By Jasmine Willis
WAYLAND — A program on the Lost Wineries of WNY caught local interest at the Wayland Historical Society.
Jane Oakes has a passion for history that leads back to her time as a young girl at the Valentown Museum. Ever since that time she spent working on historical displays with the famous J. Sheldon Fisher, Oakes has grown more invested in keeping these old stories alive.
Oakes took us back to the Viking Era when they had a love for wine. It was discovered that six types of grapes already grew in this land. Later on, people would try to import European grapes, but they wouldn’t be able to survive in our climates. However, several successful hybrids of American and European grapes were formed.
Oakes said that since great wine was hard to come by, they would have plenty of distilleries around making Whiskey. George Washington even made his own whiskey.
“Corn crops were more profitable in those days and easier to ship if converted to Whiskey. We eventually had good apple orchards, so we were known for our whiskey and hard cider. We had so many distilleries in people’s homes that it was causing a huge problem,” Oakes said. “The Temperance Movement was needed to get rid of this drunkard problem. It was meant to get rid of hard liquor only. You could keep wine, hard cider, and beer. Eventually Total Temperance came into play that took all alcohol off the table. Even in local areas they fined farmers for selling hops and barley to be used for alcohol.”
We had plenty of beautiful wine making grapes that came about in the 1830s, 1850s, and 1860s from Catawba, Clinton, Concord, Delaware, Iona, Isabella, Oporto, Diamond, and Niagara.
The Brotherhood Wine Co circa 1839 is the longest continued running winery in America.
Oakes talked about the birthplace of commercial wineries that have been lost in history.
Samuel Warren of York was the father of such wineries in our region. He lived from 1794 to 1862. In that time he was a teacher, deacon, abolitionist, and winemaker.
“I am from this area and we looked into purchasing his homestead for the historical society. We knew he sold wine in the local area. He had wide doors for all the barrels of wine to go through,” Oakes said. “We knew he bought this land in York and settled here to plant grapes. He was a deacon at his church and wanted to have pure wine for his church. European wine at the time was not good, they were sending us the worst of it.”
By 1834 he was storing up to 5,000 gallons of wine in his York home. In 1832 he had his first vintage wine being sold. He was selling for medical purpose up to five barrels of wine commercially in 1836.
“They would prescribe wine to you in those days for just about anything. Port Wine was considered to help with wellness and strength,” Oakes said. “The only way you could have wine during Prohibition was with a doctor’s prescription or for church purposes.”
Moses Long Home and Vineyard of York was popular in the 1800s as well. Long’s diary has been gone through and published in the Livingston County History. Moses partnered with Josiah Warren and created the sunken floors under glass to keep the grapes fresh. We know from his dairy he had a number of varieties of grapes and wines in the 1860s.
Josiah Warren and Company would partner with Asa Davis McBride in 1865. In 1873 they founded Warren and McBride Grapists. They had 59 acres of grapes growing on the property. They were mostly famous for the Port Wines. Asa bought out Warren and turned it into Irondequoit Wine Company until 1899 when he wanted to go to Florida. Asa created Wine of Pomelo from 1906 to 1918 that was grapefruit, beef, and iron mixed in wine. It was the drink of the time since no one ever had grapefruit before.
Oakes talked about her connection to Irondequoit Wine Company. Her family George and Mary Ellen Brightman worked and lived at the vineyard. Her grandmother Doris Brightman lived in the cottages at the vineyard as well. They did this during Prohibition Era.
Samuel and Louis Dubelbeiss of German heritage came to be winemakers here as well. They created Irondequoit Native Wine Company on the Dubelbeiss Farmstead. During the Prohibition Era they were one of them who survived by creating Du Belle Fruit Juice Company. It was mainly focused on making grape juice, so they didn’t waste any grapes.
Other forgotten wineries and the legends that created them include; George Beck Pure Wines of Rochester, Fee Brothers of Genesee Valley Vineyards, and Joseph Peter Fetzner of J. P. Fetzner Lake Ontario Wine Company.
We even had some lost wineries in the Dansville area such as; Dr. Frances Perine who started a wine industry called Genesee Valley Wine Company. The grapes were grown on East Hill, and the homes on Highland Avenue still have terraces were the grapevines would grow on them. We had John Michael who grew his small vineyard behind the King’s Daughter’s House.
“This program goes to show how we all came from small beginnings, and now we are viewed as having the best wine in the world,” Oakes said. “These lost wineries were the foundation for that legacy.”