Wine Making Time in the Ginney Block


Every two years was wine making time in the Ginney Block. My father along with the heads of the other families in the block would spend several days in their cellars preparing their empty wine barrels to receive the new wine.

Since my father usually made two barrels of wine every two years, he would spend hours cleaning and scraping away the caked residue of old wine from the insides of each barrel. This ritual included a check and tightening of the wide metal bands that held the slats of the barrels together, to make sure that the barrels would not leak when they were filled. The spigots at the base of each barrel were removed, checked, cleaned or replaced before use to make sure that they would be safe and operational. The under sides of the top covers would be cleaned, scraped and checked for tightness, to insure that they would fit properly and seal the barrel tops tightly.

At harvest time, my father made his biennial trip to Dover, Ohio, located on the far northwest side of Cuyahoga County, to the area's most fruitful vineyards, where my father always said that the best Ohio blue grapes were grown. He had dealt with the same vineyardist for years. He had come to trust August Brandenburg because he allowed my father to select his grapes, basket by basket. My father swore that Mr. Brandenburg was honest and fair and said that he did not try to gouge him on the unit price of each basket of grapes.




I recall making the trip to the Brandenburg vineyards with my father, several times, on the big red interurban railway cars that in those days provided the only transportation from the Public Square of downtown Cleveland to the outlying areas of Cuyahoga County. They were exciting trips because they gave me a chance to get out into the country, where I could see grass, trees, miles and miles of open fields, where things were growing, and where I could see farm animals and other things that a city kid did not see very often. What a treat it was to get away from the stultifying environs of the Ginney Block, where one saw nothing but pavement and buildings; nothing but structures of brick, stone and steel. During every one of those trips, my spirit would be lifted at the moment that we reached the vineyards of Dover. What a thrill it was to see vineyard after vineyard with vines bulging with large, luscious blue grapes. It was a new and different world that brought invigorating breaths of fresh air for at least a part of one day to a youngster who slept in a windowless bedroom.

On arrival at the Dover railway station, I recall the short but very pleasant walk to the Brandenburg vineyard and house. It was via a narrow dirt road flanked by fenced-in grape vines that seemed endless. At the time of our biennial visit, a good part of the better grapes had been harvested and awaited us in bushel and half bushel baskets, stored in two large barns. It was in these barns that my father selected his grapes.




Mr. Brandenburg always promptly delivered the grapes the next day, early in the morning.

My father had everything ready on delivery day, the barrels, the wine press and the sterile, white rubber boots that my father wore to stomp the grapes into mash.

On delivery day, my brothers and I would help unload and carry the baskets of grapes to the cellar and then watch my father do the rest of the work. For some unknown reason when each of us reached the age of thirteen, we were allowed to don the white rubber boots, climb into the barrels half filled with grapes to stomp them into mash. It was such fun. We also enjoyed standing around the wine press, watching the virgin grape juice ooze out of the press outlets into the low wooden vats placed along side the press. The big treat came when my father would allow us to bring our drinking glasses to taste the delicious grape Juice as it emerged fresh from the press. It was like nectar of the Gods, so sweet!

I recall the last time that we made wine in the Ginney Block. My brother Art, a young friend and I made the mistake of drinking a little too much of the fresh sweet fruit of the vine. Needless to say, we became very sick. Our friend became delirious. My brother and I fared differently. Our stomachs gurgled and growled. Our bowels began what we feared was to become a chronic perpetual movement. We found ourselves racing to the commode until we were exhausted.




Eventually by the end of the day, after nature had taken its full course, we fell into a deep sleep of exhaustion that kept us in the arms of Morpheus around the clock. From that day on, unfermented juice of the grape has had no appeal for me.