hard liquor the passengers packed in their trunks.
When these thirsty pioneers reached the Connecticut shores, they were surprised to find that the water was drinkable, and that wild grapes, red and white, thrived throughout their new home territory. As settlements in this state grew, wine made from these wild grapes became a staple beverage. It was presented hot and mulled to preachers during long sermons, given to children as medicine, and often served to funeral home visitors during wakes. This sweet homemade brew sustained many families during the long winter nights.
As the 17th century advanced, the popularity of wine was challenged by a variety of other beverages. Shiploads of rum from the West Indies, along with a variety of wines from France appeared. As apple orchards were flourishing, families began drinking hard apple cider with every meal. Despite all of this competition, enough people were still growing grapes in large enough quantities to keep the grape culture alive in the state, and new vineyards continued to spring up all over Connecticut. However, the Temperance Movement was slowly gaining influence. Laws were being passed that threatened to kill the retail wine sales that wineries depended on for survival. In 1922, the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act were passed. These two laws made the production, sale, and distribution of most alcoholic beverages, including wine, illegal in this country. Wine vineyards in Connecticut went into a steep decline and started to vanish from the landscape. Even after the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed in 1933, local laws in Connecticut made commercial wine making impossible. Finally, in 1978, Governor Ella T. Grasso signed the Farm Wine Act into law, which allowed the production and sale of wine to be legal in this state. By 1979, several vineyards were distilling and selling wine to the public. Today, there are about 33 farm wineries in this state. They all produce a variety of distinctive quality wines that have captured the interest of wine lovers here. It is difficult to drive for 45 minutes in any direction in this state without driving by a thriving vineyard. It would not be a stretch to say everyone living in Connecticut has a vineyard in their backyard.
Last month, my wife Tricia and I spent a weekend in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, where farm wineries have been thriving for many years. I returned to Connecticut with a renewed interest in local wines, especially those produced by the 33 farm vineyards here in Connecticut. My first choice for a visit to a local vineyard was by chance. I was hiking along the Talcott Mountain Ridge, searching the skies for bald eagles riding the thermals rising up from the valley floor. When I got to the Heublein Tower to the west, I stopped to rest. While panning the valley floor to the east with my binoculars, I caught sight of a large red barn with two fields of grape vines in front of it. I hurried back to my car and headed in that direction. My first visit to a Connecticut farm vineyard had begun.
Rosedale Farm and Vineyards is my first stop on the Connecticut Wine Trail. It has been a successful farm since 1920, offering Farmington Valley residents a wide variety of high-quality fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Inspired by a talented and innovative local winemaker with over 20 years of wine making experience, the owners established a four-acre vineyard, accompanied by a wine bar offering free tastings. Their first vintage was available in 2005. Since then their wines have captured medals in several prestigious wine competitions. Their red wines are very popular throughout the valley, so for my first purchase from a Connecticut winery I chose Lou’s Red. This is a medium body red table wine which is juice from Merlot and Marechal Foch grapes. I gave this bottle to my son Michael to taste. He was impressed with how smooth and easy to drink it was. That is a special compliment, especially from a man who favors more robust wines like Zinfandel.
A few days after visiting Rosedale, I headed north to visit a small vineyard in New Hartford. The winery was founded in 1998 and is owned and operated by Jim Jerram, a man with extensive experience in the food and beverage industry. The winery sits close the vineyards and gardens with patios and decks for guests to relax and enjoy a glass of wine on a warm sunny afternoon.
McLaughlin Vineyards features an afternoon of Shakespeare
McLaughlin Vineyards is a family owned and operated vineyard located on a 160-acre farm in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. The farm shares land with the Upper Paugussett State Forest where bald eagles can be sighted on a cold winter day. This was one of the first farms to establish a winery after the state made it legal to make wine commercially. This vineyard produces over 2,500 cases of grapes from about 15 acres of vines. My visit was prompted by more than an opportunity to tour the winery and vineyards. My son Michael is a member of a professional theater group that tours New England performing the works of Shakespeare. On this day, the group was presenting the tragedy King Lear at the vineyard. Michael portrays the rich and clueless son of Gloucester, one of the kingdom’s most powerful men. Edgar survives being convicted of plotting to kill his father by disguising himself as Tom O’Bedlam, a crazy man who wanders around begging for food. Near the end of the play, Edgar is crowned King.
