Saturday, February 13, 2010

Nicholas Longworth and Wines of the Ohio Valley

Nicholas Longworth was a prosperous lawyer and real-estate investor in Cincinnati, Ohio in the early 19th century. This account of his interest in wine-growing along the Ohio River is excerpted from "Great Fortunes, and How They Were Made", by George MacLean, 1871.

Mr. Longworth retired from the practice of the law in 1819, to devote himself to the management of his property, which was already sufficiently important to require his undivided attention. He had always been an enthusiast in horticultural matters, and believing that the climate of the Ohio Valley was admirably adapted to the production of grapes, had for some time been making experiments in that direction; but he fell into the error of believing that only the foreign vines were worth cultivating, and his experiments were unsuccessful. The foreign grape did not mature well, and the wine produced from it was not good. In 1828 his friend Major Adlum sent him some specimens of the Catawba grape, which he had procured from the garden of a German living near Washington City, and be began to experiment with it in his own vineyard.

The Catawba grape, now so popular and well-known throughout the country, was then a comparative stranger to our people, and was regarded even by many who were acquainted with it as unfit for vintage purposes. It was first discovered in a wild condition about 1801, near Asheville, Buncombe County, North Carolina, near the source of the Catawba River. General Davy, of Rocky Mount, on that river, afterward Senator from North Carolina, is supposed to have given the German in whose garden Major Adlum found the grape a few of the vines to experiment upon. General Davy always regarded the bringing of this grape into notice as the greatest act of his life. "I have done my country a greater benefit in introducing this grape into public notice," said he, in after years, "than I would have done if I had paid the national debt."

Mr. Longworth's experiments with the Catawba were highly successful, and induced him to abandon all his efforts with foreign vines, and undertake only the Catawba, to which he afterward added the Isabella. He now entered systematically upon grape-growing. He established a large vineyard upon a hillside sloping down to the river, about four miles above the city, and employed German laborers, whose knowledge of vine-dressing, acquired in the Fatherland, made them the best workmen he could have. He caused it to be announced that all the grape juice produced by the small growers in the vicinity would find a cash purchaser in him, no matter in what quantities offered. At the same time he offered n reward of five hundred dollars for any improvement in the quality of the Catawba grape.

The enthusiasm which he manifested, as well as the liberality of his offer, had a decidedly beneficial effect upon the small growers in the neighborhood. "It proved a great stimulus to the growth of the Catawba vine in the country around Cincinnati," to know that a man of Mr. Longworth's means stood ready to pay cash, at the rate of from a dollar to a dollar and a quarter a gallon, for all the grape-juice that might be brought to him, without reference to the quantity. It was in this way, and by urgent popular appeals through the columns of the newspapers, that he succeeded, after many failures, and against the depressing influence of much doubt and indifference, in bringing the enterprise up to its present high and stable position.

Many had tried the manufacture of wine, and had failed to give it any economical or commercial importance. It was not believed, until Mr. Longworth practically demonstrated it, that a native grape was the only one upon which any hope could be placed, and that the Catawba offered the most assured promise of success, and was the one upon which all vine-growers might with confidence depend. It took years of unremitted care, multiplied and wide-spread investigations, and the expenditure of large sums of money, to establish this fact, and bring the agricultural community to accept it and act under its guidance. The success attained by Mr. Longworth soon induced other gentlemen resident in the vicinity of Cincinnati, and favorably situated for the purpose, to undertake the culture of the Catawba, and several of them are now regularly and extensively engaged in the manufacture of wine. The impetus and encouragement thus given to the business soon led the German citizens of Hamilton County to perceive its advantages, and, under their thrifty management, thousands of acres, stretching up from the banks of the Ohio, are now covered with luxuriant and profitable vineyards, rivaling in profusion and beauty the vine-clad hills of Italy and France. The oldest vineyard in the county of Hamilton is of Mr. Longworth's planting.

Mr. Longworth subsequently increased the size of his vineyard to two hundred acres, and toward the close of his life his wine houses annually produced one hundred and fifty thousand bottles of wine. His vaults usually contained a stock of three hundred thousand bottles in course of thorough ripening.

His cellars were situated on the declivity of East Sixth Street, on the road to Observatory Hill. They occupied a space ninety feet by one hundred and twenty-five in size, and consisted of two tiers of massive stone vaults, the lower of which was twenty-five feet below the surface of the ground. The manufacture of the wine was placed under the charge of a celebrated chemist from Rheims, and the mode of preparation was as follows:

After the pressing of the grape, the juice is subjected to the vinous fermentation, by which ten or eleven per cent, of alcohol is developed. In the following spring, it is mixed with a small quantity of sugar, and put into strong bottles, the corks of which are secured with twine and wire. The sugar accelerates a second fermentation, which always takes place about this time, and thus a strong movement is produced inside the glass, which generates gas enough to burst the vessels briskly, adding thereby considerably to the cost. This is known as the gaseous fermentation, and the effect of it is to render the wine more enlivening, more stinging to the taste, and more fruity. "This last effect results from this, that the flavor of the fruit mostly passes off with the carbonic acid gas, which is largely generated in the first or vinous fermentation, and in a less degree in this second or gaseous fermentation." It is impossible to avoid the loss of the flavor in the first fermentation, but the strong bottles and securely-fastened corks preserve it in the second. The liquid, which is muddy at first, becomes clear in about a year, a thick sediment having collected at the bottom of the bottle. The bottles are then placed in racks, with their necks downward, and are shaken vigorously every day for about three weeks. This forces the sediment to settle down in the neck against the cork. When it is all in the neck, the wires are cut, and the cork blown out by the gas, carrying the sediment with it. Fresh sugar, for sweetness, is now added, new corks are driven in and secured, and in a few weeks the wine is ready for the market.

Mr. Longworth continued his wine trade with great success for about twenty-five years, and though for some time his expenditures were largely in excess of his income from this source, he at length reaped a steady and increasing profit from it, which more than reimbursed him for his former losses. He was very fond of the strawberry, and succeeded, by careful and expensive cultivation, in making several very important improvements in that delicious fruit. His experiments in the sexual character of the strawberry are highly interesting, but must be passed by here. He manifested no selfishness with respect to his fruits. He was anxious that their cultivation should become general, and his discoveries and improvements were always at the service of any and every one who desired to make use of them.

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