The 2nd Annual Connecticut Wine Festival will be celebrated at the Durham State Fair later this month. In attendance will be seven of the state’s established wineries. We will also be there to record and share the excitement with you.
Chimney Bluffs State Park is located on the southern shore of Lake Ontario in the town Huron, New York. The bluffs line the eastern shore of Sodus Bay. These towering and ever-changing mud cliffs were formed by a receding glacier and first appeared as a drumlin. A drumlin is an elongated hill made up of a loose arrangement of assorted glacial till elements, such as mud, clay, sand, and small rocks. They were formed by the receding action of the last ice-age glaciers, and usually show the final direction of glacial movement. This activity, followed by centuries of rolling waves and accelerated by sustained winds and strong currents, rain, and snow, has carved this landscape into odd-shaped pinnacles called chimneys by the locals. Lake Ontario’s shoreline from Sodus Bay to Oswego has many such bluffs, but Chimney Bluffs is, by far, the most spectacular. From year to year the bluffs present a changing panorama due to constant erosion, which averages between 1 to 5 feet per year. Recorded history describes impressive pinnacles rising up to 150 feet into the air. Unfortunately, many of these have been worn down. In spite of this, the bluffs never fail to give visitors breathtaking views of Lake Ontario and a sense of wonder about about this region’s natural history.
My first experience with the wonders of this part of the world was on a side trip to visit friends in the town of Newark, which is just a few miles southeast of the bluffs. A friend of mine, who grew up in Newark, and I were heading for the Oswego Speedway on Labor Day weekend to watch an annual modified stock car race — The Race of Champions. My friend, Joe, suggested that we stop in Newark to visit his Aunt Ella and hopefully see a few of his friends. We were only in Newark for a couple of hours, but the wonderful people that I met and the stories that I was told about all of the natural wonders that existed in this part of the state made me vow to return for a longer visit as soon as possible. We returned to Newark the following spring. On this return trip Joe introduced me to an affable young woman — Jeannine. He told me that she knew more about this part of New York State than anyone, and she could direct us to the most interesting areas. Well, Joe was right. Our first trip, with Jeannine as our guide, was to Chimney Bluffs. This was followed by trips to many other points of interest along the southern shore of Lake Ontario, including the now-famous wineries that line the shores of the 11 Finger Lakes further south.
I have returned to this area with my family several times to visit Jeannine over the years. When Tricia, my wife, asked me when we had visited her last, my answer both surprised and embarrassed me. It had been too long, and a visit was in order. On July 4th we headed to New York to visit Jeannine and hopefully to visit some of my favorite places. The visit was a short one, so we chose to visit my favorite site — Chimney Bluffs. We also spent time at one of the wineries on Seneca Lake. There are over 300 wineries along the Finger Lakes. I am planning a return trip to the area to visit and photograph a few of the most interesting ones.
A shot of the bluffs taken several years ago.
Another visit to the continuing adventures of Mike and Jane
Mike and Jane McLaughlin were enjoying the spectacular vista of Mt. McKinley from a point in Alaska’s Denali National Park in 2011. They caught sight of a pair of Bald eagles flying high over their heads. It appeared that they were in some sort of aerial combat, but they were informed by another traveler that this was a mating display. Fascinated, Mike dug out his Olympus DSLR camera and got some great shots of the birds in various settings.
The Back Bay Fens is one of eight richly varied parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the late 1800s for the City of Boston. These scenic parks stretch for seven miles from the Boston Common in downtown Boston, to Franklin Park in the Dorchester neighborhood. When the Fens was officially established in 1879, it was severely polluted and commonly referred to as, “the foulest marsh and muddy flats to be found anywhere in Massachusetts.” Determined to find a solution to this foul-smelling problem, city officials turned to Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of modern landscape architecture, for help. Olmsted solved the problem by successfully combining sanitary engineering and creative landscape art. This unique combination resulted in a complete ecological restoration of the park. By connecting a series of brooks and ponds with a flow of fresh water from Jamaica Pond (another park in the chain) he created a creek known today as the Muddy River. The creek was originally designed as a brackish water flow and flushed out twice a day with the tides. In 1910, a dam was placed on the Charles river, turning the brackish water into a freshwater environment, which is now home to the Victory Gardens and a variety of other recreational opportunities, including a statue of Roberto Clemente, a right fielder, humanitarian, and baseball Hall of Famer. He was my mom’s favorite baseball player.
The Richard D. Parker Memorial Victory gardens are located in the Fens along with other minor attractions such as Fenway Park. The Victory Gardens are as famous to avid gardeners as the Park is to baseball fans. At least, that is how my mother saw it. What else would you expect from a dedicated Pittsburgh Pirates fan?
During World War I and World War II, vegetable gardens were planted at residences and public parks in many countries around the world to supplement diminishing food supplies. These gardens were given a variety of names, including “war gardens” and “gardens for defense.” In this country, the most popular term was “Victory Garden.” During World War II, nearly nearly 20 million of these gardens were planted by Americans. Victory gardens produced nearly 40 percent of the fruits and vegetables consumed in this country during the war. In spite of objections from the Department of Agriculture, which feared that a victory garden movement would hurt the food industry, Eleanor Roosevelt planted a victory garden on the White House grounds. As time went on, many agribusiness companies, such as International Harvester and Beech-Nut (the baby food company), and the Agriculture Department began publishing basic how-to gardening booklets in support of the movement.
In 1942, the city of Boston created the Boston Victory Garden Committee. This committee secured 49 acres of land around the city to be used to grow food. The Back Bay Fens area was not wooded, so it was perfectly suited for gardening and needed little preparation for planting. The Boston Common and Public Gardens were also drafted for victory garden planting. After the war, Federal funding for victory gardens ended, so the city of Boston began entertaining options to replace the Gardens with something else. Pressure to replace the Victory Gardens became strong. Among the proposed replacements were two different high schools, a hospital, and a huge, butt-ugly parking lot.
In 1944, one member of the original World War II victory garden committee, Richard D. Parker, created the Fenway Garden Society and launched a successful effort that saved the Gardens. Thanks to the dedication and effort of Mr. Parker, the Fenway Victory Gardens are now an official Boston Historic Landmark.
Today, the Gardens are very different than they were in the 40s and 50s. When I was young, my mother and I would hop on public transportation on Sundays during the spring, summer, and fall and head for the Fens to walk around the gardens. She was an army veteran, and loved these gardens because she understood how much of a contribution they made to the war effort. All of the gardeners were friendly and loved to talk about food and share recipes, which were two of her favorite pastimes. I am not sure how many garden plots were there back then, but today there are about 500, nurtured by nearly 400 gardeners. Unlike in the past, each garden has its own fence and gate. Elegant, creative floral gardens seem to outnumber vegetable gardens. Each of these gardens seem to reflect the personality of the gardener, and just how that gardener defines a successful garden. The popularity of these gardens is incredible. One of the gardeners told me that demand for these plots is so overwhelming that securing a free membership in a high-end country club is easier than securing a garden here. After talking to these dedicated and talented folks, I came away with the feeling that they consider it an outstanding privilege to have a garden in the Fenway.
I entered the Gardens at the Park Street entrance. The photo below was shot facing north from inside the Gardens.
Parking in this area can be a real problem. On any day of the week, motor vehicles far outnumber the available parking spaces. My wife, Tricia, is sitting in the first black car in the front of the buildings in the distance. We were forced to park in a resident-only parking area, and she stayed in the car to be on the lookout for a tow truck. It is far better and easier to park in a commuter rail station outside of the city and ride the train in.
Meet Rick. He has been gardening on the Fenway for 27 years. His garden is creative and reflects his personal interpretation of gardening. As you can see, he is very comfortable with his creation. The photos below show different areas of his garden.
All of the gardeners that I met on this visit were extremely friendly and informative. All were willing to invite me into their gardens and explain what they were planting. Space considerations have forced me to limit the number of beautiful, creative gardens that I photographed on my visit. Planning a trip to Boston to visit and tour these gardens will be a worthwhile adventure; you will not be disappointed. I am planning at least two more trips during this growing season.
Below is my 50 square foot garden that I have planted for the past 15 years. I live in an former lakeside vacation community, where the housing lot sizes are on the small. I am fortunate that this small area in front of my house receives 8 hours of sunlight daily during the growing season. The soil is 3 feet deep and is enhanced by composted tree leaves, dehydrated cow manure supplied by local farmers, and peat moss. When my mother and I fantasized about a garden, this is what we imagined.
In the title of this post, I indicated that there is another smaller surviving World War II Victory Garden — the Dowling Community Garden in Minneapolis. I read about these gardens in the online version of Urban Farm Magazine. From what I read, these gardens have been around for almost as long as the Fenway gardens. I will do some research on these gardens and report back during this growing season.